The beliefs and daily practices surrounding death and burial in ancient Egypt were elaborate but meaningful, as they stemmed from the religious and spiritual beliefs of the people. Many of the beliefs and practices, including burial ceremonies, bridged the real world to the afterlife. Some of the bodily preservation and burial methods were so advanced that today bodies of ancient Egyptians are excavated and found in amazing condition -- so well-preserved that fingernails, eyelashes and arm hair are visible on corpses.
For ancient Egyptians, a tomb was a chamber for housing a dead body and storing treasures and supplies needed for the afterlife. Once these tombs were sealed, it was believed they would never be opened again. The type of tomb in which a person would be buried depended on his social class. All tombs had subterranean burial chambers but the wealthier deceased often had above-ground chapels for mortuary rituals and ornamentation. Members of royalty were buried beneath pyramids in conjunction with temples resting at the base. The History channel suggests that tombs likely originated from the prehistoric practice of burying people in their own homes before the use of graves and urns.
Supplies for the Afterlife
The ancient Egyptians believed that once they died, they continued on to the afterlife, and the more supplies and wealth they had in their tombs, the better prepared they would be for navigating the afterlife. Ancient Egyptians believed that when people died, they would carry on their profession in the afterlife. For example, a fisherman's tomb might contain a small boat and fishing supplies. However, due to space limitations, a small model boat and replicas of tools would be added with the understanding they would be magically transformed into the real thing in the afterlife. Food would also be included in tombs and painted onto the walls to transform into real sustenance.
Egyptian funerary rituals took place to honor the deceased and to send his soul into the afterlife. According to ancient Greek historian Herodotus, some Egyptian burials were very dramatic when it came to mourning the dead, despite the fact that the ceremony was to celebrate the deceased person's finding happiness and fulfillment in the afterlife. Herodotus recalls the funeral of a wealthy man who had a high social standing. He wrote that men and women would plaster their faces with mud and parade around town beating themselves. Then when this ritual ended, the corpse was mummified.
Mummification was an embalming treatment involving a unique process. All the moisture was removed from the body to help ward off decay and to keep the body as lifelike as possible, which was important to Egyptian religion. Mummification was so complex, it took 70 days and was carried out by specially trained priests. These priests had an advanced knowledge of the human body and knew all the prayers and rituals to be performed at the various stages of the process. The brain was removed through the nose with a hook and kept in a jar. Other organs, such as the lungs, liver, intestines and stomach, were placed in canopic jars and buried with the mummy. But the heart was left in place, as it was believed to be the core of the person's thoughts and soul.
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