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The Process of Mumification
The ancient Egyptians spent their entire lives preparing for the afterlife, hoping to accomplish the goal of immortality. It was believed that to become immortal a corpse needed to be completely preserved so that the soul had a 'somewhere' to exist.
Egyptians successfully preserved their bodies by a process we call mummification. Mummification dried out the body, using a substance called natron. The word natron means "divine substance".
Natron is "a mixture of sodium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate, with sodium chloride and sodium sulfate…" This mixture is a strong salt that dries the body making it impossible for bacteria to decay the corpse.
The Egyptians believed that there were six important aspects that made up a human being: the physical body, shadow, name, ka (spirit), ba (personality), and the akh (immortality). Each one of these elements played an important role in the well being of an individual. Each was necessary to achieve rebirth into the afterlife. Learn more about the six human aspects.
An eyewitness wrote the only recordings of mummification. The person's name was Herodotus. Herodotus was a man from Greece who went to Egypt and recorded what he saw. Herodotus recorded one of the most advanced forms of mummification, but Herodotus left a few things absent from his recordings.
According to Herodotus, the first thing that happened in the most expensive and advanced process of mummification was the removal of the brain. Differently shaped tools were pushed up the nose and extracted small strands of the brain. The brain was then flooded with chemicals and fully extracted when the chemicals were drained.
Herodotus left out that before the brain was removed the corpse was sent to a place called the ibu. At the ibu or "tent of purification" the body was washed with a solution of water and natron. After the corpse was cleansed, it was sent to the wabet or "place of embalming". Once at the wabet the process continued with the removal of the brain.
Once the brain was removed, a "priest" came and marked the spot where a cut was to be placed. This cut was either along the left side of the stomach or from the top left of the pelvis to the upper part of the genital area. Once the cut was marked a "slicer" made the incision. The liver, lungs, stomach, and intestines were removed and placed in either canopic jars or an alabaster chest that was sealed with face shaped stoppers.
The canopic jars were then sealed and protected by different gods that were depicted on the jars. The canopic jars were made of either stone or ceramic. Sometimes the canopic jars were placed inside a canopic chest.
After all the organs were removed the mummy was cleaned, washed, and filled with spices. The spices that were used were myrrh, cassia, and all other fragrant spices excluding frankincense. Next the mummy was covered with natron and set in the desert to dry. According to Herodotus the mummy dried for seventy days.
Herodotus made a mistake when telling the number of days that the mummy was in the desert to dry. Herodotus said that the mummy was set in the desert for seventy days when the mummy was actually in the desert for forty days.
The number seventy most likely came from the number of days the entire process of mummification took. The Ancient Egyptians might have based the seventy days on the seventy days that the canine star, Sirus, was not visible. Sirus "died" and was "reborn" after seventy days. When the seventy days were up it was the Egyptian New Year.
Something that Herodotus failed to mention is that the organs of the deceased were also coated in natron and set to dry with the corpse. The natron that was used was dry, not a solution and was found at Wadi Natrun or at El Kab. Wadi Natrun is a place about forty miles northwest of Cairo and El Kab is in northern Egypt.
Once the mummy and the organs were completely dehydrated they were then wrapped in linen. The body was wrapped with hundreds even thousands of square feet of linen. The mummy was wrapped almost two dozen times.
The process of mummification was completed after the mummy was completely wrapped. The embalmers did their best job to preserve the body of the deceased so the deceased's soul would live for eternity in the afterlife. Mummification was a successful attempt at completely preserving the body of the deceased Egyptians, which made the ancient Egyptians closer to their goal of immortality.