In Ancient Egypt What Happens If You Couldn't Afford to Be Preserved?

Outlying sections of desert were common burial spots for the poor.
... Medioimages/Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images

The ancient Egyptians took the concept of the afterlife seriously, and were meticulous in preserving the bodies of the deceased via embalming treatments. Embalming prevented bodies from decaying. The ancient Egyptians believed that intact bodies were vital for rebirth. Not all citizens of the time could afford the complex procedure, however.

1 Embalming Process

The embalming process was extremely detailed. Skilled embalmers extracted organs such as the intestines, stomach, brain, liver and lungs for storage in canopic jars. They kept hearts within bodies, as the heart was thought of as the foundation of a person's being. Embalmers then dried out the bodies using natron salts. To keep the bodies smelling fragrant, they employed various spices and oils. They carefully wrapped the bodies before putting them inside coffins. Mummification was a lengthy undertaking that required 70 days. Drying the body alone called for 40 days.

2 Burial of Poor Ancient Egyptians

Not all ancient Egyptians could afford to receive such detailed treatment in death. If they couldn't pay for their preservation, their were buried in underground holes in the desert instead. The arid and hot weather worked to mummify them. Oddly enough, this practice was very effective, sometimes producing superior preservation results than the embalming of the upper class.

3 Basic Desert Graves

Embalming wasn't the only costly part about burial in ancient Egypt; tombs were also pricey. The burial sites of poor ancient Egyptians were typically situated in graveyards on the outskirts of the desert, away from communities. They were sometimes buried around cliffs as well. Graves were basic and shallow, with bodies covered in reed mats. Burial of the poor happened swiftly as the time-consuming mummification process wasn't involved.

4 Similar to Burial in Predynastic Times

Burial in ancient Egypt wasn't always such a methodical procedure. In pre-dynastic times, up until 3,100 B.C., it was actually pretty straightforward and not unlike the burials of the poor in later times. People were buried in holes in the desert. The bodies were lowered into the ground in curled up, fetal stances. They had absolutely no protection from the sand, whether by coffins or any wrapping. The ancient Egyptians often placed several vital items in the pits alongside the deceased, such as accessories and bowls. It was believed that the deceased might benefit from having these items in the next life.

  • 1 Living in Ancient Egypt; Norman Bancroft Hunt
  • 2 Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt; Margaret Bunson
  • 3 Middle Egyptian -- An Introduction to the Language and Culture of the Hieroglyphs; James P. Allen
  • 4 Ancient Egypt; Mary Green
  • 5 The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt; Ian Shaw
  • 6 Rich & Poor in Ancient Egypt; Clare Hibbert
  • 7 Death and the Afterlife in Ancient Egypt; John H. Taylor
  • 8 Atlas of the World's Deserts; Nathaniel Harris
  • 9 Handbook to Life in Ancient Egypt; Rosalie David