Mystery of the Mummy
by Steven N. Ng
Ancient Egyptian mummies have long sparked our imaginations,
starring in countless horror films and novels. But what are
they? How were they made? Why were they made? That's the mystery
of the mummy.
The Egyptian mummification process is basically a means of
preserving a dead body. Without preservation, a body will
decompose, leaving only the bones. The Egyptian mummification
process therefore prevents a body from decomposing, allowing
the deceased to resemble what he looked like when he was still
THE FINAL JUDGMENT
To the ancient Egyptians, a person is composed of 6 different
parts: his body, ba (personality or character), ka (spirit
of life), akh (immortal soul), as well as his name and his
shadow. A person is not whole if he is missing any of these
The ancient Egyptians believed in the afterlife. They believed
that when a person died, he continued living in another plane
of life in the underworld. Since he is still considered to
be "alive", all 6 parts of that person should be
intact for him to live properly. Hence the need for preservation
of the body, and the creation of the ancient Egyptian mummies.
An important belief in ancient Egypt, and the source of many
Egyptian paintings, is the Final Judgment. It describes what
happens after a person physically dies. The paintings show
the recently deceased describing his deeds to a panel of judges.
He is then led to the scales of balance by Anubis, the jackal-headed
god of mummification and the afterlife. Here, his heart, which
contains all the evil that he has committed, is weighed against
the feather of Ma'at, goddess of truth and justice.
Thoth, the ibis-headed god of wisdom, records the outcome.
If the heart is heavier, the deceased is judged too evil and
undeserving of a place in the afterlife. The heart will then
be devoured by Ammit, the god with the head of a crocodile
and the body of a hippopotamus.
If the feather of Ma'at is heavier, the person is deemed worthy,
and is taken by Horus, the falcon-headed god, to the afterlife
and the underworld, ruled by Osiris.
THE MUMMIFICATION PROCESS
The details of the Egyptian mummification process has been
lost to time. Most of what we know today about the mummification
process comes from the writings of Herodotus, the Greek traveler.
From what we know, creating the ancient Egyptian mummies is
a complicated process. Herodotus' writings indicate that the
entire process takes 70 days, from the time of death till
the mummy is buried.
Firstly, the internal organs are removed. All organs are removed
except for the heart, which the ancient Egyptians believed
to be the center of a person's being.
To remove the organs from the abdominal cavity (such as the
lungs, stomach, liver and intestines), a small cut is made
in the left abdomen, and the organs removed from there. The
organs are then cleansed and stored in 4 canopic jars, representing
the Four Sons of Horus. These jars will be buried together
with the mummy.
The brain is also removed. A hooked instrument is inserted
into the skull via the nose. The hook is then used to pull
out the brain in small pieces.
The next step in the Egyptian mummification process is to
dry the body. If there is any water remaining in the body,
bacteria will grow and cause the body to decompose. The drying
agent is natron, a mixture of salts found along the Nile valley.
By covering the body with natron for the majority of the 70
days, it will be completely dried.
After the natron is removed, the body is then wrapped using
linen and resin. Hundreds of yards of linen are used, and
usually covered with holy inscriptions. The finished mummy
is then buried in his tomb together with his possessions.
Egyptologists have long wondered if this process as described
by Herodotus could really create the ancient Egyptian mummies.
In 1994, a team of scientists at the University of Maryland,
USA, closely followed the Egyptian mummification process and
successfully created a mummy that was free of bacteria and
decay. Thus the mystery of the mummy is finally solved.
You can visit www.nekhebet.com for more information about
mummies and other mysteries of ancient Egypt.
About The Author
Steven maintains the informational website Wonders of Ancient
Egypt at http://www.nekhebet.com. Do visit if you want to
find out more about the wonders of Egypt such as the Pyramids
and the Lighthouse; or mysteries such as mummifcation and
conspiracy theories; or its religion and history.