Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Process

Mummification was performed by embalmers; often in temporary tents called the ‘per-nefer’ (Beautiful House), and are referred to as the ‘ibu’ (Pure Place). A mask in the form of the god, Inpu was worn by the head embalmer/priest to symbolise that this god was observing and guiding the mummification process. The complete embalmment took up to seventy days, but it could be less if the embalmment was of a cheaper variety. When the deceased’s family sent the body to the embalmers workshop after the family had performed the initial mourning rituals, the embalmment could then commence.
The embalmers first cleaned the body in a water and natron solution. A special priest - called the incisor - then came and cut an incision in the left hand side of the abdomen around three inches in length, with an Ethiopian stone, to remove the internal organs. Mutilation of a dead body was considered a sin to the ancient Egyptians, so after the incisor had cut the deceased’s abdomen he would immediately flee the site while being chased by his fellow priests, whom would throw stones at him for committing the sin. In all likelihood, this was nothing more than a ritual, and wasn’t done with the intention of harming the incisor; the stones were probably just thrown in his general direction, and not actually at him! The intestines, liver, lungs, and stomach were purposefully removed from the body via the incision; but occasionally the kidneys came out in this process as well as the heart. If the heart did accidentally get removed it was put back in place; providing the heart hadn’t gotten too badly mutilated in the evisceration process. This is assumed to be the case with Ramessu (II), king of the 19th dynasty; whom according to X-rays, seems to have had his heart sewn back into place using a metallic thread...only, when the embalmers had sewn it back in place, they had sewn it into the wrong side of his chest! The brain was also removed by inserting a hooked instrument into the nose, and breaking through the ethmoid bone (a bone that seperates the brain from the nasal cavity), this hook was scraped around inside of the skull, until the consistancy of the brain was such that it leaked out from the deceased's nose; this process was possibly helped along with the used of palm oil to liquidify the brain. The brain was then, as far as we know, dicarded.
The intestines, liver, lungs, and stomach were then washed in palm wine, dried in natron, and wrapped in linen to form packages that were ready to be stored for burial; in canopic jars, for example. Palm wine was also used to clean the body of the deceased, before the abdominal cavity was packed out with linen and natron packets to collect the residual moisture from inside the body, and then the body was covered in natron and left to dry out for forty days. After the drying procedure was complete, the body was removed from the natron, and the linen packing and natron packets were removed from inside the body and replaced with fresh linen and natron packets, and also pure myrrh. The body was then washed in water and the skin was rubbed with oils and spices, such as; cedar oil, myrrh and cinnamon. The incision in the abdomen that had been made earlier in aid of removing the internal organs was sealed with a tablet of wax, or in the case of kings, covered with gold. Eyes were sometimes filled out with an onion or stone, and ears and noses were ocassionally plugged too. Make-up and jewellery was then applied to the deceased.
The wrapping of the deceased would then commence. Old bed sheets belonging to the deceased were ripped into strips to be used as his linen bandaging (this was possibly symbolic of re-birth), but in the Late Period, when the wrapping of a body became artistically important, weavers were employed specifically to make the linen bandaging used for mummification. Fingers and toes were wrapped first, followed by the limbs, torso, and head, which was wrapped in such an artistic way to keep the features of the deceased recogniseable. Resin was applied to the linen during the wrapping to hold everything in place, and amulets were placed in particular positions in the wrappings; these were symbolic and deemed magical to the ancient Egyptians, and were very important to their religion. Funerary masks were placed over the face of the deceased which had been made in the likeness of the deceased.

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