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Egypt: Mummies


Funerary Beliefs Connected with Mummification


Mummification symbolizes the fear the ancient Egyptians had of death and answers their eager desire for immortality. "In no country of the earth is life more attractive, more desirable (than it was in ancient Egypt).Little wonder that the Egyptians conceived a fanatical abhorrence of death, and devoted no small part of their wealth to devising means of defeating it''.



This fundamental trait of the ancient Egyptians' psychology is quite apparent in the appeals of the dead inscribed on numerous Middle Kingdom funerary stelae, asking the passers-by to utter a prayer, behalf of the deceased, which is as follows: " O ye who live and exist, who like life and hate death, whosoever shall pass by this tomb, as ye love life and hate death so ye offer to me what is in your hands'' (Lange and Schafer 1902, P.3).

Fig 2: (Cairo Museum Guide no. 219)

The third and innermost gold coffin of Tutankhamon With an attitude such as this, the ancient Egyptians were ready to accept any explanations, no matter how contradictory, and to resort to any practices, no matter how peculiar, so long as they might be allowed to cherish their ideal tranquility (Davies and Gardiner1915.Their imagination, accordingly, led they to believe that death does not necessarily terminate life,
but that it merely means the dissociation of human life, where the spirit (incorporeal principle) abandon the body (Drioton, 1945) as can be concluded from the Pyramid Text: "The spirit is for the Heavens, (but) the corpse is for the earth.'' One's incorporeal principle was believed to include his immortal spiritual forces which are composed of the Ka, the ba, and the akh.



The ka, now generally believed to represent the ensemble of a person's qualities or characteristics, was most probably consider a kind of protective genius which is born with the child, remains with him as his double during his life to protect him, and after death resides in the tomb and neighborhood. The ba, or animating force, corresponds in some respects to what we call the soul. It is most probably the soul which takes a place in the bark of the sun, traveling in it around the underworld until, at the moment when the eastern horizon had been cleared at daybreak, it would leave the bark to return to the tomb to visit the mummy (Drioton. in Engelbach, 1961). That is why the ba, represented as a bird with a human head, is generally figured over the mummy visiting it.



The akh is a divine or supernatural power which the person attained only after death. For the sake of convenience, we may refer to the individually or collectively as the ' soul'' or the "spirit".

If this analysis is correct, it follows that the soulthe ka and the ba (during day journey)continued to live in the neighborhood of the body. ''Since, however, the matter-of-fact mind of the Egyptian could not, or did not like to, think of disembodied ghost, it was felt that the spirit still required a visible and tangible form in which to dwell.

This form was preferably the body itself (Hayes 1953). The soul depended on the body and was fed by what the living brought and offered it. This idea inspired most of the practices of the cult of the dead in Egypt since the earliest times. It is the basis for the care which was taken to protect the corpse the deceased from disintegration brought on by natural decay. Hence, the ancient Egyptians developed the process of mummification to keep the body in a good state and to preserve its physical features so that the soul might identify it, for the destruction of the body would have meant also the decay of the soul. To protect the mummy it was encased in a series of coffins enclosed in a huge stone sarcophagus and buried in a tomb surrounded by its furniture and provisions.


Thus, in the case of Tutankhamon. the mummy was encased in a gold coffin (fig. 2) which was enclosed in two other coffins and a huge quartzite sarcophagus which was in turn enclosed in four gilt shrines placed one within the other.

The first, outermost coffin of Tutankhamon, of heavy wood overlaid with gold upon gesso, kept in the quartzite sarcophagus in the tomb of Tutankhamon, valley of the Kings, Thebes.

The tomb was furnished with a cult chapel, in which the soul, having access to the "false door'' (fig. 5), could enjoy the fresh offerings brought to it.

Fig 5 (Cairo Museum, Saqqara, no. 13947)False door

The care of the Egyptians for satisfying the needs of the soul inspired them also to create small pleasure gardens in the vicinity of the tombs of the New Kingdom (Drioton, in Engelbach 1961). In honor of the divine father Neferhotep, the harpist sang ''the walls of the tomb are strongly built, thou hast planted trees round thy pool. Thy ba-soul rests beneath them and
drinks of their water".

Development and History

In the predynastic period (5000-3200 B.C.), the dead body was simply loosely wrapped in linen, animal skin, or matting, and was buried in a more or less tightly contracted position in a shallow grave in sand (Reisner 1908). Although most of the bodies found in these decomposed completely, leaving only the skeletons, some of them, such as those discovered near Gebelein and in Nubia were found rather well preserved (Reisner 1910).

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