Who Performed Mummification in Ancient Egypt?
25 JUN 2018
In ancient Egypt, mummification was a means of preserving the bodies of the dead for the afterlife, through a careful process of both embalming and wrapping. Mummification wasn't a simple job, and required 70 days to finish. The responsibilities of mummification were handled by skilled artisans called embalmers. Mummification was thought to be essential for rebirth.
1 Performers of Mummification
Embalmers weren't only artisans, they were also often priests. They differed from standard priests in that they were required to have sophisticated knowledge of the body and anatomy. The mummification process involved many actions that drew on an understanding of the human form, such as the extraction of vital organs during preparation of the corpse. Embalmers needed to know which components decomposed the fastest, as they would want to extract those parts first. Embalming also required an extremely steady and graceful hand, as mutilation of the face was always an unpleasant possibility, and the embalmer aimed to preserve the looks of the living person as much as possible.
2 Embalmers and Praying
Prayer was also a major component of the mummification process, and embalmers had to have thorough knowledge of all of the appropriate religious rites. Mummification wasn't exclusively about embalming and handling the corpse, but also about reciting prayers throughout the procedure, such as during the wrapping of the body, for instance.
3 Jackals and Embalming
Embalmers are believed to have performed their services in temporary workshops that were basically tents and could be moved where needed. The older, more skilled embalmers, as master practitioners, took care of some of the most crucial elements of mummification, such as the wrapping of the body. As they wrapped a mummy's body, they wore masks to appear as jackals. These masks symbolized the presence of Anubis, the jackal-headed god who oversaw not only embalming, but also the afterlife in general.
4 What Mummification Involved
Mummification was time-consuming because of all of the necessary steps and processes. After they extracted all of the organs, except the heart, embalmers essentially dehydrated the corpse, eliminating all water by packing it with special salts, preservatives, resins and perfumes. After being treated for between 35 and 40 days, and once the bodies were fully dry, the embalmers then gently rinsed off these compounds. By this point, the bodies were indeed extremely dry, but still identifiable as people, and ready for the process of wrapping in many layers of linen strips, usually with amulets and charms laid in between the strips. The removed organs were stored in special jars to accompany the mummy to the tomb and the afterlife.
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- 2 National Geographic Traveler - Egyptian Mummies; Andrew Humphreys; 2009
- 3 Mummies, Disease and Ancient Cultures; Aidan Cockburn, Eve Cockburn and Theodore A. Reyman; 1998
- 4 British Museum Ancient Egypt: Gods and Goddesses
- 5 Mummies & Their Mysteries; Charlotte Wilcox; 1993
- 6 Mummies; Jim Ollhoff; 2007
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