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Inside Egyptian Mummies

 

Mummies were treated and made in many different ways--there wasn't just one "recipe." Pharaohs received special treatment, but the "pharaoh recipe" changed over time as well. Rich people received different mummy treatments than poorer people. Historians Diodorus and Herodotus wrote about the differences in preparation. Sometimes mummy recipes depended on the part of Egypt where a person lived. 

So here's what happened to some of the major parts of the body. You will discover that  Egyptian mummymakers sometimes stuffed the body with various materials and did other interesting things (the brain hook!) to the appendages and organs....but be careful: this didn't happen to everyone all the time throughout the history of ancient Egypt. You'll have to do more precise research to pin down the methods used during any particular dynasty.

 

Arms and Legs

These appendages became very shriveled and quite thin as they dried out. During 21st Dynasty, padding was added under the skin to make them look more life-like. The padding was added through a number of incisions made in the skin.

 

Brains
Until the 18th Dynasty, the brain was usually left inside the skull. (However, brains were sometimes removed as early as the Old Kingdom but this was not a commonplace occurrence.) During the 18th Dynasty, the brain began to be removed, most often through the nostril (occasionally through an eye socket or a hole drilled into the skull). After removal, the brain cavity was filled with sawdust, resin, and/or resin-soaked linen. By the end of the 2nd Century A.D., brain removal had mostly stopped.

 

Eyes  

The eyeballs were often pushed into eye socket and covered with linen pads. Sometimes eyes were painted onto the linen, but eventually the Egyptians began to use stone or glass eyes. Some mummies received onion skins and occasionally whole onions for eyes.

 

Fingers and Toes

During the New Kingdom, finger- and toenails were actually tied onto the body so that they wouldn't fall off during the drying period.

 

 Heart

The only major organ left in the body, though it may have been removed accidentally on occasion. It was considered the location of "reason, emotion, memory, and personality."

 

Intestines
The intestines were usually placed in canopic jar. When mummymakers misplaced (or ruined) the internal organs of one mummy, a rope was substituted for the intestines in a canopic jar.

 

Kidneys
The kidneys were usually not removed. There is no word in ancient Egyptian language for kidneys, so if they were sometimes removed, it may well have been accidental.

 

Liver
The liver was usually placed in canopic jar.

 

Lungs
The lungs were usually placed in canopic jar.

 

Mouth
The mouth was sometimes packed with material (such as linen or even wax), and the tongue was sometimes covered with a tongue plate, often made from gold.

 

Nostrils
The nostrils were often plugged, especially by the New Kingdom. Resin covered with onion skin was put in nostrils of Ramesses IV. Mummymakers plugged nostrils with wax during the 21st Dynasty. One mummy's nose was even plugged with peppercorns during the 21st Dynasty.

 

Skin
The skin became dried during the mummification process, so Egyptians rubbed different "moisturizers" onto the skin, such as oils, beeswax, spices, and even milk and wine.

 

Stomach
The stomach was usually placed in canopic jar.
 

SOURCES: Carol Andrews' Egyptian Mummies (a very clear explanation of the mummification process and photos of such intriguing objects such as tongue plates and embalming equipment); Ikram and Dodson's The Mummy in Ancient Egypt (the best and most thorough book about Egyptian mummification, filled with photos and interesting details); Silverman's Ancient Egypt (an excellent historical summary for the general reader); Tyldesley's The Mummy ( by one of the foremost Egyptologists).

 

 

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