The three mummies in this article attest not only to the permanence of Egyptian burial practices but also to the importance of religion held in the daily lives of the Egyptians. While some people view mummies as curiosities, they are truly human remains that should be treated with dignity and respect.
The process of preparing the mummy, aka mummification, took centuries to develop. No Egyptian texts describing the details of mummification survived, but descriptions by Greek and Roman authors, along with modern examinations, give us a fairly clear account of the process.
Common materials were used to make a mummy. Myrrh and various resins were used to preserve the flesh. Beeswax was applied to seal incisions. Cinnamon, honey, juniper berries, and onions were used to purify the body. Internal organs that would putrefy were removed through an incision on the left side of the chest and treated separately. The brain was extracted through the nose by means of a bronze instrument. Since the heart was thought to be the seat of intelligence, it was left in the body. The body itself was packed in natron, a natural salt, allowed to dry for about forty days, and then cleaned.
In an effort to restore natural proportions, the body was filled with linen packing, papyrus, sawdust, mud, or sand. After the incisions were sewn up, the embalmed corpse was treated with a molten resin, which caused a blackened appearance, and then it was wrapped in linen bandages. Finally, protective amulets and jewelry were inserted into the wrappings. The Arabic word for bitumen, a kind of resin, is “mummiya,” which gives us the modern name for the preserved dead of ancient Egypt.
Below are photos of three of the popular Egyptian mummies.
Coffin of Pet-Menekh
Ptolemaic period, 4th-3rd B.C.
Pet-Menekh is identified as the priest of the god Chem or Min.
Coffin of the Singer of Amun, Henut-Wedjebu
Dynasty 18, Amenophis III (1390-1353 B.C.)
Henut-Wedjebu was “Mistress of the House and Songstress of Amun” in the temple of Amun in Karnak.
Mummy Case of Amen-Nestawy-Nakht
Dynasty 22 (945-712 B.C.)
Amen-Nestawy-Nakht was a priest of Amun in the city of Thebes.
Credits: Saint Louis Art Museum