Have you ever seen an ancient mummy up close?
Few of us have that’s why it always fascinates us when we see one even in photos or on video. It’s an ancient practice of preservation and it’s so intriguing how they were able to do that in ancient times.
And it wasn’t just the Egyptians who practiced it.
The Chinchorro people, who lived in Southern Peru and Northern Chile have been practicing this for centuries. In fact, their practice “began around 7,000 B.C., some two millennia before the first known Egyptian mummies.”
And how does it work anyway? What is the process of mummification?
“Although the practice became more sophisticated over time, the basic process remained the same. It involved the removal of soft tissue, organs and brains. The hollow body was then dried out and reassembled. The skin was stuffed with reeds, dried plants or other vegetal matter. Sticks were inserted into the arms and legs. Clay masks were placed on the corpses’ faces and wigs were often attached. The finished mummy was then painted,” Tom Garlinghouse reported for Livescience.
And mummification was only performed by skilled specialists because of its intricacies.
Just take a look at these examples.
1. Egyptian mummy
Look at how intricately they wrapped this Egyptian mummy. They took the time to be purposeful with their design and wrapping. And look at the fingers. They were all wrapped one by one, too.
2. An elephant mummy
Humans aren’t the only ones who are mummified. It can be done for animals, too. Meet baby “Lyuba.”
3. From the Saite period
The mummification process takes around seventy days. And their organs were not discarded. In fact, they were preserved separately, placed in canopic jars, and buried with the body.
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4. With special eyes
Embalmers removed all the moisture from their body by covering the entire body with natron. Natron is a type of salt with great drying properties.
“When the body had dried out completely, embalmers removed the internal packets and lightly washed the natron off the body. The result was a very dried-out but recognizable human form. To make the mummy seem even more life-like, sunken areas of the body were filled out with linen and other materials and false eyes were added,” the Smithsonian reported.
5. The reason why
Why did they preserve the body though?
“The Egyptians believed that the mummified body was the home for this soul or spirit. If the body was destroyed, the spirit might be lost. The idea of “spirit” was complex involving really three spirits: the ka, ba, and akh. The ka, a “double” of the person, would remain in the tomb and needed the offerings and objects there. The ba, or “soul”, was free to fly out of the tomb and return to it. And it was the akh, perhaps translated as “spirit”, which had to travel through the Underworld to the Final Judgment and entrance to the Afterlife. To the Egyptian, all three were essential,” the Smithsonian reported as well.
6. Burial practice
The burial practices, performed by priests, are quite elaborate. They are preparing the body and spirit for the Afterlife. They give importance to their death as much because they love their life. And they want to extend that love to their death, as well.
7. Technological advances
In 1940, a mummified corpse that underwent natural mummification was discovered in Nevada. They thought it was only around 1,500 to 2,000 years old. But in 1990, there were technological advancements and they found out it was actually 10,000 years old. Whoa.
8. All walks of life
In the Chinchorro society, where mummification was discovered to have started, this process was available to all. Everyone was mummified. Whether you were a baby, a small child, or an adult, or even a fetus, their corpses were mummified.
9. Ancient Egypt
Even though mummification started with the Chinchorro people, the process became associated with the Egyptians. The elite members of ancient Egyptian times observed this practice.
“…mummification in ancient Egypt was typically reserved for the elite of society such as royalty, noble families, government officials, and the wealthy. Common people were rarely mummified because the practice was expensive,” Tom Garlinghouse wrote.
10. What did they leave?
“The heart was always left inside,” Rita Lucarelli, an Egyptologist, and expert in Egyptian papyri, said, “because the Egyptians believed it was the most important aspect of the person in that it contained the intellect.”
11. What happens to the body?
“The corpse is then handed over to the relatives,” 5th-century Greek writer Herodotus wrote in his famous work, “The Histories”, “who enclose it in a hollow wooden coffin crafted to resemble a human which they have made for this purpose, and once the coffin is closed, they stow it away in a burial chamber.”
12. Now a lost art
Mummification began to die down when Rome ruled Egypt. Now, it’s a lost art. But one thing remains, corpses are still embalmed before their funeral.
Would you like to see more mummies discovered and uncovered? Watch the video below.
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