What Material Preparations Were Necessary for the Deceased in Terms of Tomb Structure and Contents?
Most of these materials were mentioned by the ancient authors Herodotus, Diodorus, or Pliny as being used in the mummification process. For each, there is a comment on modern scientific evidence to support or refute these claims. Items not mentioned by the ancient authors but found in relation to mummies studied in modern times are listed as well. Wood pitch would have been used in late mummies. Sometimes it is found inside the skull. Wood tar has been found in an ibis mummy and a funerary vase. These were probably imported, because they are fragrant and the wood pitch and tar produced in Egypt would not have been from fragrant, coniferous trees.
The mummification process took seventy days. Special priests worked as embalmers, treating and wrapping the body. Beyond knowing the correct rituals and prayers to be performed at various stages, the priests also needed a detailed knowledge of human anatomy. The first step in the process was the removal of all internal parts that might decay rapidly. The brain was removed by carefully inserting special hooked instruments up through the nostrils in order to pull out bits of brain tissue. It was a delicate operation, one which could easily disfigure the face. The embalmers then removed the organs of the abdomen and chest through a cut usually made on the left side of the abdomen. They left only the heart in place, believing it to be the center of a person's being and intelligence. The other organs were preserved separately, with the stomach, liver, lungs, and intestines placed in special boxes or jars today called canopic jars. These were buried with the mummy. In later mummies, the organs were treated, wrapped, and replaced within the body. Even so, unused canopic jars continued to be part of the burial ritual. The embalmers next removed all moisture from the body. This they did by covering the body with natron, a type of salt which has great drying properties, and by placing additional natron packets inside the body. When the body had dried out completely, embalmers removed the internal packets and lightly washed the natron off the body. The result was a very dried-out but recognizable human form. To make the mummy seem even more life-like, sunken areas of the body were filled out with linen and other materials and false eyes were added. Next the wrapping began. Each mummy needed hundreds of yards of linen. The priests carefully wound the long strips of linen around the body, sometimes even wrapping each finger and toe separately before wrapping the entire hand or foot. In order to protect the dead from mishap, amulets were placed among the wrappings and prayers and magical words written on some of the linen strips. Often the priests placed a mask of the person's face between the layers of head bandages. At several stages the form was coated with warm resin and the wrapping resumed once again. At last the priests wrapped the final cloth or shroud in place and secured it with linen strips. The mummy was complete. The priests preparing the mummy were not the only ones busy during this time. Although the tomb preparation usually had begun long before the person's actual death, now there was a deadline, and craftsmen, workers, and artists worked quickly. There was much to be placed in the tomb that a person would need in the Afterlife. Furniture and statuettes were readied; wall paintings of religious or daily scenes were prepared; and lists of food or prayers finished. Through a magical process, these models, pictures, and lists would become the real thing when needed in the Afterlife. Everything was now ready for the funeral.
Briefly, the Egyptians mummified animals as well as humans -- everything from bulls and hawks to ichneumons and snakes. Some have been found in large quantities, while others are rare. Many species were raised in the temples to be sacrificed to the gods. Autopsies on cats show that most had had their necks broken when they were about two years old. Cats were highly valued members of the ancient Egyptian household. They destroyed the rats and mice that would otherwise infest granaries, and assisted in hunting birds and fishing. In the nineteenth century, vast quantities of cat mummies were sent to England to be used as fertilizer. This practice reached its height during the eleventh and twelfth centuries B.C. in Thebes, where the present-day cities of Luxor and Karnak are located. The purpose of mummification was to keep the body intact so it could be transported to a spiritual afterlife.