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The History Of The Egyptian Mummification History Essay

2346 words (9 pages) Essay in History

5/12/16 History Reference this

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Mummification had a great affect on Egyptian culture, and became a part of their religion, and it evolved over time. Some animals where mummified for use of most human burial rituals, but where mostly for certain classes of people. The mummification of ancient Egypt has always fascinated people, how the mummification was done, and that mummification wasn’t just for the pharaohs, it was also for the religious class, then began expanding to the social classes. Mummification also helped with economics and improved the technology in the tools they used for mummification. Mummifications just weren’t to prep the body for burial, but to preserve the body because the Egypt’s believe that they will be resurrected. How the resurrection ritual worked was after the person’s death they are mummified. Then the mummy was provided with the means to enter the nether world and then they were provided instructions for reaching and passing the judgment. According to Egyptians myth, Osiris was the first mummy, who was killed by Seth, was rescued by his son, Horus and then was resurrected to life. [1] 

The Egyptians religion was important to them and they didn’t just believe in many gods, but they also believed in an afterlife. The Egyptians believed that when a person dies the personality of the dead person continues to live after death as a spirit. They also believed that they could take things, like material possessions with them to the afterlife, they actually considered it necessary to go on living in the afterlife. It was also up to the relations of the dead to renew their necessities from time to time. The pharaohs’ tombs had all the objects that they would want or need in the afterlife. Which consisted mainly of food, drink, clothing, tools, furniture, jewelry, weapons, toiletries, clothing and even mummified pets that accompany them. [2] 

Just as the pharaohs had servants to tend to their needs in the real life such as laborers, farmers, artisans, priests and others, the pharaohs were also buried with shabtis to ensure that their needs were taken care of in the afterlife. The Shabtis were small carved figures with a mummy-like lower half and a human torso, the Shabtis often held the tools of their trade in their hands. It was believed that the Shabtis would spring to life and serve the pharaoh they were buried with, in the afterlife. The pharaohs were buried with a lot of Shabits. To ensure a comfortable afterlife the Ancient Egyptians had a collection of text that where considered the funerary manuscripts. The funerary manuscripts were started by being written on the walls of the tombs, and then they were written on the coffins and later on scrolls of papyrus that were placed in the tombs. The most famous collection of the funerary manuscripts is the “Book of the Dead,” which the Ancient Egyptians used from around 1450 BC to 30 BC. The funerary manuscripts often included magic spells and advice given to help the deceased stay safe and successfully reach the afterlife. [3] 

Ancient Egyptians believed that death was when a person’s ka leaves their body. The ceremonies that where conducted by the priests after death, included the “opening of the mouth”, the purpose was to restore a person’s physical abilities in death, and also to release the deceased Ba’s attachment to the body. Which allowed the Ba to become united with the Ka in the afterlife; together they create “Akh”. Egyptians thought of an afterlife as being very similar to normal physical existence, although it did have a difference. The afterlife or new existence was modeled after the journey of the sun, when the sun descended at night into the Duat otherwise known as the underworld. The sun meets the mummified body of Osiris. For the dead, their body and tomb were their personal Duat and their personal Osiris. This was the reason they were often called “Osiris”. For the mummification process to work properly a sort fo bodily preservation was needed, to allow the Ba to return at night, and be able to rise in the morning to a new life, although the Akhy was also believed to appear as stars. Not until the Late period, did non-royal Egyptians expect to unite with the sun deity in the afterlife since it was reserved for the royals. [4] 

The first Egyptian mummies were actually the bodies of people who had died and been buried in the desert. Their bodies had dried out and remained intact. Later wealthy Egyptians were mummified after death. The procedures where a way of preserving the body and preparing it for the afterlife. One of the procedures included cleaning the body inside and out. The Egyptian Technology in mummification is unique; the first organ removed was the brain. The Egyptians believed that the brain was of little importance and it was thrown away when removed. Using Herodotus’ account for guidance, he states that the brain was extracted by poking a hole in the thin bone at the top of the nostrils, the ethmoid bone. A large bronze needle with a hooked or spiral end was used to perform this procedure. However, it has never been clear how such a large organ was removed through such a small hole. It had been speculated that the Egyptians would insert this hook through the nose and the brain could be pulled out in pieces. It proved very difficult to remove using this method. With the corpse lying on its back, they inserted the hook through the nose and managed to pulverize the brain tissue into an almost liquid state. Then they turned the body over onto its stomach, and the liquefied brain tissue drained out through the nostrils. Palm wine and frankincense was used to flush and clean the cranial cavity. [5] 

Following Herodotus’ lead, the next step was to remove the internal organs. Herodotus described using of a sharp black stone to slice open the abdomen. It is assumed this was made of obsidian, a black volcanic glass. It had been speculated that obsidian was used because of ritualistic purposes. But, it may have been used simply because it was the best material available for cutting through human tissue. A small incision was made on the left side through which the internal organs were removed. The heart was the only organ that the Egyptians left intact because this is where they believed the essence of a person lived. After removing the internal organs, they were washed with frankincense, myrrh and palm wine. Then they would be dried using natron. Embalmers of the Old Kingdom hadn’t yet learned how to preserve the flesh. In the 4th Dynasty of the Old Kingdom embalmers began experimenting with natron. This is a compound of salts that is a close chemical composition of bicarbonate of soda. When the body was packed in natron crystals, the moisture was drawn out of the skin tissue. The consistent use of natron did not occur until the 12th Dynasty of the Middle Kingdom. After being individually preserved, the organs are stored in a special canister called a canopic jar. The lids of canopic jars are shaped like the heads of Egyptian gods, the four sons of Horus. They are the guardians of the entrails. The canopic jars with their contents would be placed in the tomb with the mummy. [6] 

Amongst the items used was Alum, although many modern scientists debate whether the use of Alum was deliberate or a coincidence. Beeswax was one of the most important materials. It was used to cover the nose, eyes, ears as well as all other embalming incisions during the mummification process. They would even create statues of the four sons of Horus using beeswax and would place them along with Canopic jars. The mummies from the Greco-Roman period were coated with bitumen. However the scarcity of this material greatly limited its use. Cassia and cinnamon were also used in the mummification process along with cedar oil, henna, honey, juniper berries, lichen, natron and special homemade ointments. The use of materials also varied over time but in general the above mentioned items were essential to conduct the Egyptian mummification process. [7] 

In the Old Kingdom only royalty or nobility were mummified. During the Middle Kingdom, mummification began to spread to the upper middle class. During the 18th and 19th Dynasties of the New Kingdom more and more people could afford to be embalmed. Both royal and non-royal mummies were prepared. The only difference in the two was the way the hands were positioned. Royal males were positioned with their hands placed flat on the chest in the “classic mummy pose”. [8] 

In the ranking of social classes the pharaoh, which had absolute power over everyone in the kingdom. He did rely on high officials and their literate staffs to administer his lands. This is like their pyramids and the pharaoh is on top. He also had high priests that performed rituals and running the lands donated to the various gods. The peasantry made up the base of the social pyramid. The pharaoh embodied the concept of ma’at, which is the Egyptian belief in a cosmic harmony that embraced truth, justice, and moral integrity; it gave the pharaohs the right and duty to govern. To the people they were in effect ruled by a god. If the pharaoh was weak or allowed anyone to challenge his position, he would open the way to chaos. This happened twice in Egyptian history. During these two eras, known as the first and second intermediate periods, Egypt was exposed to civil war and invasion, but the monarchy survived. A strong pharaoh arose to crush the rebels or expel the invaders and restore order in each period. [9] 

As Egyptian history progressed, mummification became available to people of the upper and even the middle classes. During the Middle Kingdom, the political and economic growth of the middle classes and the increased importance of religious beliefs and practices among all Egyptian social classes resulted in the spread of mummification to new sections of the population. More mummies have survived from that period than from the Old Kingdom, but it is also evident that less care was taken in their preparations. Mummification at that time became an increasingly prosperous commercial venture, and it tended to indicate the decease’s social status rather than any religious conviction. [10] 

This resulted in a further decline in the quality of the mummification process. At that time, bodies were elaborately bandaged and encased in covers made of cartonnage (a mixture of plaster and papyrus or linen). Mummification was never generally available to the common classes of people. Yet, since they could not afford the sophisticated funerary structures, they continued to be interred in simple desert graves where their bodies were naturally preserved. [11] 

Today, the method of mummification used to preserve a body, as well as the quality of the work, aids Egyptologists in determining the social status of the deceased. Herodotus, the Greek historian, tells us that there were three primary types of mummification available which ancient clients chose according to their ability to pay for these services. Also Offerings of cat statuettes and mummified cats were presented at temples. Some of the cat-shaped statues were actually elaborate coffins designed to hold mummified cats. Cat cemeteries filled with these mummies have been found throughout Egypt, for example at Bubastis, Saqqara, Thebes, [12] and Beni Hasan. In apparent contrast to the prohibition against killing cats, it does not appear that these mummified cats were old house pets, preserved after their natural deaths.

Modern x-ray evidence shows cats were deliberately killed, often while still quite young, suggesting that the cats were bred specifically for this purpose. At least in part, these practices seem to have been encouraged by Egyptian rulers for economic reasons. The ‘sacred animal industry’, supplied considerable employment and also provided tax income to the Pharaohs. [13] 

That is a lot of information on Egyptian mummification and how it was started to how they perfected it. It is amazing how they did the mummification and how it was for religious purposes. so mummification wasn’t just for the pharaohs, it was also for the religious class, then began expanding to the social classes. Mummification also helped with economics and improved the technology in the tools they used for mummification. Also animals were used in Ancient Egyptian religious art to illustrate characteristics of the gods. However, the Egyptians did not worship animals and the depictions were not literal. For example, Horus was depicted as a falcon because he was believed to have falcon-like qualities, not because he was thought to be a bird and the goddess Bastet, linked to childrearing, was often represented as a cat.

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