The ancient Egyptians were one of the civilizations that embraced the practice of proper treatment and preservation of the dead as early as 3200BC for religious reasons (Hambly 12). Egyptians believed that by properly preserving their dead, they were preparing the deceased for eternal life in paradise. This belief emanated from the idea of immortal soul called Akh. The Akh according to ancient Egyptians united with gods and lived forever after judgment (Gabriel 159). The religion bestowed to the living Egyptians the responsibility of helping the dead to reach the paradise. Consequently, the Egyptians devised elaborate funeral practices and rituals to facilitate the transformation of two variants of soul, Ba and Ka, into Akh and avoid rebirth and second death afterlife (Hancock 247). They preserved the dead using a technique called mummification and conducted elaborate veneration and rituals during burials to fulfill their religious duty. Besides, the dead were also buried with their possessions that they believed were required to sustain the afterlife.
The origin of the belief in life after death is not precisely known (Harris 22). Ruiz (93) argues that the belief existed even during the pre-dynastic times. The ancient Egyptians according to (Ruiz 93) wrapped the corpses of their deceased persons with animal skins or mats and interred them in shallow pits in the sand with their head facing the west believing that they would resurrect. Christensen (23) says that the heat in the deserts dried up the bodies before microorganisms thus creating a natural embalmment could invade them. The mummification using salts and ointments emerged during the dynastic era according to Jeremiah (107). The preservation of dead was central to the belief of that life continued after death. Mummification was conducted to prevent the bodies from decaying after death because they believed that as long as the body was intact; its soul would live eternally (Hambly, 12). The process according to Olderr (10) took about 70 days to complete for wealthy families. For poor people, small embalmment was done before the bodies are interred. Initially, according to Bryant (821) mummification was reserved for the elite and people of high socioeconomic status such as the kings. However, with time, the changes in religious custom gave everyone an opportunity to be mummified.
According to Hambly (13), the first process of mummification was undertaken within fifteen days. It involved the removal of the brain by injecting a corrosive liquid into the skull. The liquid dissolved the brain matter letting it flow out from the nose or the base of the skull. The void in the head was they filled with bandages damped in the solution of natron salts taken from dry river beds (Rosalie 15). The next process involved the removal of gastrointestinal tract and organs in the abdomen which, ancient Egyptians believed that could host the highest concentration of bacteria and make the corpse to rot. These organs were placed in jars. Only the heart was left. It was believed that the heart was the one that spoke during the judgment moment (Ruiz 93). The corpse was then washed and completely covered with natron salt, which was, a natural compound consisting of a mixture of sodium salts chlorides, nitrates, and phosphates. The salt dehydrated the body preventing the action of microorganisms that can cause rotting (Rosalie 86). The body was then left in the sun to dry. Its body was covered with resin and fats or beeswax and spices. After that, it was covered with pieces of linen. The linen was then covered with resin or bitumen (Breyer 129).
When the mummy was ready, Pipe and David (232) says that it was placed inside a coffin usually made of wood, after a priest had recited a special prayer. Other layers of coffins could also be added depending on the economic ability of the family. According to Hall (12), the coffins were decorated with the painting depicting deceased moments or biography and writings that invoked protection from gods and goddess. Andrew (52) argues that interior of the coffins were inscribed with texts that ancient Egyptians believed could help the dead pass judgment. The coffin was sometimes painted as if it was having a pair of false eyes. The deceased was supposed to use these eyes to watch out for enemies. Again, a false door was painted outside the coffin to allow the spirits of the dead in and out (Pipe and David 231). For the kings, pharaohs, their mummies were placed with their hand crossed to symbolize kingship or power (Ruiz 94). Amulet with written words on it was sometimes placed next to the heart to prevent the heart from betraying the person during judgment. Again, sometimes prayers were inscribed into the linen. The coffin was placed inside the sarcophagus, a stone compartment if the individual was a ruler or kings.
The mummy was given back to the relatives together with a jar holding the organs. The friends, relatives, and priests transported the coffin to the burial site (Hambly 14). Breyer (129) argues that the procession to the tomb included mourners who were paid to wail to scare away evil spirits who could deter deceased from reaching paradise. Tombs were decorated with activities the dead celebrated while alive and were looking forward to enjoying in the next phase of life (Ruiz 95). The possessions of the dead were placed inside the tomb and it was believed that he or she would use them in an eternal lie, the same way they were used while alive on earth (Ruiz 96). The articles included weapons to protect the dead from any harm. Others possessions included clothing, jewelry, cosmetics and perfumes, food, wines, and furniture. A representation of servants, called Ushabti carved from stones. According to Ruiz (96), the servants were expected to perform any duties assigned to them by gods in return for the protection of the dead. Prominent people including the king were buried with over 360 servants according to Bradley (186). Ruiz (96) gives an example of King Tutankhamun, who was buried with 413 wooden statues of servants.
According to Breyer (131), the top part of the tomb had a chapel where the painting and statues were placed. The families, friends, and priest visited the chapel during festivals to present offerings to the Osiris to pardon the dead. Once the body and was buried in the lower compartment of the tomb, the burial chamber was swept and cleaned to drive away any life or evil. Thereafter it was properly sealed forever. Originally, the tombs were carved from cliffs. However, during the third dynasty, the bodies of kings, their family and officials were interred in large pyramids (Spielvogel, 26). The king too was buried with all the possessions he needed to maintain life after death. Prior, the kings were buried several feet under building constructed with wood and mud called, mastaba.The largest pyramid, Great Pyramid, was built in Giza and had a burial room inside (Romer 294).
The ancient Egyptians believed that the dead would be judged to assess if they were worthy to live in the Kingdom of Osiris for eternity (Breyer 131). The Egyptians believed that the judgment would be overseen by one of Osiris’ sons and the god of Westerners, Anubis (Hagen and Rainer, 12). The Anubis was also responsible for overseeing the mummification process. The Thoth, the god of wisdom, recoded all events and actions of the deceased. The actions were weighed against a feather to determine if the dead lived a good life while on earth. Hagen and Rainer (12) argue that only those who passed the test were presented to Osiris for admission into the Kingdom.
In conclusion, the Ancient Egyptians preserved the dead bodies because they believed that it was a way of preparing the deceased souls for life after death. They believed that when a person dies, his soul could be transformed into an immortal being after the judgment. The transfigured soul, Akh, lived with the Osiris in eternity. The judgment was based on the deeds of the dead while he or she was alive. The bodies of the dead were preserved using mummification technique involving removing internal organs and embalming the remains using a natron salts. The corpses were then wrapped with linen, covered with resins and placed in coffins ready for burial. The dead were also interred with their possessions; the Egyptians believed they required to sustain life after death.
Andrews, Carol. Egyptian mummies. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2014.
Bradley, Pamela. The Ancient World Transformed. London: Cambridge Up, 2014.
Breyer, Michelle, Howard Chaney, and Marsha Kearns. Ancient Egypt. Huntingdon Beach, CA: Teacher Created Materials, 2006.
Bryant, Clifton D. Handbook of death & dying. Thousand Oaks, Calif: Sage Publications, 2013.
Christensen, Wendy. Empire of ancient Egypt. New York: Chelsea House, 2009.
Gabriel, Richard A. Gods of our fathers : the memory of Egypt in Judaism and Christianity. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2012.
Hagen, and Rainer Hagen. What great paintings say. Köln London: Taschen, 2013.
Hall, Brianna. Mummies of Ancient Egypt. Raintree, 2017.
Hambly, T. Dr. Hambly’s Historical Guide To Embalming Cookbook. New York: Lulu.com
Hancock, Graham. The divine spark : a Graham Hancock reader : psychedelics, consciousness, and the birth of civilization. San Francisco, CA: Disinformation, 2015.
Harris, Deborah M. Chasing immortality in world religions. Jefferson, North Carolina: Mcfarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2016.
Jeremiah, Ken. Eternal Remains : World Mummification and the Beliefs that make it Necessary. Sarasota: First Edition Design Inc, 2014.
Olderr, Steven. Symbolism : a comprehensive dictionary. Jefferson, N.C: McFarland & Co, 2012.
Pipe, Jim, and David Antram. Ancient Egypt : the art of embalming : mummy, myth and magic : with added mushy bits. Brighton, England: Book House, 2009.
Romer, John. The Great Pyramid : ancient Egypt revisited. Cambridge New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007.
Rossaline, David. Egyptian Mummies and Modern Science. London: Cambridge UP, 2009.
Ruiz, Ana. The spirit of Ancient Egypt. New York: Algora Pub, 2001.
Spielvogel, Jackson J. Western civilization. Boston, MA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2012.