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Mummification / Mummies

Why Egyptians Mummified Bodies

The ancient Egyptians believed in the afterlife. They believed that after they died they were transported to a new life. This new life required them to have their bodies intact. Most of the things they did in this life were a preparation for the afterlife. Getting to the afterlife was the most important thing that anyone could do.

They also believed that everybody had twin spirits within them. These spirits were known as ba and ka. Ba was the soul, and ka was a sort of invisible twin to the living body. After a person died, they believed that these two spirits were released. Ba used to visit living relatives and friends; ka made visits to the afterlife. Both ba and ka needed to be able to recognize the body after they had been visiting. If the body had decayed or been disfigured, they could not find it again. So, it was very important that the body was preserved in a form that the spirits could recognize.

How well the body was preserved, and what treasures they took with them, depended on how rich and important a person was. It was not unusual for people to take food, toys, games, weapons, furniture, boats and even pets with them. The more things they took, the more important they were, and the better the mummification process.

How Mummies Began

The earliest Egyptian graves were a shallow pit in the sand, with the dead body laid inside in a curled position. Although the person was buried without clothes, some of their favorite things, such as weapons, hunting supplies, and toys- were placed in the burial pit with them. If a person was to have fun in the after life, they needed to take their favorite things with them. They also needed food for the journey, and usually a boat.

The hot sun and the dry sand stopped the body from decaying (rotting). When a living thing dies, bacteria breaks down the body, everything disappears. The bones usually remain, but all of the soft tissues, such as skin, flesh and internal organs rot away.. Bacteria need moisture to work. In the desert sands the body was preserved as the bacteria couldn't work. The very first Egyptian mummies were a mistake, no one planned them, but they gave them the idea about the afterlife.

Once the Egyptians discovered that the bodies were not decaying, they decided that they were right about the afterlife.

If the afterlife was real, they thought they ought to have fancier funerals. One improvement was to pile rocks on the graves to keep animals from digging up the bodies. Later, they lined the bottoms of burial pits with a carpet of straw or animal skins. A while after that, they added brick floors and walls. These were the beginnings of the very fancy Egyptian tombs.

Dead kings and queens were given special funerals. Instead of being buried without clothes, they were wrapped in linen, which is a type of cloth made from the flax plant. To protect the body even further, the linen was coated with melted resin (a very sticky plant extract), which created a waterproof, seal around the body after it hardened.

The body was placed in a coffin with with jewels and treasures and then buried in a grave much deeper than usual. The Egyptians thought they had come up with a good way to protect these important bodies from animals that might dig them up.

They soon found out they had made a big mistake. Instead of protecting the body, all the things they had added kept the moisture in, and the bodies decayed. All of the soft tissues rotted away, and all that was left was bones, the cloth and the treasures.

They then decided they needed to find some way of preserving the bodies. If the bodies couldn't be preserved, the person would have no afterlife.

They needed to come up with a way to bury the bodies deep underground, to keep animals away, but still prevent the body from decaying. They experimented with different methods and finally came up with the one that was used on the mummies that are still around today.

The entire process of mummification took 70 days to complete. Several embalmers carried out the task in the special embalming shop or per nefer. The chief embalmer was known as the hery seshta. He wore a jackal mask to represent Anubis, the guardian of the underworld. Assistants called wetyw bandaged the body and carried out other tasks of the embalming process.

Since the body had to be as near perfect as possible, they took very great care to do as little damage to it as possible. When the hery seshta made the cut in the body, to remove the organs, the wetyw would throw stones at him. They were very small stones, and not meant to do any real harm. Instead, they were supposed to show that people thought doing any damage to the body was a terrible thing.

Now, find about how the mummies were made, and try some of the assignments:

How Mummies Were Made

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