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When asked to recall what comes to mind when thinking of Ancient Egypt, many respond with one word: “mummies”. The image of a slowly decaying corpse wrapped in white linen has become a popular icon representing the culture of the Ancient Egyptian civilization. Mummifying the bodies of the deceased was common in Ancient Egypt. Anyone, as long as he/she did not commit a severe crime, had the right to be mummified after death. There were several steps in mummification, some taking several months to complete. Spells and rituals were performed at different steps in the process. The complexity of the Egyptians’ burial procedures might lead one to believe that they were obsessed with death. Indeed, the Egyptians put much thought into the way they would be buried, but these thoughts are tied more to religious beliefs such as the continuation of life after death, rather than death itself. The mummies that the Egyptians made served as a “connection” between the Real world and the Underworld that the Egyptians believed in. Not all Ancient Egyptian mummies were wrapped in linen and placed in golden sarcophaguses. The first Egyptian mummies were not wrapped nor treated; they were created unintentionally. The first Egyptians buried the dead underneath the hot sands of surrounding deserts. They hoped that “in some magical way the dead were not really dead. Perhaps their spirits lay beneath the sand along with their limp, unclothed bodies.” (Perl, 3) The hot desert sands absorbed the water inside the bodies of the dead, drying their skin and internal organs. Due to the absence of water, the body could no longer rapidly decay. The result was a perfectly preserved “mummy”.By the middle of the Old Kingdom, the Ancient Egyptians began seeking new methods of preserving the bodies of the deceased. Their new method involved the addition of roles for religious leaders. Special priests, called embalmers, treated and wrapped the body. Priests would also perform the proper rituals and spells at different times in the process. The first step in mummification was to remove any internal organs that decayed quickly. This was called evisceration. The brain, which was considered “useless” at the time, was most commonly removed by breaking a bone located at the bridge of the nose and using a hooked instrument to pull out brain tissue. The heart was mummified separately and returned to the body; the Ancient Egyptians believed it to be the “center of a person’s being and intelligence.” (Smithsonian Institution) The other internal organs were removed through a cut made in the left abdomen and were preserved in special boxes called “canopic jars”. After removing the internal organs, the embalmers dried the body using natron, a natural “preservative” made from salt that could remove water. To make the dried body seem more lifelike, the Egyptians used material to restore sunken areas and added false eyes.After the body had been preserved, a few things could happen. If the family of the deceased was too poor to afford a complete burial, the preserved body was returned to them. The family would then decide where and how the body was buried. However, if the family had enough wealth, they could afford to proceed to the next step in mummification: wrapping. Each mummy required hundreds of yards of linen to wrap; sometimes fingers and toes were wrapped individually before being wrapped together. Magical words were written on some of the linen strips and amulets were placed between the linen to “protect the dead from mishap.” (Smithsonian Institution) Once the body was thoroughly wrapped, it was taken to the place where it would be buried. Several religious rites were performed there, one of the most important being the “Opening of the Mouth” ceremony. During the Opening of the Mouth, a priest touched a special instrument to certain parts of the mummy to “open those parts of the body to the senses enjoyed in life and needed in the Afterlife.” (Smithsonian Institution) For example,  “by touching the instrument to the mouth, the dead person could now speak and eat.” (Smithsonian Institution) After these rites were performed, the mummy was placed inside its coffin and sealed in its tomb.The Egyptians devised such a complicated method of burying the dead. Why couldn’t they just bury the bodies anywhere? The Egyptians believed in two main parts of the human soul after death: the ka and the ba. The ka represented a person’s existence; “The ka was sort of a spiritual twin that enabled a person to be alive.”(Lace, 12) The ba only existed after death. It was commonly depicted as a “human-headed bird”. (Mark) The ba had the ability to travel between the Real world and the Underworld. It has been compared to the concepts of the “soul” in Christianity and the “personality”. (Lace) The Egyptians believed that if the physical form of a person was destroyed, the ba and ka would get lost. So, due to religious beliefs, the Egyptians couldn’t allow the body to decay.After mummification, the dead would be able to start their journey to the Afterlife. In order for a dead person to enter the Afterlife, he/she would first need to pass the “Weighing of the Heart”, a ceremony taking place in the Underworld. The Weighing of the Heart tested whether the dead was worthy enough to enter the Afterlife. The heart of the dead person was weighed against the feather of the goddess Ma’at. If the heart was lighter, the dead was allowed safe passage into the next life. If the heart was heavier, the dead person had committed many evil deeds in the Real world and was devoured by Ammut, the crocodile-headed creature who lived in the Underworld. Once someone died, the living could only hope that he/she was allowed safe passage into the Afterlife.The Egyptians clearly had a culture rich in beliefs about life and the forces behind it. Mummies, spells, and rituals were all designed, not for death, but for the continuation of life. Great thought and detail was put into, not methods of death, but the way people lived after death. To the Ancient Egyptians, death may have seemed more like the “gateway” to the next life. Through mummies and mummification, the incredible ideas of the Ancient Egyptians have become a reality.

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