Mummification 101: A Brief Guide

By Rachael Funk


So you’ve got a dead body to dispose of - perfect! This handy dandy guide will give you an informative and detailed (queasy readers beware) look at the mummification process used in ancient Egypt. Granted, the quality and style of mummification varied between periods and depending on the price paid for it, but we’re sure you’ll do great.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 70 days
  • Brain hooks
  • Oil jar
  • Funnel
  • Embalmer’s knife
  • Linen
  • Sawdust
  • Lichen
  • Beeswax
  • Resin
  • Natron
  • Onion
  • Nile Mud (if you don’t have time for an Egyptian vacation, store-bought is fine)
  • Linen pads
  • Frankincense
  • A very strong stomach


Prep:

First thing’s first: make sure your buddy is really, really dead. Usually, special priests worked as embalmers. This meant not only did they know all the special rituals and prayers which needed to be performed at each stage as the bodies were treated and wrapped, they also had a pretty good handle on the whole “dead vs. sleeping” situation. This was beneficial to all parties, as the mummification process would be quite painful to endure for an alive person and (we would venture to guess) quite tedious to perform on an unwilling subject.


Step 1: Brain

To begin the mummification process, you are going to need to remove all of the internal bits prone to rapid decay. To start, tenderly insert your brain hook through a nostril and begin pulling out the brain tissue, bit by bit. Careful! It’s easy to accidentally disfigure the face while you’re doing this, so be sure to proceed with the utmost attention and precision.


Step 2: Organs

Once the skull is good and hollow, you’re gonna have to empty out that body cavity. Make sure you’re in a nice clean work space and all your nearby furniture is either well-covered or dragged off to a safe distance. Commence by making an incision on the left side of the body, then go ahead and start pulling (use a firm grip – innards can be slippery)! Be sure to leave the heart, though. Traditionally, this was the only organ left in its place, as it was believed to be the center of a person’s being and intelligence.

Ideally, you’ve removed the organs skillfully enough to identify what’s what. In the early days of mummification, organs were preserved apart from the body, with the stomach, liver, lungs, and intestines placed in canopic jars to be buried with the mummy. In later times, organs were treated, wrapped, and then replaced inside the mummy’s body. Don’t worry, at that point canopic jars were still used in the burial ritual, they were just empty.


Step 3: Moisture

It is speculated that the earliest mummies may have been created accidentally, thanks to shallow grave burials in hot, dry sand. Intentional mummification probably started at about 2600 BC, during the 4th and 5th dynasties. Since you probably don’t live in a country with almost no measurable rainfall, you’re going to have to figure out a better way to get the moisture out of your mummy.

A great way to dry out your body is to cover the form in natron, which is a type of dehydrating salt. Place additional packets inside the cavity, and allow it to dry completely. Remove the natron packets and lightly wash the excess natron off the outside. The body’s going to look a bit shriveled and sunken in, so give it back some of its life-like vibrancy by adding in false eyeballs and stuffing linen into the areas of the body which have fallen so it can retain its usual human form. You’re doing great!


Step 4: Wrapping

Mummies are notoriously high-maintenance subjects, demanding hundreds of yards of linen each. Neatly wind the long strips around the body, taking care to wrap fingers and toes individually. To add extra protection for the deceased, you can add in amulets among the wrappings or write prayers or incantations on the linen as you wrap. Be sure to pause frequently to coat each layer with warm resin to keep everything in place. Once you get to the top of the form, you can place a mask of the person’s face over their actual face, as was a common practice in ancient Egypt, and wrap that in as well. Once the final cloth is in place, your mummy is complete!


Step 5: Funeral Rituals

Any reasonable priest knows that mummification is not the only preparation a body needs for the Afterlife. Sure, having your body suitably preserved and being surrounded by your most important earthly possessions such as wine, snacks, board games, jewelry, chariots, weapons, and possibly a casual curse or two is important, but these would all be useless without the correct sacraments.

During the funeral, religious rites should be performed at the mouth of the tomb where your mummy will be laid to rest. A crucial moment of the ceremony is called the “Opening of the Mouth.” This is when a priest touches various parts of the mummy with a special instrument to “open” those areas to the senses they experienced in life and would need in the Afterlife. When the priest touches the instrument to the mummy’s mouth, the dead is then able to eat and speak and is ready to travel to the afterlife.

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