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Introduction [1] & [2]

A mummy is a dead human or an animal whose soft tissues and organs have been preserved by either intentional or accidental exposure to chemicals, extreme cold, very low humidity, or lack of air so that the recovered body does not decay further if kept in cool and dry conditions. The process of embalming, or treating the dead body, used by the ancient Egyptians is called mummification.

Caption:Mural of Egyptian Mummy Preparation at the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum” by mharrsch is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

How Widespread was Mummification?
Mummies of humans and animals have been found on every continent[3] due to natural preservation through unusual conditions and cultural artefacts. Over one million animal mummies have been found in Egypt, many of which are cats.[4] Many Egyptian animal mummies are sacred ibis, and radiocarbon dating suggests the Egyptian Ibis mummies that have been analysed were from a time frame that falls between approximately 450 and 250 BC.[5]

In addition to the mummies of ancient Egypt, deliberate mummification was a feature of several ancient cultures in areas of America and Asia with very dry climates. The Spirit Cave mummies of Fallon, Nevada, in North America, were accurately dated at more than 9,400 years old. Before this discovery, the oldest known deliberate mummy was a child, one of the Chinchorro mummies found in the Camarones Valley, Chile, which dates around 5050 BC.[6] The oldest known naturally mummified human corpse is a severed head dated to be 6,000 years old, found in 1936 AD at the site named Inca Cueva No. 4 in South America.[7]

The process of preserving a dead body by drying it out and wrapping it in bandages is mostly associated with ancient Egypt, where it was used to preserve the bodies of pharaohs, nobles, and other wealthy individuals. Mummification begins with removing the internal organs considered unnecessary for the afterlife. The brain was also removed through the nose using special hooks. The body was then washed and treated with various substances, including natron, a type of salt that helped dry the flesh. Once the body was dried out, it was wrapped in linen bandages and coated with resin to help preserve it. The wrapping process was highly ritualised, with the placement of specific amulets and spells at various points on the body.

Caption: Simplistic representation of the Ancient Egyptian mummification process.
Attribution: SimplisticReps, CC BY-SA 4.0 <;, via Wikimedia Commons
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Mummification was an expensive and time-consuming process which is why it was reserved for the elite of ancient Egyptian society. The belief in the afterlife and the preservation of the body for the journey to the afterlife was a central tenet of Egyptian religion, and mummification was seen as a way to ensure that the body was preserved for eternity.

Mummies have been found in tombs throughout Egypt, and many of them have provided valuable insights into ancient Egyptian life and culture. Some mummies have been found with elaborate funerary objects, such as jewellery, furniture, and even food, which were meant to accompany the deceased on their journey to the afterlife. It was an important part of ancient Egyptian culture and religion, and the practice of mummification continues to fascinate and intrigue people today.

Ancient Egyptians loved life and were firm believers in immortality and that each person possessed a ka and ba:[8]

  • A ka is a life force that leaves the body after death. Upon death, the ka needed to continue to receive offerings of food, whose spiritual essence it still consumed.
  • A ba is a set of spiritual characteristics unique to each person. These remained attached to a body after death and would return each night to receive new life.

Due to the post-mortem importance of a body, Egyptians believed bodies had to be preserved. A fundamental part of their belief was that the mummified body housed one’s soul or spirit. If the body was destroyed, the deceased’s spirit could be lost and not make an entrance into the afterlife.[9]

The earliest ancient Egyptians buried their dead in small pits in the desert sand. 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.[10] Otherwise, post-death decomposition occurs, and it was necessary to deprive the tissues of moisture and oxygen for the body to be preserved via the process of mummification, which involved embalming the body and then wrapping it in thin strips of linen.[11] A 2011 study on the materials used during the mummification procedure in ancient Egypt revealed that the process took 70 days, although, sometimes, poorer people might be mummified in less than a week. The process of preparing the body to prevent decaying is known as embalming.[12]

It was commonplace that Pharaohs were mummified and buried in elaborate tombs. However, non-royals were also mummified, but their mummification wasn’t as thorough as royalty. The mummification of a poor person could be as simple as washing out the intestines and covering the body with natron salt, then applying minimal wrappings before burying them in a shallow grave or cave.[13] According to what Ancient Egyptians recorded in their medical papyri, we can deduce that they were advanced medical practitioners for their time. They were masters of human anatomy and healing mostly due to the extensive mummification ceremonies involving the removal of most internal organs, including the brain, lungs, pancreas, liver, spleen, heart and intestine.[14] Each organ was put in one of four canopic jars to be protected by one of the Four Sons of Horus.

Image Caption: The four sons of Horus (from left): ImsetyDuamutefHapi, and Qebehsenuef.
Attribution: Jeff Dahl, CC BY-SA 4.0 <;, via Wikimedia Commons
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Canopic Jars
The four sons of Horus were a group of four gods in ancient Egyptian religion. They were ‘represented’ by the four canopic jars, which accompanied mummified bodies.[15] Usually, the jars were carved from limestone or made of pottery.[16] The ancient Egyptians used them from the time of the Old Kingdom until the Late Period or the Ptolemaic Period, when the viscera (the internal organs in the main cavities of the body) were simply wrapped and placed with the body.[17] The viscera were not kept in a single canopic jar: each jar was reserved for specific organs.

Since the heart was thought to embody the soul, it was left inside the body.[18] The brain was thought only to be the origin of mucus, so it was reduced to liquid, removed with metal hooks, and discarded.[19] It left the stomach (and small intestines), liver, large intestines, and lungs, which were then removed, embalmed and stored, each organ having its own jar.

Sometimes, embalmers deviated from this scheme – during the 21st Dynasty, they embalmed and wrapped the viscera and returned them to the body, while the canopic jars remained empty symbols.[20] The chief embalmer was a priest wearing a mask of Anubis, the jackal-headed god of the dead. He was closely associated with mummification and embalming.[21] Until the end of the 18th Dynasty, the canopic jars had the head of the king, but later they were shown with animal heads.

The earliest reference to the sons of Horus the Elder is found in the Pyramid Texts[22] in which they are described as friends of the king, as they assist the king in his ascension to heaven in the eastern sky (possibly ‘by means of ladders’). Their association with Horus the Elder specifically relates to the Old Kingdom when they were said to be his children and his souls. As the king, or Pharaoh was seen as a manifestation of, or especially protected by, Horus, these parts of the deceased pharaoh, referred to as the Osiris, were seen as parts of Horus, or rather, his children.[23]

Isis was often seen as the mother of the four sons of Horus, and in the details of the funerary ritual, each son, and therefore each canopic jar was protected by a particular goddess. Others say their mother was Serket, the goddess of medicine and magic. Just as the sons of Horus protected the contents of a canopic jar, the king’s organs, in turn, were protected. Under the principles of male/female duality, as they were male, their protectors were female.

The Four Sons of Horus


  • Imsety: Imsety (Jmstj), the human-headed son of Horus, protected the deceased’s liver and was, in turn, protected by the goddess Isis.[24] His role was to ensure the dead would attain the afterlife, as he was asked to lift them by Horus. In Spell 148 in the Book of the Dead, Imsety was associated with the south.[25]
  • Duamutef: Duamutef (Dwꜣ-mw.t⸗f), the jackal-headed son of Horus, protected the deceased’s stomach and was, in turn, protected by the goddess Neith.[26] It seems that his role was to worship the dead person, and his name literally means “he who worships his mother“.

    In the Coffin Texts, Horus calls upon Duamutef: “Come and worship my father N for me, just as you went that you might worship my mother Isis in your name Duamutef.”[27] Duamutef was considered one of the four pillars of Shu, a rudder of heaven, and was associated with the east.[28]

  • Hapi: Hapi (Ḥpj), the baboon-headed son of Horus, protected the lungs of the deceased and was, in turn, protected by the goddess Nephthys.[29]  Spell 148 in the Book of the Dead directly associates all four of Horus’s sons, described as the four pillars of Shu and said to be one of the four rudders of heaven, with the four cardinal points of the compass. Hapi was associated with the north.[30]
  • Qebehsenuef: Qebehsenuef (Qbḥ-sn.w⸗f) was the falcon-headed son of Horus and protected the intestines of the deceased. He was protected by the goddess Serket.[31] It appears that his role was to refresh the dead person, and his name means literally “he who libates his siblings“. Libation, or showering with cool water was a traditional form of worship in Ancient Egypt. There are many images of the pharaoh presenting libation to the gods. There is a sense of a dual function of cleansing and refreshing them. After Set murdered Osiris, he cut the body into pieces and scattered them around the Delta.[32] This was anathema to the Egyptians, and the service that Qebehsenuef gave to the dead was to reassemble their parts to be properly preserved. Qebehsenuef was the god associated with the West.[33]

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Description automatically generated
The Coffin Texts
Image Caption: Middle Kingdom coffin with the Coffin Texts painted on its panels
Attribution: British Museum, Copyrighted free use, via Wikimedia Commons
Page URL:

The Coffin Texts are a collection of ancient Egyptian funerary spells written on coffins beginning in the First Intermediate Period. They are partially derived from the earlier Pyramid Texts, reserved for royal use only, but contain substantial new material related to everyday desires, indicating a new target audience of common people. Coffin texts are dated back to 2100 BC.[34] Ordinary Egyptians who could afford a coffin had access to these funerary spells, and the pharaoh no longer had exclusive rights to an afterlife.[35]

As the modern name of this collection of 1,185 spells implies, they were mostly inscribed on Middle Kingdom coffins. They were also sometimes written on tomb walls, stelaecanopic chests, papyri and mummy masks. Due to the limited writing surfaces of some of these objects, the spells were often abbreviated, giving rise to long and short versions, some of which were later copied in the Book of the Dead.[36]

Mummification In-Depth
Mummification was a complex and multi-stage process that could take up to 70 days to complete and involved the work of several skilled individuals, including embalmers, scribes, and priests.

The quality of the mummification process depended on the social status and wealth of the deceased. The pharaohs and other elite individuals received the most elaborate and expensive mummification treatments, while the poor were often buried in simple graves with little or no preservation.

The practice of mummification evolved over time: the earliest known mummies date back to around 3000 BCE and were preserved through natural desiccation in the dry sands of the desert. However, by the Old Kingdom period (2686-2181 BC), the Egyptians had developed a sophisticated embalming process that involved the removal of the internal organs and using preservative agents.

Mummies were often placed in elaborate coffins or sarcophagi (caskets), which were decorated with scenes and symbols from Egyptian mythology. These objects were believed to protect the body and guide the deceased on their journey to the afterlife.

Mummies were often buried in tombs filled with offerings of food, drink, and other items that the deceased might need in the afterlife. These tombs were often elaborate and decorated with scenes from the life of the dead and images of gods and goddesses.

The practice of mummification declined in Egypt after the Roman conquest in 30 BC but continued to be practised in some parts of the world, including in parts of South America and Asia.

The Embalmers or Mummifiers
The mummification process in ancient Egypt was a complex and highly specialised practice carried out by a group of skilled individuals known as “embalmers” or “mummifiers.” These individuals were typically priests trained in the art of mummification and were responsible for preparing the bodies of the deceased for the afterlife.

The specific training and knowledge required to become a mummifier were passed down from generation to generation within certain families or among members of the embalming guild. However, evidence suggests that some of the techniques and practices used in mummification may have been learned through trial and error over time and by observing the natural mummification of bodies buried in the dry, arid desert sand.

Chemicals Used
The ancient Egyptian mummifiers used a variety of chemicals and natural substances in the process of mummification. Natron, one of the most important substances used in mummification, is a naturally occurring mixture of sodium carbonate, sodium bicarbonate, and sodium chloride. Natron was used to dry out the body and prevent decomposition. The mummifiers would cover the body in a layer of natron and leave it for up to 40 days, depending on the size of the body.

Other substances used in the mummification process included resin, which was used to preserve the skin and internal organs, and oils, which were used to moisturize the skin and give it a more lifelike appearance. Some mummies were also wrapped in linen bandages soaked in a solution of resin and other substances to further preserve and protect the body. The exact composition of the substances used in mummification varied over time and by region, but natron was a key ingredient in most mummification processes.

The timing of mummification varied depending on the individual circumstances and the wishes of the deceased or their family. In some cases, the body was mummified immediately after death, while in other cases, it was delayed for a period. In general, it was preferred to begin the mummification process as soon as possible after death to prevent decomposition and ensure the best possible preservation of the body. However, there were also practical considerations that could affect the timing of mummification, such as the availability of embalmers and the cost of the process.

Sometimes, the body would be left to dry out in the hot desert sand for a while before the mummification process began. This natural drying process helped remove excess moisture from the body and made it easier to work with during embalming. In general, it was preferred to begin the mummification process as soon as possible after death to ensure the best possible preservation of the body.

Today, mummies continue to be a subject of fascination and study for scientists, historians, and the general public. Modern scientific techniques, such as radiocarbon dating and DNA analysis, have provided new insights into the lives and deaths of the ancient Egyptians.

The Significance of the Mummification Process in Ancient Egyptian Society
The significance of the mummification process in ancient Egyptian society, including the role of embalmers, scribes, and priests in the process, and the rituals and ceremonies that accompanied it, is as follows:

  • Mummification was seen as a way to ensure the preservation of the body for eternity, which was important to the ancient Egyptians’ belief in the afterlife.
  • The mummification process was highly ritualised and involved the work of skilled individuals, such as embalmers, scribes, and priests.
  • The mummification process and associated rituals and ceremonies were also important for the deceased’s family and community, as they helped to ensure the deceased’s successful transition to the afterlife.

Mummification Techniques
Different techniques have been used in mummification throughout Egyptian history, including changes in the process over time and differences in regional practices:

  • The basic steps of mummification involved the removal of internal organs, the use of preservatives such as natron, and the wrapping of the body in linen bandages.
  • Different individuals received different levels of mummification depending on their social status and wealth.

Several types of mummies have been discovered in Egypt, such as royal mummies, mummies of commoners, and animal mummies, and they reveal a great deal about ancient Egyptian life and culture:

  • Royal mummies, such as those of Tutankhamun and Ramses II, have provided important insights into ancient Egyptian society, including their beliefs about the afterlife and their religious practices.
  • Mummies of commoners have also been discovered and have provided information about everyday life in ancient Egypt, such as diet and health.
  • Animal mummies, particularly those of cats and ibises, were common in ancient Egypt and were often used as offerings to the gods.

Impact on Modern Society
Mummies have impacted modern science and technology, allowing scientists to learn more about ancient Egyptian health, disease, and genetics – for example: Mummies have been studied using modern scientific techniques, such as radiocarbon dating and DNA analysis, providing new insights into ancient Egyptian health, disease, and genetics.

Mummies have had a significant impact on popular culture, inspiring numerous movies, books, and other media. One of the earliest examples of mummies in popular culture is the 1932 movie “The Mummy,” starring Boris Karloff, which introduced the concept of the “cursed mummy” to audiences. Since then, mummies have appeared in countless films, including the Indiana Jones series, “The Mummy” franchise, and many more.

Mummies have also been the subject of many books, both fiction and non-fiction, including historical accounts of mummification practices and stories featuring mummies as supernatural creatures. Some notable examples of mummy-related literature include Bram Stoker’s “The Jewel of Seven Stars,” Anne Rice’s “The Mummy or Ramses the Damned,” and Agatha Christie’s “Death Comes as the End.”

In addition to film and literature, mummies have inspired other media, such as video games, comic books, and music. For example, the classic video game “Tomb Raider” features Lara Croft, an archaeologist who frequently encounters mummies and other ancient artefacts in her adventures. The band, “The Mummies”, took their name from the Egyptian mummies, and their music is heavily influenced by 1960s garage rock.

The study and conservation of mummies raise ethical issues around the display and ownership of human remains, particularly those taken from their original context and displayed in museums.

There are also concerns about the potential damage to mummies from modern research techniques and the need to balance scientific discovery with preservation.

The Most Famous Mummy of All?

Caption: Second inner coffin with lid removed exposing King Tutankhamun’s mummy wearing the gold death mask New Kingdom 18th Dynasty Egypt 1332-1323 BCE” by mharrsch is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

King Tutankhamun’s mummy is one of the most famous mummies ever found. Here’s some information about him, his mummification, and discovery:
King Tutankhamun was an Egyptian pharaoh who lived during the 18th Dynasty (around 1341–1323 BC). He ascended to the throne at a young age and died under mysterious circumstances when he was only around 18 years old. British archaeologist Howard Carter found his mummy in the Valley of the Kings in 1922, and its discovery caused a worldwide sensation.

The mummification of King Tutankhamun was a sophisticated process that involved removing the internal organs, treating the body with various substances, and wrapping it in linen bandages. The internal organs were preserved in canopic jars, which were buried with the mummy. King Tutankhamun’s mummy was also adorned with jewellery and other items, such as a mask made of solid gold.

The discovery of King Tutankhamun’s mummy was a significant event in the history of Egyptology. It provided archaeologists with a wealth of information about ancient Egyptian burial practices, art, and culture. The discovery also fuelled public interest in ancient Egypt, and King Tutankhamun’s tomb became a popular tourist destination.

Today, King Tutankhamun’s mummy is housed in a climate-controlled glass case in the Valley of the Kings. The mummy has been subjected to various scientific analyses, including DNA testing, which has provided insights into his ancestry and cause of death.

Sources and Further Reading


Videos etc.:

CAUTION: This paper is compiled from the sources stated but has not been externally reviewed. Parts of this paper include information provided via artificial intelligence which, although checked by the author, is not always accurate or reliable.

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End Notes and Explanations

  1. Source: Compiled from research using information at the sources stated throughout the text, together with information provided by machine-generated artificial intelligence at: [chat] and
  2. Source:
  3. Source: “The Egyptian Mummy”. Penn Museum
  4. Source: “Egyptian Animals Were Mummified Same Way as Humans”. 15 September 2004.
  5. Source:  Wasef, S.; Wood, R.; Merghani, S. El; Ikram, S.; Curtis, C.; Holland, B.; Willerslev, E.; Millar, C.D.; Lambert, D.M. (2015). “Radiocarbon dating of Sacred Ibis mummies from ancient Egypt”. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports. 4: 355–361. doi:10.1016/j.jasrep.2015.09.020.
  6. Source: “Andean Head Dated 6,000 Years Old”. 
  7. Source: “Online Etymology Dictionary: mummy”. 
  8. Source and acknowledgement:
  9. Source: Smithsonian at:
  10. Source:
  11. Source and acknowledgement:
  12. Source:
  13. Source:
  14. Source:
  15. Source: Aufderheide, Arthur C. (2003). The Scientific Study of Mummies. p. 258. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-81826-5.
  16. Source: Shaw, Ian; Paul Nicholson (1995). The Dictionary of Ancient Egypt. p. 59.New York: Harry N. Abrams. ISBN 0-8109-9096-2. Cited at:
  17. Source: Spencer, A. Jeffrey, ed. (2007). The British Museum Book of Ancient Egypt. p. 115. London: British Museum Press. ISBN 978-0-7141-1975-5. Cited at:
  18. Source: Germer, Renate (1998). “Mummification”. p. 462. In Regine Schulz; Matthias Seidel (eds.). Egypt – The World of the Pharaohs. Cologne: Könemann. ISBN 3-89508-913-3.
  19. Source: Ibid, Germer,  pp. 460–461.
  20. Source: Aufderheide, Arthur C. (2003). The Scientific Study of Mummies. As above.
  21. Source:
  22. Source: Assmann, Jan (2005). Death and Salvation in Ancient Egypt. p. 357. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. ISBN 0-8014-4241-9.
  23. Ibid, p. 467.
  24. Source: O’Connor, David (1998). Amenhotep III: Perspectives on His Reign. p.121. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0-472-10742-9. Cited at:
  25. Source: Budge, Edward Wallis (2010) [1925]. The Mummy; a Handbook of Egyptian Funerary Archaeology. p. 240. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1-108-01825-8. Cited at:
  26. Source: O’Connor, David (1998). Amenhotep III: Perspectives on His Reign. p.121. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0-472-10742-9. Cited at:
  27. Source: Faulkner, Raymond Oliver (2004). The Ancient Egyptian Coffin Texts. pp. 520-523. Oxford: Aris and Phillips. ISBN 0-85668-754-5. Cited at:
  28. Source: Budge, p. 240. Cited at:
  29. Source: O’Connor, David (1998). Amenhotep III: Perspectives on His Reign. p.121. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0-472-10742-9. Cited at:
  30. Budge, p. 240. Cited at:
  31. Source: O’Connor, David (1998). Amenhotep III: Perspectives on His Reign. p.121. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0-472-10742-9. Cited at:
  32. Source: Budge, p. 361. Cited at:
  33. Source: Budge, p. 240. Cited at:
  34. Source:
  35. Sources: (1) Lichtheim, Miriam (1975). Ancient Egyptian Literature, vol 1. London, England: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-02899-6, and (2) Goelet, Dr Ogden; et al. (1994). The Egyptian Book of the Dead: The Book of Going Forth by Day. San Francisco: Chronicle Books.
  36. Source: Goelet, Dr Ogden; et al. (1994). The Egyptian Book of the Dead: The Book of Going Forth by Day. San Francisco: Chronicle Books.


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