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