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Mummification Notes

Why did the Egyptians mummify? 

For the Egyptians, the body was also important as the place where the soul could rest, thus it was necessary to preserve it.In ancient Egypt, the corpse (khat) was especially prepared for the afterlife so that it was not simply a deceased person, the shell of a loved one, but rather a new, specially made artefact especially designed for life after death –  Not just an organic piece but a crafted artefact. It was made in the similar way that a statue is made, into something divine, a sah. Some Egyptologists have discussed how in death the corpse is first fragmented and then put back together as a divine entity.

The body was necessary for the ba and ka to rest.  

Why were bandages used?  

Bandages were used to give the body a ‘shape’ more recognisable as a human being.

Bandages were used to hold the body together, to stop it falling apart.

The Egyptians also had the idea that hiding an object gave it sacred significance.

Bandages, like other textiles also had magical significance.

Why was the heart so important? Probably the most interesting aspect of the ancient Egyptian’s concept of the heart is that their ancient beliefs remain with us today, not as science, but within the very fibre of our emotions, our poetry and our song lyrics. When we refer to our hearts in regard to love, or any other emotion, we are invoking a living memory of the ancient Egyptian belief system.  The Egyptians believed that the heart, rather than the brain, was the source of human wisdom, as well as emotions, memory, the soul and the personality itself.  Notions of physiology and disease were all connected in concept to the heart, and it was through the heart that God spoke, giving ancient Egyptians knowledge of God and God’s will. For this reason it was considered the most important of the body’s organs.  However, despite the ancient Egyptian’s seemingly advanced medical and surgical knowledge, the heart’s role in blood circulation was not precisely understood.  It was felt that from the heart, channels (metu) linked all parts of the body together.  These channels delivered not only blood, but also air, tears, saliva, mucus, sperm, nutriment and even bodily waste.  In fact, the only real function of the brain was thought to be to pass mucus to the nose, so it was one of the organs that were discarded during mummification. 

The Role of Anubis – Anubis was caretaker and protector of the dead. He is called ‘He Who is Before the Divine Booth’, the god of embalming who presided over the funerary rituals. The funerary stm priests would wear a mask of the jackal god during the mummification and burial processes, symbolically becoming the god for the rituals. You can see an image of Anubis in the burial process in a detail from a section of the ‘Book of the Dead’ in the Egypt Centre.

Anubis is also given the title ‘assessor of hearts’ indicating his role as judge. In the 21st Dynasty coffin you can see him checking the scales


An experiment with ancient Egyptian animal mummification by Salima Ikram (podcast) May 2010 

Items connected with mummification in the Egypt Centre

Wax embalming plaque

PM21 Faience wing from mummy wrappings

Canopic jars

EC951 A fragment of mummy bandage

Mummified animals in the Egypt Centre