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Mummification in ancient Egypt had a very large effect on the Egyptian culture, it became a very important aspect of the religion, and evolved over time. Sometimes animals where mummified but the process was originally only for the rich and elite of certain classes. The actual mummification of ancient Egypt is a very interesting process to many people. Throughout the years the mummification wasn’t limited to just for the pharaohs, it was also for the religious class, and later expanded to the social classes. Mummification helped with the economy of the ancient Egyptian people. Contrary to popular belief, mummifications were a way to both preserve the body and prep for burial because the Egyptians believed that they would be resurrected and needed the body to be intact for the rituals they would face in the afterlife. The mummy was given the things they would need for entry into the nether world and then they were given instructions for passing their judgment. The ancient Egyptians believed that Osiris was the first mummy.
Religion was very important to ancient Egyptians, they didn’t believe solely in many gods, they also believed there to be an afterlife. They believed that when one dies the deceased lives on as their spirit. They also believed that if they would take material thing with them to the afterlife would be able to find their way to where they should be. Many of the tombs, especially those of the pharaohs had all the necessities to live in the afterlife which were mostly of food, jewelry, weapons, and clothing. Many even had their pets mummified to join them.
How it works
As in life the pharaohs servants that helped them with their daily living such as farming, cooking and cleaning they were also buried with these servants in their tombs, called Shabtis. These were small half mummy half human figures carved often with their trades specific tools in their hand. They believed the Shabtis would come to life to serve the pharaoh. The pharaohs were often buried with many Shabtis.
For a better afterlife the Ancient Egyptians had a series of writings that where considered to be their funeral manuscripts. These funerary manuscripts began as writings on the tomb walls or that they wrote on the coffins and eventually on scrolls placed inside the tombs. The most common known of these manuscripts is the “Book of the Dead” which contained magic spells and advice to help them stay safe and reach the afterlife.
Ancient Egyptians thought that death is when a someone’s ka, their spiritual lifeforce, leaves the body. There were different ceremonies conducted by priests after death, such as the “opening of the mouth, which was to give back the persons physical attributes, and to release the Ba from the body. This allows the Ba to reunite with the persons Ka in the afterlife; which creates Akh. Egyptians felt the afterlife was similar to the living world but slightly different. The notion of the afterlife was created to mimic after the suns journey, when the sun set into the Duat, or the underworld. Regarding the dead, ones body and tomb were the persons Duat and Osiris. In order for the mummification to be successful, a bodily preservation was required for the Ba to return at night and rise in the morning to the new life. It wasn’t until the later that non-royal Egyptians expect to unite with the sun in the afterlife since it was believed to be reserved for the royals.
The first of the ancient Egyptian mummies were those who had died and been buried in the desert. Their bodies were dried out and this let them remain intact. wealthy Egyptians were later mummified after death. There were many different procedures including cleansing the body both inside and out. The technology in mummification was extremely unique. The first of the organs to be removed was the brain. They believed that the brain was not of significant importance and it was thrown away after it was removed. Herodotus says that the brain was removed through a hole the Egyptians made in the ethmoid bone at the top of the nostrils. A large needle with a hooked or sometimes spiral end was used to perform this procedure. It still is not clear how the organ was removed through the small opening. It had been assumed that the Egyptians inserted the hook and removed the brain piece by piece which is a very difficult method. Another speculation is they put the corpse on its back and inserted to hook and liquified the brain matter and drained it through the nostrils. They then flushed and cleaned the cranial cavity.
Next, they would remove the internal organs. They made a small incision was made on the left side so that the internal organs could be removed. The only organ they left intact was the heart because it is where they thought the spirit of a person was in the body.
Following the removal of the internal organs, they were cleansed with myrrh, palm wine and frankincense. They would then be dried but the embalmers of the Old Kingdom had yet learned to preserve the body’s flesh. Later in the 4th dynasty embalmers began to use natron. The natron crystals pulled all of the moistures from the body when it was covered in them. The natron wasn’t consistently used until the 12th dynasty. After they were all preserved, the organs are stored in a special canopic jar. Canopic jars have lids that are shaped like the heads of Egyptian gods, are the guardians of ones entrails. The jars and their contents would be placed in the tomb with the mummy. Beeswax was used to cover the body’s orifices and incisions made. They would also create statues of Horus’ sons using beeswax and place them and the Canopic jars inside.
In the old kingdom, only royalty and those of nobility were mummified. During the middle kingdom, mummification began to spread to those of the upper middle class. During the 18th and 19th dynasties of the new kingdom more people could afford the mummification process. Both royal and non-royal mummies were prepared. The difference in the two was how they positioned the hands. Royal males were positioned with their hands placed flat on the chest in the what has been classified as the “classic mummy pose.
Later in ancient Egyptian history, mummification also became available to people of the upper and even those in the middle classes. The growth of both the political and economic stances of the middle classes and the religious beliefs and religious practices within all social classes resulted in the spread of mummification to more of the population. With this new widespread practice less attention was given to the processing of the bodies. Mummification a became a more commercial opportunity, and it was more to indicate the decease’s social status and hierarchy rather than their religious conviction.
This caused more of a decline in the quality of the whole mummification process. The bodies were bandaged and covered in a material made of a combination of plaster and papyrus or linen. Mummification was not usually available to the more common classes of people. Since they could not afford the process, they continued to be buried in the more traditional simple desert graves and their bodies were preserved naturally.
In more modern times, the process of mummification and the quality of the work, helps Egyptologists determine the various social status of the deceased. Herodotus says that the ancient Egyptians had three main types of mummification available to them from which they chose depending on their ability to pay for such services. Also, mummified cats were often presented at temples. Many of the cat-shaped statues were even made into elaborate and very detailed coffins designed to hold the mummified cats. Many of these cat cemeteries filled with these mummies have been discovered in many places in Egypt. Even though the people of ancient Egypt were against the killing of cats it does not seem that these mummified cats were old house pets and preserved after their natural deaths.
There have been modern x-rays done on many of these cats which show that the mummified cats were often quite young implying that the cats may have been bred for the sole purpose of mummification. Many believe these practices may have been provoked by the Egyptian rulers for fiscal reasons. The ‘sacred animal industry’ gave many of the people well-paying jobs and allowed the pharaohs to collect income taxes from more citizens.
There have been many changes in the beginnings of mummification from its original process to modern day. The process of mummification became a way in which the ancient Egyptians related to their religious beliefs. In later years it became a mark of social status which changed the meaning of the process throughout the centuries. A process that was once just for the pharaohs of ancient Egypt, later became a more widespread process, mummification wasn’t just for the pharaohs anymore, it also became available for the religious class, later spreading even more to many of the social classes.
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