Ancient Egyptian Mummies

Nesyamun Mummy (Leeds Mummy)

Nesyamun Mummy (Leeds Mummy), Situated in Leeds, England

The “Ancient Egyptian Civilization”, the most advanced of its time, flourished from the fertility offered to them by the river Nile. They followed and practiced many rich traditions. It went on to exist for 3000 years before being plummeted by other wealth greedy dynasties. They built stone structures which required extreme labour. Thousands of tons of sculpted stone were moved for miles and lifted to great heights form majestic structures, all done by hand. The pyramids of Giza, Valley of the dead and other stone monuments survived for about 4000 years for us to witness today. They appointed Pharaohs to rule the kingdom. The pharos were treated equivalent to gods. Now we can move on to the tradition of this magnificent civilization that made its history to be well preserved for us to understand their way of life, Mummification.


What is Mummification?

Mummification is a process by which the decay of a dead body is prevented by either natural or artificial processes. Evidences of mummification have been discovered all around the globe dating back to at least 3500B.C. Although natural processes like compression and freezing helps lower the decay rate, artificial processes were developed to induce bacteria free conditions to help preserve the bodies as they were. This was a tradition followed by the ancient civilizations such as the Egyptians, Incas, Chinese, Mayan, Red Indian and many more. The most popular of these are the mummies of ancient Egypt. Many mummified remains of Egyptian pharos and royals were found along the Nile valley by archaeologists. Even mummified cats were found alongside the royal people which are believed to be their pets.

Ancient Egyptian Beliefs

The Egyptians worshipped the sun god “Ra”, one among the many gods of nature. They believed that the Pharaohs of Egypt were descendants of Ra and that after their death they would join Ra in the Heavens. To prepare their kings for this after life they preserved their bodies and bundled gold and artefacts along with them to take them into the afterlife. In the early dynasty (around 2000 B.C) they built the mega structures known as Pyramids which were considered to be a monument to the Dead Pharo. These Pyramids were built with astronomical precision to face certain important stars (Orion belt). Later dynasties were moved from pyramids to hidden monuments in the “Valley of the Kings” because of the problem of grave robbers. It contained the mummified body of the Pharaoh, gold and artefacts and Hieroglyphics (pictorial representations of words) which would help the dead pass on to the afterlife.

Burial Customs
Anubis, God of burial

Anubis, God of burial.

The process of mummification involved firstly removing all internal organs and storing them in a jar. The empty body is then embalmed to remove any bodily fluids that would support bacterial growth. The embalmed body is then wrapped with linen cloth. All these procedures were only to be carried out by the highest official priests. Next comes the casting of magical spells by the priest and presented before “Osiris”, the god of the afterlife. Golden death masks are placed on the head and chest and the Pharaoh’s golden stick is placed in his hand and hands folded into a cross shape, a jar of food and drinks were also placed alongside the Pharaoh. The body is then placed into a “Sarcophagus” (Egyptian coffin). The sarcophagus is placed in the king’s chamber along with his belongings and riches.“Anubis” (half human-half jackal god) is considered as the god of burial. Some of the most famous of the Egyptian Pharaohs are Tutankhamun, who was a teenage pharaoh also known as the Boy king and Ramses II, believed to be the ruler of Egypt during the time of Moses from the bible. Let us have a brief look at these famous emperors.

King Tutankhamen
Face mask of Tutankhamen

Face mask of Tutankhamen

Popularly known as “king Tut”, Tutankhamen ruled Egypt during the 18th Dynasty in the period known as the “New Kingdom”. He was the son of Akhenaten. His name was originally Tutankhaten, which meant “Living Image of Aten” (his father) but was changed to Tutankhamun which means “Living Image of Amun” (Egyptian god, Amun-Ra, sun god). King Tut took the throne when he was just 9 years old. He married one of his half-sisters, Ankhessunamun. They had still born babies whose mummies were also found in King Tut’s tomb. King Tut was found in the “Valley of the Kings”. King Tut is popularly recognized by his golden mask. The unearthing of Tutankhamen helped regain the interest in people to study Egyptian culture and revealed lot of information about his customs and religions.


Curse of Tutankhamen

The tomb of Tutankhamen was discovered by a British archaeologist named Howard Carter and his partner George Herbert in November of 1922. By then King Tut’s grave was considered to be cursed. They believed that the priests had cast spells on the tomb to avoid grave robbers from entering the tomb. Howard Carter was carrying a lucky canary along with him to bring him good luck. When he unearthed King Tut’s tomb, the canary was killed by a cobra, which is considered as the protector of the tomb. After five months of the excavation, George Herbert had passed away due to an infectious mosquito bite. A coincidence or magic, science fiction movies and novels have used this famous curse which has popularized King Tut among the other Pharaohs.

Preservation of History at its Best

The Egyptians had vast knowledge in astronomy, mathematics and geometry and complex engineering and organization. They excelled as a society and had an extravagant cultural background. They celebrated festivals, had dances, literature, paintings, inventions, stone sculpting and various other activities. They did not want death to put an end to life. So they extended life through mummification. Not literal life as in physical existence, but it can be understood as a preservation of life which would mark their place in history in the minds of the public. Without this preservation of history, their rich heritage and culture that survived for three millennia would have been lost in the desert sand.

  • richard