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Mummification


Abstract

Embalming of the body of both man and animal by natural or artificial chemicals is called as mummification. Mummification could be done by wet, frozen, or dried methods. This was a process pursued by the Egyptians. An Egyptians ‘corpse dried in the desert sands when placed in the outside. To protect the corpses from wild animals the bodies were placed in coffins. But this caused the decay of the bodies. The Egyptians believed that like the sun setting every evening and rising in the morning, like new life sprouting from a grain and like the moon shining and disappearing, the humans would also have a spiritual afterlife. Hence they aimed to keep the body intact after the death of the individual. The rituals after a person’s death were followed methodically, to the extent of burying the bodies in comfortable tombs so that they could experience a blissful afterlife.

Mummification was first mentioned in the ancient Pyramid Texts. History of the mummification as per these texts stated that: following the death of Osiris, the god of the dead, the earth fell into chaos causing the gods to shed tears. The tears transformed into materials such as the resins, honey, and incense which resulted in the mummification of the body.

As per the Canadian museum, mummification first began in Egypt in the 2400 BC and the practice continued into the Greeko-Roman period. Natron, a compound containing a combination of sodium carbonate (salt) and sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), which were both desiccating agents and disinfectants, was the main ingredient used in mummification of bodies. It caused the drying out of the corpse.

The word mummification came from the Arabic word ‘mummiya’ meaning ‘bitumen’, a pitch substance, which was the material used for preservation of bodies in the Late Period.

The procedure for mummification

All the organs of the dead person, except the heart, were removed. The heart was left behind as it was considered as the ‘center of intelligence’. The empty space was packed with natron in linen bags. The removed organs were stored in canopied jars and were placed together with the mummies.

The brain was removed using a hook passing through the nose. Any remaining brain tissue was removed by action of drugs. The abdominal organs were removed by an incision made with a volcanic stone, on the left side of the abdomen. The cavity that remained was thoroughly cleaned and washed out, firstly with palm wine and then with a mixture of ground spices. It was later packed with cassia, pure myrrh, and all the available aromatic substances including frankincense, and then sewed. For exactly70 days, the entire body was placed in natron. This caused the corpse to dry up. Following this, the body was washed, wrapped from head to foot in linen, which had been cut into strips and covered with gum on the bottom side. The body was then placed in a human figure shaped wooden case, arranged by the family. The mummy was lowered into the tomb that housed the mummy together with the canopied jars.

 

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