Tattered and bloodstained, moaning with stiff, outstretched arms the mindless corpse petrifies a helpless victim. O.k., so maybe Hollywoods impression of horrifying mummies has been a bit exaggerated. In fact mummies were not evil, but instead were honored kings of the past. Their bodies were preserved so that they could resume their duties in the after-life. However, despite their innocent intentions, the mere sight of them strikes the utmost fear in our eyes; but the gruesome reality behind them is worse than any horror flick made yet.
The Mummification Process:
When preparing a body for the process of mummification the priests had to conquer their squeamishness. They would have to clean the body from the inside and then pile salt upon it. Once this was done the body was garnished in linen wrappings. It was then placed into a sarcophagus (a coffin) and set in a tomb where the person would spend the rest of its eternal life.
In most cases the internal organs were saved. However, the brain was of the least importance, for the soul dwelled within the heart. The goriest aspect of mummification was the removal of the brain. This was done by inserting a hook up the nasal cavity and using it to slice the brain to pieces so that it could be discarded. The skulls of many mummies show damage from this process.
Next the chest would have to be mummified. The stomach was cut open and the internal organs were removed. The organs were valued as a necessity to the after life so they were then placed into canopic jars to be preserved. In some cases the organs were placed back in the body. This became one of the earliest forms of surgery practiced.
Finally the limbs, hands, and feet were mummified. The limbs were not necessarily important, but particular care was paid to the hands and feet. The feet of many of the mummified bodies were covered in gold to preserve their original shape. The fingernails were tied on to prevent them from falling off. In fact, one body was found so well preserved that the fingerprints were still detectable.
Gods of Death:
Many of the gods played into the ancient Egyptians interest in mummification. The two most important were Osiris and Anubis. Osiris was the god of death and resurrection and was believed to have been the first person to be mummified. Anubis was the god of embalming and would often be honored by the priests during mummification. Embalming was the process of drying the body so that it could be preserved. Since then other forms of embalming have emerged such as the process we use today.
Other Subjects of Mummification:
The Egyptians became so efficient at this process that they began to mummify other subjects. Food, pets, and animal offerings were also preserved. One of the most common, and tragic, of these offerings was the mummification of cats. Around 900 B.C. the goddess of cats, Bastet, gained much popularity among the Egyptians. In honor of her legacy cat mummies would be offered. Upon further examination it has been derived that these cats often died unnatural deaths and were only two to four months old. At a younger age it was easier to fit the bodies into a mummy container. Cemeteries have been found to hold vast numbers of these sacrifices, suggesting that the cat population must have dwindled down to dangerous lows. It is ironic that although cats were worshiped and honored they would be treated in such a cruel way.
All in all mummies were expected to be honored. Their reputation as chilling zombies only exists in the fictional world of Hollywood.