PHAROAHS  - EGYPTIAN MUMMIFICATION BURIAL CEREMONY

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The most powerful person in ancient Egypt was the pharaoh. The pharaoh was the political and religious leader of the Egyptian people, holding the titles: 'Lord of the Two Lands' and 'High Priest of Every Temple'.

 

As 'Lord of the Two Lands' the pharaoh was the ruler of Upper and Lower Egypt. He owned all of the land, made laws, collected taxes, and defended Egypt against foreigners.

 

As 'High Priest of Every Temple', the pharaoh represented the gods on Earth. He performed rituals and built temples to honour the gods.

 Many pharaohs went to war when their land was threatened or when they wanted to control foreign lands. If the pharaoh won the battle, the conquered people had to recognise the Egyptian pharaoh as their ruler and offer him the finest and most valuable goods from their land.

 

MUMMIFICATION

 

The earliest ancient Egyptians buried their dead in small pits in the desert. The heat and dryness of the sand dehydrated the bodies quickly, creating lifelike and natural 'mummies'.

 

 

 

Later, the ancient Egyptians began burying their dead in coffins to protect them from wild animals in the desert. However, they realised that bodies placed in coffins decayed when they were not exposed to the hot, dry sand of the desert.

 

Over many centuries, the ancient Egyptians developed a method of preserving bodies so they would remain lifelike. The process included embalming the bodies and wrapping them in strips of linen.

 

The methods of embalming, or treating the dead body, that the ancient Egyptians used is called mummification. Using special processes, the Egyptians removed all moisture from the body, leaving only a dried form that would not easily decay. It was important in their religion to preserve the dead body in as life-like a manner as possible. So successful were they that today we can view the mummified body of an Egyptian and have a good idea of what he or she looked like in life, 3000 years ago.  

 

Mummification was practiced throughout most of early Egyptian history. The earliest mummies from prehistoric times probably were accidental. By chance, dry sand and air (since Egypt has almost no measurable rainfall) preserved some bodies buried in shallow pits dug into the sand. About 2600 B.C., during the Fourth and Fifth Dynasties, Egyptians probably began to mummify the dead intentionally. The practice continued and developed for well over 2,000 years, into the Roman Period (ca. 30 B.C. - A.D. 364). Within any one period the quality of the mummification varied, depending on the price paid for it.

 

The best prepared and preserved mummies are from the Eighteenth through the Twentieth Dynasties of the New Kingdom (ca. 1570 - 1075 B.C.) and include those of Tutankhamen and other well-known pharaohs. It is the general process of this period that shall be described here.

 

 

 

 

WHO WAS MUMMIFIED

After death, the pharaohs of Egypt usually were mummified and buried in elaborate tombs. Members of the nobility and officials also often received the same treatment, and occasionally, common people. However, the process was an expensive one, beyond the means of many.

 

For religious reasons, some animals were also mummified. The sacred bulls from the early dynasties had their own cemetery at Sakkara. Baboons, cats, birds, and crocodiles, which also had great religious significance, were sometimes mummified, especially in the later dynasties.

 

Over time almost all Egyptians who could afford to, became mummies when they died -- a total of about 70 million mummies in 3,000 years. By the 4th century AD, many Egyptians had become Christians and no longer believed that mummification was necessary for life after death. Eventually, the Egyptians gave up the art and science of making mummies.

 

So where did all the mummies go? Sadly, most were plundered in ancient times by grave robbers and vandals looking for treasures wrapped up in the bandages. Countless mummies were also destroyed during the Middle Ages, when they were ground into powders to make supposedly magical potions. Later on, modern treasure hunters blundered into their tombs looking for artifacts and souvenirs. Even industry aided the destruction by using mummies' bandages to make paper or burning their bodies for fuel.

 

The best preserved mummies are those of the pharoahs and their relatives. These mummies tended to be more carefully embalmed and protected from harm. The mummies that have survived allow us to look back into the past and know something of the ancient Egyptians and their time. Three of the most famous Egyptians mummies are Tutankhamen, Seti I and Rameses II (Ramses the Great).

 


 

TUTANKHAMEN

 

Tutankhamen, known to many as King Tut, was probably just a boy when he was crowned pharoah in the 18th Dynasty. He was still a teenager when he died of unknown causes and was entombed in the Egyptian Valley of Kings. Although Tutankhamen was not one of the more distinguished or important pharoahs in his own time, he has a very special place in ours.

 

 



Tutankhamen's tomb was discovered in 1922 by Howard Carter. Over the next several years, Carter's expedition carefully uncoverd the riches within, including the gold mask above. A number of mysterious deaths that followed the opening of the tomb set off wild rumors of a mummy's curse.

Today, Tut is known to countless people the world over, in part because his is the only pharoah's tomb ever discovered intact. Tut's burial site had somehow escaped pillaging by grave robbers for over 3000 years. His mummy and its magnificent solid gold sarcophagus, along with wall paintings, furniture, weapons, games and other artifacts have survived to the present, giving us a unique glimpse at the trappings of an ancient pharoah.

 

 

 

 




 

SETI I


Seti I is considered to be one of the greatest of pharoahs and warriors, and was also the father of another very notable pharoah, Rameses II (or Rameses the Great). Seti ruled in the 19th Dynasty, several generations after Tutankhamen. Surviving accounts of Seti's exploits tell us that he was highly successful at protecting Egypt from such invaders as the marauding armies of neighboring Libya. Seti was also known to have extended his powers beyond the boundaries of Egypt as far east as modern-day Syria.





RAMESUS


Rameses the Great ruled over Egypt from 1279-1212 BC, an incredible 67 years. Rameses was legendary in many respects. At a time when most people lived only a few decades, Rameses was about 90 years old when he died. He was a tall man about six feet in height, when the average Egyptian was a little over five feet tall. Rameses had many wives in his lifetime and is believed to have fathered over 100 children.

 


In 1974, Egyptologists at the Cairo Museum noticed that the mummy's condition was getting worse rapidly . They decided to fly Rameses II to Paris so that a team of experts could give the mummy a medical examination. Did you know that even a mummy needs a passport to travel? Ramses II was issued an Egyptian passport that listed his occupation as "King (deceased)."

Once in Paris, Rameses was diagnosed and treated for a with a fungal infection. During the examination, scientific analysis revealed battle wounds and old fractures, as well as the pharoah's arthritis and poor circulation. In addition, experts were able to determine some of the flowers and herbs that were used for the embalming, including lots of camomile oil.

 


 

THE MUMMIFICATION PROCESS

 

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.

 

As part of the funeral, priests performed special religious rites at the tomb's entrance. The most important part of the ceremony was called the "Opening of the Mouth". A priest touched various parts of the mummy with a special instrument to "open" those parts of the body to the senses enjoyed in life and needed in the Afterlife. By touching the instrument to the mouth, the dead person could now speak and eat. He was now ready for his journey to the Afterlife. The mummy was placed in his coffin, or coffins, in the burial chamber and the entrance sealed up.

 

Such elaborate burial practices might suggest that the Egyptians were preoccupied with thoughts of death. On the contrary, they began early to make plans for their death because of their great love of life. They could think of no life better than the present, and they wanted to be sure it would continue after death.

 

But why preserve the body? The Egyptians believed that the mummified body was the home for this soul or spirit. If the body was destroyed, the spirit might be lost. The idea of "spirit" was complex involving really three spirits: the ka, ba, and akh. The ka, a "double" of the person, would remain in the tomb and needed the offerings and objects there. The ba, or "soul", was free to fly out of the tomb and return to it. And it was the akh, perhaps translated as "spirit", which had to travel through the Underworld to the Final Judgment and entrance to the Afterlife. To the Egyptian, all three were essential.

 


 

STUDY of MUMMIES TODAY

 

Ancient writers, modern scientists, and the mummies themselves all help us better understand the Egyptian mummification process and the culture in which it existed. Much of what we know about the actual process is based on the writings of early historians such as Herodotus who carefully recorded the process during his travels to Egypt around 450 B.C. Present-day archaeologists and other specialists are adding to this knowledge. 

 

The development of x-rays now makes it possible to x-ray mummies without destroying the elaborate outer wrappings. By studying the x-rays or performing autopsies on unwrapped bodies, experts are learning more about diseases suffered by the Egyptians and their medical treatment. A better idea of average height and life span comes from studying the bones. 

 

By learning their age at death, the order and dates of the Egyptian kings becomes a little clearer. Even ties of kinship in the royal line can be suggested by the striking similarities or dissimilarities in the skulls of pharaohs that followed one another. Dead now for thousands of years, the mummy continues to speak to us.

 

LINKS:

Egyptian Life
Geography
Gods & Goddesses
Pharoahs
Pyramids
Temples
Time
Trades
Writing

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