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All About Mummification: The Reason and Process

By Yona Williams    10/10/07

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Numerous layers of linen were used to cover the entire body with coatings of resin added as a way to prevent the elements from disrupting the process of mummification. Later, the ancient Egyptians would learn that the outer elements really didn’t have anything to do with the decaying process and discovered that it actually started from inside the body.

The varying quality of linen played a role in the quality of the mummification process. As the corpses dried out, the layers and layers of linen created the initial shape. In the belief system, immortality relied on the process of mummification of the body, as it was seen as a preservation of 'Ka,' which referred to the spirit that was present in the physical part of the body when an individual was alive. When the body decayed, it was thought that the 'Ka' spirit also withered. To this day, it is believed that the mummies displaying the best preservation methods are those of the New Kingdom, which represented the 18th to 20th dynasties that ruled the land between 1600 and 1050 BC.

Exploring the Process of Mummification

It is believed that the process of mummification began in the 'House of Purification,' which accompanied the washing of the body in the water of the Nile River. Next, the corpse was taken to what was called the 'House of Mummification,' where the organs were extracted and the cavity of the body was washed out using palm wine. For a period of 40 days, the body was then covered with the natron salt to facilitate the drying out process.

After the salt was removed off of the body, the corpse would then travel back to the 'House of Purification,' where a variety of substances were used to fill the body cavity. This may include linen and natron. The body was then covered in resin as an attempt to seal out the moisture until it was lastly wrapped in endless layers of bandages. The ancient Egyptians were quite involved when it came to the wrapping process, as it was projected to take a couple of week to accomplish. The generally began at the hands or feet, making sure to pay individual attention to each digit. Resin was applied to each new layer, which acted as glue.

During the process, temple priests bestowed an assortment of incantations and spells. The bandages were also decorated with amulets (like scarabs and ankhs), which were meant to serve as protection in the afterlife. The corpse would often don a death mask, which took place before the finished mummy was positioned in a coffin that was shaped like a body. This was called a sarcophagus. When the coffin was settled in its final resting place, a wide-range of items would surround the dead, such as furniture, food, drink, clothes, and clay figures of servants – anything they would need to lead a complete life while in the afterlife.

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