The Mummification Museum in Luxor
by Seif Kamel
The word "mummification" comes from the Persian word "mummya" meaning bitumen or pitch. In the Arabic language mummification means tahneet and it comes from the word "hanoot", meaning the substances that are used to aromatize the body of the deceased. From this is derived the word "hanoty", which refers to the man who does the preparation of the deceased from death to burial. The Mummification Museum in Luxor is the best place to learn about the most powerful secrets of the pharaohs. It is set in an underground hall on the Nile, next to the national ferry on the east bank.
The ancient Egyptians imagined the underground world of the dead, where Osiris dwelt, though this actually changed over time. From very early times, they protected the afterlife of the dead by mummification, offerings, writing the name of the deceased and utterances in their calls.The collection of ancient funerary spells known as the Pyramids Texts tells us:
"Secure your head to the bones" (spell 13)
"Collect your bones, gather together your limbs, throw the sand from your flesh" (spell 373)
"The spirit is for the heavens, the corpse is for the Earth"
According to their beliefs, the ancient Egyptians thought that the survival of the body was necessary for the survival of the seven different elements of their being. These include: The physical body, which was mummified, wrapped in linen and protected with various amulets in a coffin and deposited within it's tomb. The Ka, which represented the vital life force, was created at the same time as a man's body, which it resembled in every respect. It was free to move between the burial chamber, the funerary statue and the offering place to collect the offerings.
The Ba, often represented by a human headed Ba bird with features of the deceased could take any shape and it revisited the world of the living and traveled across the sky in the sun-god's boat, always returning to reunite with it's corpse in the tomb.
The Akh was the most unearthly of spirits that severed all ties with mortal remains in order to join the cold and imperishable stars. This beneficent spirit gained through piety and good deeds.
The Ib represented the aware heart. The heart could determine the worth of its owner during judgment.
The Rn, or specifically the name of the deceased, was carved on the walls of the tombs and hymns were chanted to keep the deceased's name forever.
The Inseparable Shadow, called the "shwt". The shadow remained with the body. Although all those seven elements were important, they believed that the preservation of the physical body form was essential for survival in the afterlife. This is because they believed that the destruction of the body would mean the decay of the soul.
All these elements are displayed in the Mummification Museum. There were also two other symbols that were vital for the Egyptians in the mummification process.
The Ankh, (key of life), which was the symbol of life itself.
The Djed Pillar, which is the symbol of stability, was thought to perhaps be linked with the backbone of Osiris. Of course, the mummification process changed somewhat over time. In general though, shortly after death, the body of the deceased was brought to the pre-nefr, which means "the beautiful house" or the place of mummification. The body was stripped of its clothes, and the embalmers washed the body with scared water, which was taken from a sacred local lake.
A chisel was passed through the ethmoid bone into the cranial cavity, and with a spatula they cut the brain into small pieces. Then a hooked rod was inserted, and turned to make the brain liquefy in order to extract the brain through the nostrils. After that, they cleaned the skull cavity with palm wine, stuffed it with linen and poured resinous liquid into the skull. After treating the head, the embalmers moved to the trunk of the body.
The viscera were extracted through an incision, which was usually made in the left side of the abdomen. Through it, they extracted all of the entrails except the heart. The thoracic and abdominal cavities were cleaned and rinsed with palm-wine, and then treated with powder and ointment.
The museum shows a wonderfully mummified vertical section of a body to show the result of this process. They show, as well, the instruments used in the process like the scissors, scalpel, and cutters.
Lastly they placed each organ in one of four so-called canopic jars. These jars take the form of the four sons of Horus, who protected the mummified viscera.
After they finished the extraction of the viscera they washed the body cavity with palm-wine. Then they inserted into the thoracic and abdominal cavities temporary stuffing materials enclosed in linen packets containing dry natron to speed dehydration of the body tissues and fats. Other packets were
full of sawdust to absorb liquids.
The next and final stage in the embalming process was the treatment of the whole body with natron. A type of salt, it extracts the water in the body tissues, drying it out to dehydrate the body. They placed the body in a heap of solid natron on a slanting bed and piled the natron around the body for forty days. The temporary stuffing packages and the natron dried the body, and were changed regularly by the embalmers. After the forty days, the body was taken out of the natron and the temporary stuffing packages were removed from the thoracic and abdominal cavities. They washed the chest and abdominal cavity with palm wine and stuffed
it with fresh dry materials; these included aromatically perfumed cloth packing, Nile mud, myrrh, cassia, linen, resin, saw dust, and one or two onions.
They then closed the two lips of the incision with linen string. After that the body was anointed with cedar oil. The mouth, ears, and the nose were sealed with bee's wax or linen in molten resin and the body was wrapped with linen. The aim of the wrapping was to preserve the mummy. Binding was used to keep the wrapping tight and in place.
Many of the substances used in mummification are displayed at the Mummification Museum, including natron, which is still mined from the area of Wadi Natrun west of the delta near the north coast of Egypt. Other substances can even be purchased today from many spices dealers spread all around Luxor.
The museum even shows a bottle that contains the mummification liquid. When the tomb of Amun Tef Nakht of the 27th Dynasty was discovered, the embalmers who mummified him left much of the materials of mummification with him. This liquid came from the results of the interaction between these materials and the body.
The Mummification Museum demonstrates this process very clearly. There are drawings, copied from many tombs all over Egypt, that demonstrate the mummification process. There is, for instance, the scene of the deceased and his wife sitting down before the offering table. Their son wears the leopard skin and makes various offerings to his parents. This scene is displayed in the museum and was copied from the burial chamber of the tomb of Sennefer. Another scene from a papyrus of a royal scribe depicts the mummy on a funeral bier between Isis and Nephthys in the form of two birds.
One of the most important displays in the Mummification Museum is the mummy of Masaharta, the son of King Panedjem, from the 21st Dynasty. He was a high priest of Amun and an army general during that dynasty. This mummy was found in the Dier El Bahari cache, which contained the mummies of some forty kings, queens and other royalty.
The funerary boat is another very important cultural display in the museum. These were used to carry the mummy to the west bank in the presence of the goddess Isis, mother of Horus, wife of Osiris and Nephthys, mother of Anubis, wife of Seth and sister of Isis.
Another important display is an Osiris statue. He is the father of Horus and the brother of Isis. He was thought to have been the first to be mummified by Anubis and the first one who was raised in the afterlife. He is the lord of the Judgment hall, the god of the dead, and one of the most famous Egyptian gods, particularly in later times.
There is also Anubis, the jackal god. The myth tells that Anubis mummified the body of Osiris with the help of the four sons of Horus. For this, the Egyptian religion gave Anubis many titles such as the god of mummification and the one who protected the dead.
In the Mummification Museum there is a very interesting collection of mummified animals. There is a mummy of a fish, which is the symbol of rebirth. The fish cult center was Esna. The Nile is famous for this kind of fish, called the Nile lattes fish. There is also a mummified baboon. Baboons were considered the manifestation of the god Thoth, who was considered to be the god of scribes, the measurer of time and the god of the moon. In the judgment hall of Osiris, Thoth stands by the side of the balance holding a palette and records the results of the weighing of the heart as announced by the dog-headed ape who sits on the middle of the beam of the scales. There is also a cat mummy, the sacred animal of the god Bastet. The most wonderful animal mummy is that of a ram because it was held inside a gold coffin. It represents the sacred animal of the god Khnum, who was a creator god whose cult center was Elephantine.
The last section of the museum is the coffins section. The pharaohs gave great attention to their afterlife, and a big element of this attention was the coffins. There is the beautiful coffin cover of Padi-Amun, the high priest of Amun. It has lotus flowers on its forehead and a wig. There is also the coffin cover of Masaharti, without the face and hands, because the thieves found it and took these golden pieces. The lights in the museum are muted with only special spotlights on the displays. The museum isn't large but each display is a story in itself
and reflects a very important section of the old Egyptian history and culture. The Mummification Museum is useful because it provides an educational overview of the processes surrounding the death of ancient Egyptians, and therefore insight into the tombs that are frequented by tourists. Obviously, the traditions surrounding the funerary process were a key element in the ancient Egyptian belief system. Furthermore, Egyptian funerary practices can be said to form the basis of many funerary practices even today. Incidently, the bookshop at the Mummification Museum is an excellent place to pick up material on this fascinating topic