Mummies According to British anthropologist, Edward Tylor, culture is “that complex whole which included knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.” (Ferraro, 18) Many cultures around the world have fascinating ceremonies and rites held for their dead but perhaps the most amazing is that of the ancient Egyptians. They are famous for their skillful embalming and their elaborate burial customs. The Egyptians believed that every person had a spirit that would live on after the human body died. The spirit would be able to move, eat, drink, and enjoy pleasures just like then the body was alive. But, in order to do this; the spirit had to have a recognizable body to dwell in.
After the person died, the Egyptians believed that the spirit took two different forms: the ka and the ba. The ka was the person’s double, created by a god named Khnum. The ka lived in the body until death. It would continue to live after death if and only if it was provided with the exact same image of the dead person. Sometimes a statue would be used to house the ka, but a mummy was ideal. The ka also needed food and drink to survive. Therefore, the Egyptians left jars of grain and water in the graves.
The ba was the other form of a person’s spirit. It was different than the ka in that it was able to leave the tomb. It could do this in any shape it pleased. However, the most common was a small bird with a human head that resembled that of the dead person. Without a mummy, there would be no ka and no ba.
Death would be final, with no afterlife and this was something the ancient Egyptians could not accept. There were many gods that were important to the Egyptians but the most important was Osiris. The god Osiris was said to have triumphed over death, and every ancient Egyptian wanted to follow his example. Legend told that Osiris was a good pharaoh who was murdered by his evil brother, Seth. Seth cut Osiris into fourteen pieces and scattered them all over Egypt. His wife, Isis, eventually found all of them and magically Osiris’ body become whole. This story of the dead king’s miraculous resurrection gave Egyptians hope in everlasting life.
So to be reborn, a dead person tried to be identified with Osiris in every possible way. Mummies were prepared in exactly the same way as the body of Osiris had been hundreds of years before. If all went well, the mummy would “become an Osiris” and live forever. The key to making long lasting mummies was drying out the bodies of the dead before burial. The first part in doing this was to remove the organs that were most likely to cause decay. So the Egyptians decided that the stomach, the intestines, the liver, and the lungs would have to be removed.
However, they believed that the body parts that were removed shouldn’t be thrown away. Each organ was placed in a separate container of wood, pottery, or stone, to be preserved in the tomb forever along with the mummy. As long as the mummy and its insides were protected against, decay, the Egyptians believed that all the body parts would be magically reunited in the afterlife, just like in the story of Osiris. The next step in mummification was the drying out of the body itself. This was done by thickly coating it inside and out with a powdery white salt called naton.
This salt had the ability to draw water from the skin and other tissues. This process took anywhere from thirty-five to forty days. During that time, the body lay on a slanted board known as the “bed of mummification.” This moisture dripped through a channel at the lower end into a pan or bucket. The final step was to wrap and bandage the mummy. A combination of large pieces of cloth and narrower strips of linen were used. The wrappings were applied in many layers.
These wrappings covered whatever jewelry had been placed on the mummy. Precious objects were also placed on the mummy. As the layers of bandages were applied, warm melted resin was poured over each one, for the purpose of keeping moisture from entering the body. Unfortunately, the resin tended to darken the skin. However, as time went on, this process was improved upon greatly.