What are Mummies?
The word mummies make many think of ancient Egyptians wrapped in cloth and placed in a coffin. While mummies like King Tut and other Egyptians are famous, they certainly are not the only mummies out there. Mummies have been discovered all over the world, from Greenland to China, from Denmark to Peru.
Some mummies are made man-made. Others are made naturally. Even if mummies are made naturally or man-made, they are all formed by rapidly drying. Normally, when a living thing dies, it decays. As different molds and bacteria feed on dead material, they break down whatever they’re feeding on. The material is then recycled into soil which is used by plants and eaten by animals. If dead material dries out quickly and stays dry, decaying cannot happen. In fact, people for thousands of years have been doing this with meat.
The definition for a mummy is the dead body of a human being or animal preserved by the ancient Egyptian process or some similar method or embalming. The ancient Egyptians believed that by preserving a person’s body after death was needed to ensure a safe journey to The Afterlife and to provide a body for the soul to return to if accepted into The Afterlife.
Mummies are called mummies because of the word ‘mummiya’ which is an Arabic word bitumen or pitch. The Arabs invaded Egypt in the 7th century AD and discovered the tombs and their contents. They thought the dark appearance of the bodies, caused by the use of dark resins during the embalming process was actually because they had been dipped in bitumen.
For museums, conserving artifacts is very important. For any exhibit in any museum, you have to conserve what you’re trying to show. Not only for the historians, but also for those who just find that exhibit interesting.
Mummies in museums are very difficult to keep in their original state. When you go to a museum, you can see the mummy decomposing right before your eyes! You can sometimes see holes in the skin and even bones of mummies. Insects are a big factor in decomposing mummies. If you see brown dust at the bottom of the case, that’s from an insect of some sort. Insects destroy mummies. Some only take a two months to destroy, but others can take up to two decades, or twenty years. Another form of decomposition is bacteria and mold. There have been records of different fungi that have torn mummies apart. Many museums cannot have mummies in their museums because the money it takes to clean cases without damaging the mummy is too much for them.
Conserving mummies are very important to the museums that have them. You can never keep anything completely clean, no matter how hard you try, but we have to be extra careful with the mummies we hold. We cannot stop mummies from decomposing, but we can do everything we can to try.
How Mummies are Made
The first thing to do when you make a mummy, is to take them to a tent known as ‘ibu’ or the ‘place of purification’. People there called embalmers wash their body with good-smelling palm wine and rinse them with water. Then, one of the embalmer’s people makes an incision in the left side of the body and removes many internal organs. The liver, stomach, lungs and intestines are washed and packed with Natron, which helps dry them out. The heart is not taken because the person will need it in the afterlife. A hook is used to smash and bull the brain out through the nose. Next, the body gets covered and stuffed with Natron. After 40 days, the body is washed again and covered with oils to help the skin stay stretchy. Then, the internal organs - after they have dehydrated - are wrapped in cloth and returned to the body. The body is then stuffed with dry materials so that it appears lifelike. Next, the body is covered with good-smelling oils. It's now ready to be wrapped with cloth.
To wrap the mummy, the first thing to do is wrap the head and neck. Then, the fingers and toes are wrapped individually. Then, the arms and legs are wrapped. Next, as the mummy is being wrapped, a priest reads spells out loud. This helps protect the mummy from evil spirits and helps the deceased make the journey to the afterlife. After that, the arms and legs are tied together and a scroll with spells is placed between the wrapped hands. More cloth is wrapped around the body, and at every layer the linen is painted with a glue called resin. After all the cloth is wrapped around the mummy, a picture of the god Osiris is painted on the surface of the linen. Then, a large cloth is wrapped around the whole mummy. A painted board is placed on top of the mummy before it is lowered into the first coffin. Then the first coffin is placed in the second coffin. They all have a funeral for the deceased. Finally, the body and its coffins are put into a large stone, sarcophagus, in a tomb. They have placed furniture, clothing, valuables, food and drink for the mummy. Now the mummy is ready for is ready for the journey through the underworld!
Mummy Heart Disease
An ancient Egyptian princess would need surgery if she lived today, because researchers have found blocked arteries in her heart in what’s now the oldest case of human heart disease. She wasn’t the only one, either. There is a case of 44 mummies, and almost half had evidence of calcification in their arteries. This happens when fatty material accumulates inside arteries, eventually hardening into plaques. If the plaques block the arteries, they can cause heart attacks.
Researchers used CT scans to image the entire bodies of 52 ancient Egyptian mummies. 44 of those had recognizable arteries and 16 still had hearts in their chests. 20 of the mummies had evidence of atherosclerosis and 3 mummies with intact hearts, the coronary arteries that feed the heart was riddled with plaque. One of the three mummies was princess Ahmose-Meryet-Amon.
Ahmose-Meryet-Amon was a generally healthy person, which makes it hard to understand how two of her three main heart arteries were blocked. Coronary heart disease is often associated with the modern, inactive lifestyle. It’s likely that as a royal, Ahmose-Meryet-Amon ate more meat, butter and cheese than most Egyptians.
The study also points to some unknowns in heart disease risk. The princess may have had a genetic predisposition to atherosclerosis. Another option was that her body may have been mounting an inflammatory response against parasites common in Egypt, which might have caused plaques to form as a side effect.
No matter the cause, like modern humans, the ancient Egyptians studied had greater rates of atherosclerosis as they aged.
Different Kinds of Mummies
Most people think that the only mummies that are out there are the ones from ancient Egypt. There are many different types of mummies out there and mummies come from all over the world. Some of the other mummies are Incan Mummies, Chinchorro Mummies, Bog Mummies, and Animal Mummies.
Some of the most famous Incan mummies included children. When they had a drought or famine, a child would be offered to the gods as a sacrifice gift. The child would be carried high on to the peak of the Andean mountains by a holy man and killed. The child would be buried with shells, animal figures and other things. About 500 years later, the children’s bodies were found preserved because of the dry air on the high mountain range.
Chinchorro mummies were found in the area between Chile and Peru. They might have been the first people in the world to practice mummification. These people began preserving their dead 2,000 years before the Egyptians. About 282 Chinchorro mummies have been discovered. Almost half of them were conserved on purpose, and the other half were conserved accidentally by the region’s climate. They were discovered while digging ditches in Arica, Chile. The way the Chinchorro mummies were mummified is different. They used sharp stones or shells to cut the body apart. The tied sticks or reeds to the bones to reassemble the skeleton and stuffed the body with clay or plant fibers instead of their organs. Then the body was rewrapped with its own skin and decorated with paint. Finally a clay mask was placed over the face.
Bog mummies were conserved by a unique mummification process. They were pickled by the special conditions found in the water of peat-moss bog. This kept the human bodies from decaying. The supply of oxygen in the water and the tannic acid work together to kill bacteria. It also tanned the human skin to a soft leather. The Bog people were from Northern Europe. Most were brutally killed and sacrificed to soothe the gods during the Iron Age.
Modern day, people love their pets, and so did the ancient Egyptians. They loved them so much to make sure their beloved Fifi makes it into the afterworld through mummification. The Egyptians had several pets, including cats, dogs, monkeys, gazelles and birds. From some paintings, you can see that they loved their pets. Not only did they show their love for their pets by paintings, but it was also common for pets to be mummified and placed in their master’s tomb. Some pets were given complicated burials by their owners. This proves to a further extent that the Egyptians loved their pets, just as we do today.
- What was the purpose in making mummies?
- Why is following the mummification process step-by-step important?
- For a mummy, why would heart disease matter?
- There are different kinds of mummies. Why is it important to have a diverse group of mummies?
- Why do you think it costs so much money to keep mummies in museums clean?
Diagram of King Tut's Sarcophagus
This is a diagram of King Tut's sarcophagus and all the things that went into putting him in there. In the middle it starts off with King Tut wrapped, then a mask on top of him. Surrounding him is one coffin, around that one is another coffin and around that one is the final coffin. Around all of the coffins is stone.
Bitumen- any various natural substances, as asphalt, Maltha, or Gilsonite, consisting mainly of hydrocarbons
Embalmer- someone who treats a body to preserve it, as with chemicals
Natron- a mineral, hydrated sodium carbonate
Resin- a substance of this type obtained from certain pines
Osiris- the king and judge of the dead
Sarcophagus- a stone coffin, especially one bearing sculpture, inscriptions, often displayed as a monument
Peat-Moss- a large absorbent moss that grows in dense masses on boggy ground, where the lower parts decay slowly to form peat deposits
Tannic- of, relating to, or derived from tan or tannin
Historian- an expert in history; authority on history
Calcification- the deposit of lime or insoluble salts of calcium and magnesium as in a tissue
Plaque- an inscribed commemorative tablet, usually of metal placed on a building
Atherosclerosis- a common form of arteriosclerosis in which fatty substances from a deposit of plaque on the inner lining of arterial walls