Ancient Egypt keeps astonishing not only historians and archeologists but the whole humankind, and one of its greatest mysteries is mummifying the bodies of human beings and animals. This was an extremely important practice as ancient Egyptians believed in afterlife, and mummified body secured a place for the spirit allowing it to return to the body after death. 5 rare peice that you can find well preserved in The Egyptian Musuem "Mummification Room".
It’s widely known that the first mummies found in Egypt were preserved naturally in shallow pit graves due to hot dry desert climate, and for long time scientists did believe that intentional mummification started in 2600 BC but a new research published in 2014 shows that Egyptians began embalming the bodies of the dead with animal fats mixed with tree resins and plant extracts from the Late Neolithic and Predynastic periods (4500-3100 BC). Much of these early experimentations, however, remain unknown till today.
Mummification was a significant religious ritual carried out by priests reciting prayers during the whole process. Well preserved corpse ensured successful afterlife as the body (“ka”) was considered the house of the soul (“ba”). Ancients believed that the “ka” remained in the tomb enjoying the riches buried with the dead, “ka” was free to fly out, though the voyage to the netherworld for judgment was done by “akh”, the third part of the spirit.
The process of mummification began with taking the body to building called “ibu” (“purification place”) where the evisceration of the body was done. Embalmers used to remove all inner organs, except the heart symbolizing human’s feeling and intelligence. In some cases a scarab or other amulet was put over the heart of the deceased person to protect it in its journey through the Underworld. The brain that was not seen as an important organ was also drawn out through the nose. A long hook was introduced into the brain through the nostrils and spun around to liquefy the brain. Then the interior was rinsed with some spices and wine, the belly was filled with cassia and myrrh and sewed together again. After this the body was covered with white crystalline salt called natron for 70 days and then washed before wrapping it from head to toe in bandage made of fine linen. And the last step was putting the body into sarcophagus and placing it with all treasures into an opulent tomb often made in shape of pyramid. The stomach, lungs, liver and intestines were dried out and put in four separate canopic jars, symbolizing the Four Sons of Horus.
From the very start this expensive and long process of embalming the dead was a privilege reserved for pharaohs solely but in later periods it became accessible for nobles, rich people and even commoners. Herodotus, the Greek historian who lived in the 5th century BC, described two other methods of mummifying. The first was done by filling the belly with cedar-wood oil and after the same 70 days of mineral salt treatment letting the oil out leaving the body as skin and bones. The cheapest method applied for poor people involved only cleaning the belly with a purge and covering the corpse with natron.
Egyptians excelled in mummifying and practiced it for more than 2,000 years, the last mummies were made in the Roman era (40 BC – AD 364).