Egypt : Mummification Process

Tomb of Niperpathot at Siwa

Mummified remains in the Tomb of Niperpathot, Mountain of the Dead, Siwa

The mummification museum in Luxor gives an excellent overview of the mummification process of ancient Egyptians. During the process four of the internal organs are removed and kept separately in different canopic jars each being protected by one of the four sons of Horus and each of its cap depicting a different animal. The lungs are stored in a jar with a baboon head, the stomach in a jar with a jackal's head, the liver in a jar with a human head and the intestine in a jar with a falcon head. The brain is also removed, but unlike the other organs it is discarded since the ancient Egyptians realised long ago that it is absolutely useless. The brain is actually removed through the nose of the deceased without using any surgery on the skull! The one organ which is always left in its place is the heart. According to their beliefs (mentioned in the book of the dead), the heart of the dead is weighed against a feather (belonging to the Goddess Maat) and unless the heart is lighter than the feather (implying that the person has not committed any sin in his/her life), (s)he will not be allowed to enter the underworld. God Anubis would save the heart from the demoness Amut iff the heart passes the weighing test.

The vacant areas left by the organs are then filled with packets of natrun salts, available locally in abundance, which does the dual job of dehydrating the body and prevent it from collapsing. The body is then embalmed with different types of oils to reduce the brittleness of the bones and the skin. Finally it is clothed in linen to finish the mummification process. The entire process could take upto 70 days. Before burial, there is one final ceremony called the opening of the mouth where the high priest taps the mouth of the mummified body to restore its ability to speak in the afterlife. The ability to speak is very important because unless the magic words are uttered by the deceased in the afterlife (s)he will not regain the services of the internal organs preserved in the canopic jars or get access to the underworld. The walls of the tombs are inscribed with these magic verses and passwords so that the pharaoh is not forced to learn them by heart before he dies!

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