Around 5,000 years ago, ancient Egyptians found that the natural conditions of their arid environment dried and preserved the remains of bodies buried within it. Customs changed over time and the Egyptians began to bury their dead in caskets. This new burial custom meant developing new methods of preserving the dead and ushered in the rise of mummification. During the age of the Old Kingdom (around 2575-2130 BCE), mummification was reserved exclusively for the royal family, the only exceptions being those who the king deemed worthy. Over time mummification began to see wider adoption, and eventually mummification workshops offered a range of services that catered to all budgets.
WHAT IS THE PROCESS OF MUMMIFICATION?
The mummification process involved purifying and embalming a person’s body to prepare them for the afterlife. This required removal of the organs, which were placed in special jars called canopic jars. The only organ left behind was the heart, because it was believed to be vital in order for the person to move on to the afterlife. The body was dehydrated using natron, a salt found in dry lakebeds, then washed and embalmed with oils before being wrapped in linens. Because of the length of the entire process, there was often a 70-day mummification period between a person’s death and their burial.
WHAT WAS THE PURPOSE OF MUMMIFICATION?
The ancient Egyptians believed that after a person died, they would still need their body in order to live on in the afterlife. They believed that when a person died only the ka, the life force of the soul, left the body. The personality of the soul, the ba, remained with the body until burial. Once buried, the ba separated from the person’s body to begin the journey into the underworld to be tested by the gods. If all tests were passed, the ba and ka would reunite to form a spirit called an akh, allowing the person to move on into the afterlife.