The Egyptians made mummies for over 3,000
years, and they made
many improvements (and non-improvements) so there are
literally hundreds (if not thousands) of ways that Egyptians used to make mummies.
have read that ancient Egyptians used natron (a natural salt, composed of sodium carbonate
and sodium bicarbonate with traces of sodium chloride and sodium sulfate) to dry and
preserve their dead. This is true--but only for part of the 3,000 years.
their mummy-making process evolved
over a long time span, there wasn't just one to make a mummy--and
every technique the Egyptians tried didn't produce a mummy (perhaps all they got
was a bundle of bones). By the time
that the mummymakers perfected their craft around the 19th Dynasty, successful mummymaking was generally a three-part
removing internal organs
protecting dried remains
But this process varied considerably depending on the
time period, the mummymaker, the wealth of the family, and other factors.
Very few mummies have been found from this period. The ones that have been
recovered are naturally dried by the sun.
Very few mummies have been found from this period, but linen and plaster were
important components. An examination of one Old Kingdom
body revealed that the limbs were wrapped separately; altogether sixteen layers
were wound around the body. Often plaster was applied to the bandages to create a kind of
"mummy sculpture." Sometimes a separate layer of plaster was added as a final
layer, which created an even more statue-like look. The face would be painted onto the
During the 4th Dynasty, internal organs were apparently removed for the
first time. The abdomen was then packed with linen. The plaster sculpture look was
generally stopped by the end of the 6th Dynasty or the beginning of the 7th Dynasty,
though later examples are known, especially one in the 11th Dynasty. Sometimes
rather than linen/plaster, linen/resin was used (with padding beneath with
bandages); the face was then painted green (the color of resurrection, according
to Egyptologist Joyce Tyldesley). Old Kingdom mummies might also be dressed in
linen clothes (worn over the the wrappings). The plaster and resin mummies
looked great, but produced terrible mummy results--underneath the wrappings, the
mummies rotted from the moisture trapped inside.
During this time period, many different methods of mummification were used.
Mummymakers learned to remove internal organs, but not necessarily all of the main
four (that were eventually removed): liver, lungs,
stomach, and intestines. The heart was almost always left in the body, but there are
examples of its removal and replacement (after wrapping it with linen) inside the body.
The body's face was no longer painted; instead, a funerary mask was placed over the
mummy's head. Some researchers suspect
that one (more unusual) method of making mummies used during this a part of this
time period was cedar oil enemas (strange but true), which seems to have been used
at least in some mummies during the 11th Dynasty. Rather than cutting the body open to remove internal organs,
mummymakers seem to have injected cedar-oil/ turpentine into the rectum; this
substance would help dissolve (at least partially) the internal organs. But this method
would never have been used on important people; it may well have been an economy measure.
During this time period, royal
mummymakers almost always removed the brain, removed the four internal organs
(they were washed and dried, painted with resin, and wrapped in linen), and coated
the body with lots of resin. Sometimes when they removed the lungs, they may have
accidentally removed the heart--they wrapped it up and returned it to the body. After
drying the body with natron (and most likely changing the natron whenever it got moist),
they would fill the body with resin-soaked linen to provide a natural shape and inhibit
insects from settling in. Other non-royal mummies made during the New Kingdom show that,
although the brain and the internal organs were not removed, they were well-wrapped. At
least one non-royal New Kingdom mummy was also coated in beeswax possibly to help with
|Third Intermediate Period
The best royal mummymaking methods are found in the 21st Dynasty. At that time, they
did their best to make a mummy as real and lifelike as possible. They removed internal
organs through an incision in the abdomen (and then placed them back within the body)--then
covered it with a metal plate with the design of an eye." They made numerous other
incisions (apparently between five and seventeen cuts) in the skin so that the body could
be padded realistically. The abdomen, the back, and the neck would be padded out (often
with linen, sawdust, sand, and/or mud); so would arms, legs, buttocks, and thighs. They often placed wax
over the eyelids and plugged the nose and ears with wax or linen as well. After drying and packing,
the body would be painted next (red = men; yellow = women); eyes would be replaced with
glass, stone, or painted linen. The entire body would then be coated with hot
resin and bandaged (a 10-15 day process for the bandaging alone). Of course,
this was the best method of making mummies; not everyone had the resources
required for such treatment.
From the 22nd Dynasty on, mummymaking techniques began to decline. More and more
people wanted to become mummies upon death; mummymakers began to take many
shortcuts-- except in their bandaging techniques (which are
extraordinary). Mummymakers used less stuffing and more molten resin which
tended to turn the mummies dark and heavy. Inside, under the bandages, the
bodies were not in particularly good condition. Sometimes bodies were mixed up
and combined (accidentally) so that scientists have found parts or two or more
people wrapped together sometimes. Internal organs were placed in canopic jars
again during the 26th Dynasty. In succeeding dynasties, wrapped internal organs
were placed between the mummy's legs but "dummy" canopic jars (they
were empty) were used for symbolic purposes.
A Final Note
weighed very little--at least once they were re-discovered. One mummy from the
Royal Ontario Museum in Canada, with linen wrappings removed, weighed just 5.13
kilograms (about 11 pounds or so). Of course, if the wrappings were still on it
might weigh a good bit more, especially if resin or amulets were embedded in the
linen--or if the wrappings were plastered with stucco.
Of course, you can
always experiment by making your own mummy.
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);
Mummy (a book by one of the foremost