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Eternal life – passing from one form of life to another

Ancient Egypt attracts us all with its great mystery and wealth. From the very beginning, the Egyptian people paid great attention to still be strong after death. This is why, throughout the ancient civilization, they perfected ways of keeping the body in the best possible condition after death.

Mummies - how and why were they made?

From as far back as we know, in Egypt it was a common belief that there was a life waiting for people in an eternal land after death. In order to get there, it was not allowed to damage the body of the deceased. This belief led the ancient Egyptians to devote an enormous amount of energy to the continuous improvement of methods of embalming a corpse.

Mummification – where did it all start?

It was observed that bodies buried in the desert dried rather than rotting and from that came the idea of using this way to preserve bodies. Who came across such a corpse and thought, "Hey! That body in the sand is dry!”?

Mummification appeared in ancient Egypt as early as the 2nd Dynasty, i.e. around 2800 BC. and was already an important element of the funeral rite. However, it was only about 200 years later, during the 4th Dynasty, that it reached a level that we can call "real mummification".

In the Middle Kingdom (around 2050-1710 B.C.E.), embalming became more and more popular and it began to spread on a larger scale. However, the mummification process itself had still not been perfected, and the bodies from this period have not been well preserved. The methods, however, were constantly improved upon, and eventually the ancient Egyptians achieved perfection when embalming the bodies of their dead.

The Divine beginning of mummification

According to Egyptian beliefs, the god Anubis was the inventor of mummification. He did it for the first time by embalming the body of the god Osiris. This tradition was so deeply entrenched in the minds of the Egyptians that throughout the period when the mummification of the corpse was performed, one of the priests wore a jackal mask on his head to imitate Anubis, the Egyptian god of mummification and the afterlife.

How do we know?

We gathered information on the process of mummification from Greek sources; Herodotus, Diodorus, Plutarch and Porphyry. Our knowledge was supplemented with research of, among others the mummy of Ramesses II, as well as the anonymous mummy from the Late Period, which scientists conducted in 1986.

The secrets behind embalming

The deceased was taken to a special home called the house of purification.

There they removed the brain of the deceased. This was done through the nose with an iron hook, it was shredded and then taken out. Modern research, suggests that the contents of the skull were extracted by gravity through a rod placed in it.

An incision was made on the right side of the body with a flint knife and, after breaking the diaphragm, all organs were removed. The organs were embalmed separately and then placed in four canopic urns. Only the heart and kidneys were left in the body. The heart was left in place, as they believed it to be the center of a person's being.

Then the body had to be dried using a chemical called natron, which is a naturally-derived salt with excellent drying properties. This was done by a taricheut specially qualified in this field. The body was placed in the natron and left for approximately 35 days. To reduce the blackening of the skin, henna or ochre was applied to it - red for men and yellow for women, respectively. The opening in the body was then filled with bandages, and a plaque dedicated to the four sons of Horus was placed on the cut itself.

The corpse then needed to be washed and cleaned, and then wrapped in bandages. This step followed a strictly defined ritual, which was divided into several successive stages. At first, the body was covered with a sheet and all limbs were wrapped with linen bandages. The fingers or the phallus were bandaged separately. In the next stage, the whole body was wrapped. Amulets, jewels and rose petals were placed between the scrolls. From the time of the New Kingdom, additional sacred texts were inserted between the scrolls. For example, between the legs of the deceased, we would find the Book of the Dead.

At the very end of the process, a death mask was put on the face of the deceased. This mask has evolved and over time became a kind of board that covers the whole body.

The afterlife with all the home comforts

Once the body of the deceased had been secured against destruction, it then had to be equipped with appropriate equipment. The Egyptians believed that in the afterlife they would live a life similar to that on earth. Therefore, everything necessary for a peaceful and prosperous existence had to be put into the grave.

This is why we find so many everyday items in graves and tombs. Already in the predynastic period, the deceased were buried with modest ornaments, dishes or lipstick trays. The deceased also needed food and drinks, because the worst fate was to remain without them in the afterlife. Families regularly brought their relatives food, drinks, incense and even clothes.

The Egyptians were so careful in this matter that they placed the invocation to Osiris in a visible place of the tomb just in case. After reading it aloud, the magic of words was to be revealed, and thanks to this the god was to materialize all the products necessary for the deceased in the afterlife.

In ancient Egypt, the mummification process was carried out with the greatest care and accuracy. The need to preserve the body was so important that in the process of embalming itself, there was no distinction between rich and poor. It was only the quality of the bandages, the wealth of amulets or death masks, as well as the type and quantity of grave gifts that allowed us to determine who was more important, richer or poorer.

The mummies found in graves have always filled the world with fascination and slight anxiety. The Egyptians have made the embalming process so perfect that sometimes you get the impression that the deceased will simply jump up & speak. It is not without reason that so many products in our culture have been created that tell about such cases of mummies suddenly coming alive.

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