Idea of God
Evolution of Mummification
Coffins & Sarcophagi
Through numerous clues and findings, it is evident that the ancient Egyptians went through a phase known as animism or animatism.
This is the belief in which one believes that nearly all objects in the universe have a soul and a personality just like humans.
What brought about such a belief? It all started with the experience of a dream or the "phenomenon of sleep". This "phenomenon"
caused one to conclude that all humans possess another self or a living palimpsest (that is, a being inside another being,
which exists at the same time as the other, yet is hidden). It was with the notion of another self that one further concluded
that it would continue to exist after death. This brings us to the fact that the Egyptians believed in an Afterlife, an idea
that other modern religions share.
It is possible to prove that the ancient Egyptians, in fact, believed in the possession of a "soul" or animism. How, one might
ask? The ancient Egyptians had a name for "soul" (the ba), which artists depicted as a human-headed bird. The association
of a bird to the soul is rather interesting in that to the ancient Egyptians, birds have a magical power that humans do not
possess: flight. It has also been in very recent times that humans have been obsessed with flight: the Wright Brothers and
others like them, for example. The ability of flight allowed birds to soar as high as the realm of the gods. It is evident
that, from the bird, the Egyptians developed the notion of the "winged spirit" or "winged god", thus the appropriateness of
the place of the ba in Egyptian religion. Other winged creatures appearing in Egyptian religion include the scarab,
the beetle connected with the rising sun and rebirth; the sun, an astral and ubiquitous image that signifies life among other
things; and the falcon, a bird of prey whose image personifies Re, Hewer, Horus, and Horus of Edfu.
One can further conclude that the ancient Egyptians believed in animism due to their worship of the tree, which is a branch
of animistic belief. One example of the significance of the tree in ancient Egyptian religion is its existence in the myth
of the death of Osiris. In this tale, Osiris, after his brother, Seth, locked him in a chest and threw him out to sea, was
wound inside the trunk of a tree, which provided a vessel for the dead ruler in which he could be reborn. In another example,
the new reigning ruler would have his or her name written on the leaves of an acacia tree, making the new ruler’s name
last forever. The latter example shows that the acacia tree was a thing that possessed a magical character that allowed it
to forever keep intact the legacy of whoever’s name was written on its leaves.
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Idea of God
The ancient Egyptians' concept of "god" can be described in the following ways: the word with which they used to describe
"god" and a prospective description proposed by some Egyptologists and archeologists. In terms of the former, it is evident
that the ancient Egyptians referred to god, or any deity, as ntr (Egyptian for "god"). The latter description of "god"
can be linked to the former in that scholars have observed that the hieroglyphic symbol that represents ntr is an axe-head
let into a long wooden handle. Some believe that this hieroglyph resembles, in outline, a roll of yellowish cloth: the lower
part being bound or laced over; the upper part appearing as a flap at the top, probably for unwinding.
The term "god" should not be confused with the Christian God, as they are not the same thing: the latter is One Entity, whereas
the former could refer to any number of gods or a male or female ruler. Here we have the difference between monotheism (Christian)
and polytheism (Egyptian). What is more, at any given moment, year, or changing of rulers, the changing of the primary god
in ancient Egypt occurred (the Christian God will remain the only One, forever).
Where the Christian God is responsible for everything, a whole slew of Egyptian gods were charged with the gradation of the
earth’s moods (weather, astrological occurrences, et cetera). In addition, it was possible for the Egyptians to appease
the gods in hopes of manipulating a god’s decision of what the weather would be on any given day. This relationship
is non-existent between the Christian God and Its*
followers: the Christian God is not to be manipulated, as It is omnipotent. That is to say, with the Egyptians’ rapport
with their gods comes a far more personal interaction between the two, where the rapport between the Christian God and Its
believers is limited to worship and is impersonal, though one could certainly "talk" with God. One can also certainly ask
God to make a cloudy day sunny, but one would not offer God anything to appease It.
It is also known that the gods of ancient Egypt occupied the same plane as did the ancient Egyptians; the ancient Egyptians
believed that the spirits of the gods lived in their images (effigies), that when they prayed to an image of a god on a wall
or to a statue, they were praying to the god him or herself, although a tête-à-tête with a god was limited to priests, who
were charged with caring for the god whose spirit resided in the statue (bathing, clothing, and nourishing, for example).
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In the mix of the ancient Egyptian religion, one can say that fetishism played a role. Fetishism is a term applied to the
use of objects of various sizes and compositions that one regards as possessing consciousness, volition (freewill), and supernatural
qualities. It is evident that fetishism was a part of the ancient religion because many of the ancient Egyptian gods are depicted
as carrying the fetishes with which the Egyptians associated them. For example, Hathor is often depicted holding a sistrum,
a musical instrument whose handle is often in her image (a cow's head). Tauweret is often, if not always, shown leaning against
a tyet amulet of protection, supporting her role as a protectress. Egyptians artists showed often Ptah as holding
a was-djed-ankh staff, which personifies what his godly duty was: a powerful (was) creator of life (ankh)
who was also in charge of keeping stability (djed) in the world. Osiris is more often than not shown holding the crook
(a short shepherd's staff) and flail (a sort of three-stringed whip) across his chest, the same exact items living rulers
held in their depictions. The crook was a symbol for leadership in terms of the rapport between shepherd and flock; the ruler
was responsible for instilling peace among his people, watching over their wellbeing. The flail was a symbol for power and
dominance, in terms of the rapport between farmer and his or her work animals, where whipping an ox would lead it forward
and better produce a land ready for planting crops. Osiris was leader over all the gods, guiding them in their difficult
decisions, and was the most powerful over any—he was the god of the entire Underworld after all, the father of the gods
and original ruler of the living.
Amulets are prime examples of such evidence of fetishism in the ancient Egyptian religion. Each was closely associated with
a certain deity:
Isis and Tauweret with the tyet amulet of protection; Osiris with the djed pillar amulet of strength; Ptah the
was-djed-ankh scepter; Horus the WADJET eye; and Re the WAS scepter. The Egyptians considered it good luck to anyone--dead
or living--who wore them. Wives might give their battle-bound husbands a wadjet eye amulet attached to a string to
give them the protection of Horus, who would heal the soldier if ever he became wounded. A pregnant woman might were the
tyet amulet to protect her from miscarriage or complications during childbirth. Mothers might tie a necklace from
which dangled an amulet in the likeness of Bes (protector of children) in hopes that this mischievous deity would protect
their son or daughter from evil. A person’s mummified body might be, and often was, adorned with amulets in the shape
of the ankh and/or a scarab made of feldspar to instill life into the person in the Hereafter or protect the dead person’s
heart from betraying them during Osiris' judgment, after which they would be sent to their fate (a life in the Hereafter or
in the belly of the Eater of Souls, Ammit).
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Totemism is another form of religion associated to that of the ancient Egyptians. However, this variation is very questionable
as a correct description of the aforementioned party's religion. Thus, I will mention both sides of the argument, but not
without giving a description of the definition of totemism. This "ism" is defined as the recognition, exploitation, and the
adjustment of the imaginary mystic relationship of the individual to the supernatural powers or spirits which surround them
(Spence, Ancient Egyptian Myths and Legends, 8). In engaging in such a form of religion, one placed atop a totem, or a perch,
an animal, which was regarded as the deity under whose protection a certain region of peoples were placed. According to such
an idea, one was not permitted to slaughter or harm any such sacred animal.
It is evident that the ancient Egyptians held animals in high regard, but it is not certain whether they worshipped them because
of some god-like association or of the simple fact that they were animals. With this animal worshipping idea in mind, it is
apparent that there is proof of the existence of totemism in ancient Egyptian religion. Consider the following: Bast(et) was
first worshipped in cat form, which was originally a cat totem and Sobek, representative of the crocodile, was worshipped
as such, near Crocodilopolis ("Shedet" in Egyptian, now called Medinet El-Fayoum).
In each case, it is plain to see that the Egyptians considered animals as divine and as "totems" that matured to divinities
or gods. Furthermore, the gods themselves, with the aid of magic, could transform themselves into the animals with which they
were closely associated. Thus, with respect to this ability, totemism can be associated with the ancients' religion. In addition,
it is evident that in certain areas, or nomes, of Egypt, where certain animals were worshipped, the Egyptians did not eat
the animals that they worshipped. From the definition of totemism, one can gather that the ancient Egyptian religion is a
reflection of this form, at least in regards to the belief in not killing certain worshipped animals.
The above mentioned is totemism in its earliest form, during pre-dynastic times, before unification. The prime example of
totemism during dynastic Egypt occurs at Bubastis, the area to which the ancient Egyptians made a pilgrimage and paid respect
to Bastet. The high reverence of this goddess was evident at Bubastis because thousands of cats resided there and each day
one or more of these sacred cats were sacrificed in honor of the cat goddess.
By the 300s BCE**
, totemism in dynastic Egypt dissipated.
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The process of mummification is probably the most known in all of ancient Egyptian religion. Mummification was a religious
ritual that was connected to many significant occurrences and objects. For one thing, the seventy days during which this
whole process took followed the same amount of time during which the Dog Star Sothis disappeared and reappeared after its
first appearance in the sky, which hailed the ancient Egyptian new year. Keeping the heart within the body refers to the
ancient Egyptian belief that the seat of knowledge was in the heart and not in the brain. The linen wrapped around the body
was symbolic of the way in which Osiris was buried, connecting the deceased with this god. Anubis’ presence throughout
the process of mummification supports this god’s duty of protection over the dead. The adze (a wooden axe-like tool)
that was held up to the mummy’s mouth, the shape of it rather, was similar to the shape of Ursa Major, which was, to
the ancient Egyptians, the leg of Set, the brotherly foe of Osiris. This “opening of the mouth” ceremony was
one that reflected that which Horus performed on his father Osiris after the said father died at the hands of Set.
However, the process of mummification with which most are familiar is but one way to preserve the body of a dead person, though
the intentions remained the same throughout the generations of ancient Egyptian religion: in order to live forever, one had
to preserve the dead person’s body. Starting in pre-dynastic times, the ancient Egyptians buried their dead beneath
the sand and included with the body a mat under which the dead body rested in the fetal position (which refers to the belief
that one was born and should die in the same position), a few trinkets the person used during life, and several jars of food
to ensure provisions in the Afterlife. The sands preserved the body well, acting as a de-moisturizer, leaving the body in
a leathery state. The next phase in mummification was a continuation of the first stage, but with the inclusion of a wooden
box, later a stone container, inside which one would place the dead person’s body. This proved fatal to the corpse.
The sands, no longer touching the body, left it to rot; preservation was not possible. Having realized this, the ancients
began the next stage, maintaining the use of a box inside which one placed a corpse in order to protect it from desecration
by animals, but keeping in mind the power of preservation that sand had on a corpse. This brings one to process with which
one is most familiar: embalmment.
There were three ways to prepare the body for mummification, which depended on to what social class one belonged. The least
costly was to bring one’s dead family member’s body to an embalmer, who would take a few days to flush away the
innards of the corpse with a liquid that disintegrated everything inside. The embalmer would then hand back the body to the
family, who were to bury it in their own fashion. The mediocre way of mummification was similar to the cheap way, with the
inclusion of the embalmer preparing the dead person for burial, rather than the family. The last and well-documented and
–known is the most expensive, a way that only the wealthy could afford.
This process of mummification went as follows:
First, the body was taken to a "place of purification" or ibu in ancient Egyptian. The location of the ibu was
probably on the west bank of the Nile because it was believed that just as the sun descended into the underworld behind the
western horizon, so did the dead.
Photo caption: A modern-day mummification: a doctor piles natron salt over a corpse.
The initial cleansing of the naked corpse had both a ritual and a practical importance: just as the cult statue in a temple
was washed each morning and just as Ra was cleansed in the waters of Nun each morning before being “reborn” at
dawn, so was the body of the decedent. To cleanse the body, the embalmer used a solution of natron or ntryt in ancient
Egyptian—natural occurring salt that occurred in ancient times—thus leading to the first stage of preservation.
The salt was extremely useful in the embalming process because it acted as a mild antiseptic and it was an effective dehydrating,
drying out the body, yet leaving it flexible.
Photo caption: An x-ray showing the path of a hooked tool when dicing the brain during mummification (a modern-day corpse).
It is at this point that the purified body was removed to the actual place of embalmment—wbt or pr nfr
in ancient Egyptian—which would have been under a tent or an enclosure housing a tent or a booth. The chief embalmer
was called "He who Controls the Mysteries"—or hry sshta. He would have worn a jackal mask during the rituals
of the embalming process, imitating Anubis, the god of embalming. His side-kick was called "God's Seal-Bearer"—htmu
ntjr—which is similar to the title held by the priests of Osiris. Once in the embalming house or tent, the body
was stretched out on four wooden blocks on which was a wooden board. The first body part to be preserved was the face; it
would have been coated with molten resin. From the 18th Dynasty, the brain was removed and tossed out, but still included
in the burial, as everything had to be with the body in order to ensure entry into the Hereafter, even if the Egyptians
considered it stuffing for the head, a vestigial object. The way that the brain was extracted is known by most: one took
a sharp poker, shoved it up the nose of the deceased, scrambled things about a bit and ripped and scrapped it all out through
the nostrils. If that didn’t work or if there remained still brain bits, then a hole was drilled into the back of the
head of the corpse and then one extracted the rest of the brains that way (Tutankhamun's skull has this trait). To fill the
void of the skull, sawdust, resin or resin-soaked linen was stuffed inside to aid in keeping the skull's shape.
The eyes were then pushed in and inserted into the sockets was a clove of garlic, a plant with antiseptic qualities, which
was also a form of protection over evil, according to Egyptian belief. Over the garlic, a bit of linen was placed. The marriage
of linen and garlic created a mound underneath the lids, which gave the appearance of a person just closing his or her eyes
The viscera were the next to be embalmed: a slit in the side with a flint stone allowed the embalmer to pull out the organs
and embalm them with palm and date wine and other fragrances such as myrrh. The lungs, upper and lower intestines, liver,
and stomach were individually wrapped in linen and then placed with the body or in canopic jars. The Fours Sons of Horus
(Hapi, Imsety, Duamutef, and Qebesehnuef) were responsible for containing within them an assigned organ. What is more, each
Son of Horus had one of the goddesses of the four cardinal directions protecting them. Nephthys, goddess of the North, guarded
the lungs, which were placed inside the ape-headed Hapi; Isis, goddess of the South, guarded the liver, which was placed inside
the human-headed Imsety; Neith, goddess of the West, guarded the upper intestines and the stomach, which were placed inside
the jackal-headed Duamutef; and Selket, goddess of the East, guarded the lower intestines, which were placed inside the hawk-headed
Once the body and the viscera were preserved, the embalmers wrapped around the corpse yard upon yard of linen. Each finger,
toe, arm, leg, and length of the body was wrapped with a specially sized strip of linen. During the wrapping of each limb
and appendage, a lector priest would chant a prayer specific to the limb or appendage that the embalmer wrapped. The lector
priest had a very important job, as chanting the right prayers in the correct order and at the correct time increased the
ease that the dead person could enter the Afterlife. The embalmer who wrapped the body in linen had also an important duty
other than to wrap the right member with the correct strip of linen: the embalmer was also in charge of wrapping within the
bandages chapters from the book of the dead. These chapters needed also to be installed in the right place on the body.
At other times, the chapters from the book of the dead would be inscribed on the appropriate bandage. If a person was rich
enough, he or she could also have his toes and fingers capped with gold-foil in the shape of fingertips and toes.
After the seventy days of preparation and mummification of a corpse, the body was placed in a coffin or in a series of coffins
[see Coffins and Sarcophagi
for more information]. From then on, the mourning process took into effect.
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Evolution of Mummification
At this time, mummification as we know it was in its infancy; therefore, no mummies have survived from this dynasty. Prior
to Dynasty 3, "natural mummies" (that is, bodies that were buried within the sand, being naturally preserved by the dry and
hot sand) were common. These natural mummies are usually positioned curled up, like a fetus, ready to be born.
Mummies during this period begin to show abdominal evisceration, an incision of the lower torso, through which embalmers pulled
out a corpse’s innards. In addition to this technique, embalmers employed another: stretching out the mummified corpses,
rather than style it in a fetal position as was the popular way to position a body during the Pre-Dynastic Period. The reason
embalmers stretched out the body was the compatibility of this position with evisceration. In a fetal position, abdominal
evisceration is unsuited.
Bandaging of mummies from Dynasty 5 is of a very careful sort, inside and out; embalmers exercised internal packaging with
resin soaked bandages for such mummies. In some cases, embalmers in charge of bandaging a corpse bandaged separately limbs
(legs, arms, fingers), preserving the contours of the mummy’s body. At times, the preservation of the head was done
by using plaster, modeling its features with this material, in addition to paints, which embalmers used to bring life and
expression into the lifeless corpse. Like Dynasty 4 mummies, evisceration was a continued technique, but it was not yet widespread,
being a new element of mummification.
As in Dynasty 5, embalmers modeled the corpse—the entire body or just the head—with plaster. In addition to plaster,
embalmers used resin-impregnated linen to wrap the body of a mummy. Similar also to Dynasty 5, the faces of mummies from
Dynasty 6 were recreated to resemble the way it looked in life. The organs of Dynasty 6 mummies were wrapped in cloth and
then usually placed in a niche located in the burial chamber.
First Intermediate Period (Dynasties IX, X, XI)
Mummies from the First Intermediate period are carefully bandaged—at least, from the outside, they look rather decent;
but the inside of these mummies are in poor condition. In general, painted cartonnage masks accompanied/were placed over
the heads of these mummies.
Dynasty 11 mummies still evince having been eviscerated, which was, at this time, becoming more frequent in mummification.
It was also at this time that embalmers started using natron salt to preserve the body and its organs. In addition to water,
fats from the corpse were eliminated, a process called saponification. At this time, it is clearly visible that there were
three different qualities of mummification, as described by Herodotus: that which the rich could afford (full-out mummification),
that for which the middle class could pay (insertion through the body cavity some liquid and then bandaging of the corpse),
and that which the poor could attain (insertion of liquid through the body cavity).
Like mummies from Dynasties 5 and 6, the faces of Dynasty 12 mummies were greatly preserved, however facial painting was no
longer in fashion; funerary masks took the place of facial painting on some if not all Dynasty 12 mummies. Some Dynasty 12
mummies’ noses and eyes are stuffed to retain life-like contouring. Funeral masks from this period were made of stuccoed
cloth, were glided, painted yellow (a color that represented the skin color of gods), and were adorned with artificial beards
and/or mustaches—the last of these elements (mustached jaws, that is) was but a passing decoration, however. Launched
also during this period was the inclusion of amulets placed on the mummy, but this new element was infrequent.
Although not all mummies prior to Dynasty 12 were stretched out (mummies placed in the fetal position still occurred), it
was now a rule that mummies were buried in an anthropoid style. However, the Egyptians did not abandon totally placing the
stretched-out mummy on its side, as was the way fetal-positioned mummies lay; mummies from this dynasty could be placed on
their sides and stretched out or on their sides and curled up.
Second Intermediate Period (Dynasties XIV, XV, XVI, XVII)
During the Second Intermediate Period, the period of the Hyksos invasion into Egypt, Hyksos kings were not mummified; therefore,
mummies from these Dynasties are non-existent. It was at this time that servants of the Hyksos kings were sacrificed in front
of the places of burial of these foreign kings, as anthropological evidence has shown. Human sacrifices during this time
are reminiscent of Pre Dynastic sacrifices. However, instead of being a ceremonious offering as it was to the Hyksos, Pre
Dynastic sacrifices—the killing of the kings’ servants and officials—served to furnish the king with otherworldly
help in the Hereafter, as he or she had during life.
Dynasty 18 mummies carry on the tradition of abdominal evisceration launched in Dynasty 4, yet there was a difference between
the two: Dynasty 4 mummies evince vertical abdominal incisions, at the level of the left hypochondrium, near the lower ribs;
some Dynasty 18 mummies have an abdominal incision parallel to the left iliopubic line, between the lower abdomen and the
groin. Excerebration (removal of the brain) at this time was almost systematic; the brain of these mummies was usually taken
out via the ethmoidal cavity (a bone found at the base of the cranium and the root of the nose). The arm positions typical
of Dynasty 18 mummies are the following: placed along the body, palms touching the sides; hands covering the private area
(classical positioning for men); or arms are crossed over the chest or hands clutching the shoulders (the Osirian position).
This span of time saw the use of beaded shrouds—actual beaded nets draped over or painted on the outside of the mummy
bandages. Such an object was used not only as an outer decoration but also as a sort of hanger, a display, on which the mummy’s
amulets could be hung.
Typical of mummies from these dynasties are the inclusion of artificial eyes and skin painted yellow or red (women were usually
painted yellow; men were typically red). In addition, Dynasty 21 and 22 mummies appear puffy, especially about the face,
a result of subcutaneous packing—sawdust, clay, sand, and resin soaked linen were usual contents stuffed within mummy
bandages. Embalmers stuffed the aforementioned materials—used in combination—through incisions in the mouth,
arms, neck, back, and/or the evisceration incision. This was a widespread technique. Unlike preceding dynasties, mummies
during Dynasties 21 and 22 tend not to have buried with them organ-filled canopic jars. Rather, the mummies’ organs
were embalmed, as they were prior to this time; were accompanied by four amulets representing the Four Sons of Horus; and
then put back into the body cavity (these are called "canopic packets," even though the organs are not in such vessels).
False canopic jars instead of the other sort (in which organs were placed) were buried with the mummy; false canopic jars
had the same function as those in which organs used to be placed, save the former were not hollowed out—there might
have been a small pit an inch or two deep carved out, but that was about it.
Just as Dynasty 21 and 22 mummies had their organs embalmed and buried with them (canopic packets), so had Dynasty 25 mummies,
with a small difference: during this time, instead of putting the organs back in the mummified body, the embalmed organs
were placed next to or between the legs of the corpse. Even though there have been cases where the mummified organs were
put into canopic jars, it was a rare practice at this time. The appearance of the mummies from this dynasty, compared to
prior dynasties, changed during Dynasty 25: pre-Dynasty 25 mummies are called "white mummies" and Dynasty 25 mummies are
called "black mummies"—the latter epithet stems from the observance that the mummies’ bodies seem to have been
coated with a black substance. This black substance was a brittle coating that the Egyptian embalmers used as an antiseptic,
the application of such material making the corpses rigid. Not only did embalmers use this black substance on the mummified
bodies, but also they used it to soak the linen that swathed the cadaver.
The technique of mummification was fairly unchanged during the Graeco-Roman Period. The process of making a “black
mummy” became widespread among nearly all social classes, from the upper echelons of society to the lower. The black
color of the mummified remains came from bitumen (earlier theories of mummification included corpses being dipped in bitumen,
a completely erroneous hypothesis) or vegetal products such as cedar oil—the black color was the result of a chemical
change. Similar to Dynasty 25 mummies, Graeco-Roman mummies are typically puffy, overstuffed. This technique of packing
materials within the mummies’ bandages was an effort made to bring back life to the now dead person. Despite the rather
unflattering look of most of these mummies, they are well preserved. However, not all Graeco-Roman Era mummies are well preserved
(that is, on the inside). Evidence has shown that some mummies were prepared in haste, probably due to the increase in population,
and there are frequent incidences where body parts are detached. What is more, and especially evident throughout lower class
mummies, having fairly decent exteriors, the interior—the mummified corpse, that is—was nothing but bones, human
or animal (in terms of the latter, the embalmers essayed to create the illusion that a person was within the bandages). Probably
the most distinguished characteristic of mummies of this period is gilding. Most of the Graeco-Roman mummies have gilded
bodies, heads, hands, feet, and occasionally lids, lips, and nails. The final trait of these mummies is all in the way their
arms are placed. The general arm position is both appendages placed at the sides, elongated. For young mummified boys, their
hands are fixed over their private area, covering it. Sometimes, adult mummies’ arms are crossed over the chest, in
the Osirian style, or were arranged in the shape of a backwards four (the right arm at the side, while the left arm was bent
at the elbow to form a right angle over the torso). Hypocephali diskes were placed under the head. Such objects were disks
made of stuccoed cloth, papyrus, or bronze, decorated with many themes such as the celestial cow (Hathor), the Four Sons of
Horus, or the four-headed ram (Amun-Ra).
Ptolemaic-Roman mummies exhibit the following attributes: narrow bandages, woven in intricate designs; colored bandages of
white, black, and shades of red, sometimes embellished with gilded stucco; exterior bandaging of good quality; interior composed
of recycled materials such as shredded tunics, old linen, and boat sails; and amulets wrapped up within the mummy bandages.
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Coffins and Sarcophagi
Dynasties I and II
The dead were buried in the fetal position and were laid to rest in the preserving sand, in baskets or without baskets.
Burying the dead in the fetal position signifies the position in which people are born; it was also in this position that
a person would die, being reborn into the Afterlife. Buried with the decedent were large pots and/or square crates in which
were housed personal affects and provisions for the dead person to use in the Hereafter. At this time, there was no difference
in the way rich and common folk were buried. The only anomoly was the quantity and quality of that which was buried with
the corpse. A prime example of a mummy from this period is that of "Ginger." Ginger was a commoner who was buried beneath
the hot sands. The name "Ginger" derived from the mummy's color.
Dynasties III through X
The dead were buried in the a stretched out position (due to the advent of extracting organs) and were laid to rest in a rectangular
coffin, where there were wadjet eyes painted or carved on the east-side—the direction of the living—of
the coffin, so the deceased could see through the coffin. Food offerings were often painted on the inside of the coffin to
provide the deceased with nourishments in the Hereafter. The ancient Egyptians believed that the power of an image was just
as good as the real thing and it was a way to save space.
Dynasties XI through XIII
The coffins of the deceased from the higher echelons of society were provided with coffin texts and maps of the Afterlife,
which were painted on the interior walls and base of the deceased's coffin. The coffins were composed of well-cut planks of
timber that had to be imported because Egyptian wood was not that durable. These planks of wood were rectangular in form
and were placed inside yet another rectangular coffin of the same material.
From Dynasty XIII to Dynasty XVI took on an anthropoid shape, which were made of cartonnage (layers of linen, stiffened with
plaster). Cartonnage was a material used by low-class people because it was cheap, as opposed to Lebanese wood or solid gold,
which were expensive materials. Sometimes the cartonnage was gilded if one could afford it. Then, this anthropoid coffin
was placed inside an outer wooden coffin, similar to the trend launched during Dynasty XI.
During this time, coffins were still in the anthropoid shape, but with an added feature: the surface of the coffins was painted
with a feather pattern, which embodied the protective wings of Isis or of the sky goddess, Nut.
The use of anthropoid coffins continued, but they were designed in the following ways: the arms were carved in high relief
and crossed over the chest; some coffins had molded beards, at the end of which was a curled tip, like the one worn by Osiris;
the surface was covered with depictions of deities such as the goddesses of the four cardinal directions (Nephthys, Neith,
Isis, and Selket representing north, east, south, and west respectively), Osiris’ sisters (Nephthys and Isis), the sky
goddess Nut, or others; and bands of hieroglyphic extracts from funerary texts acted as decoration. Tutankhamun's inner mostcoffin
and Tjuya's coffin are good examples from this Dynasty
Dynasty XX through Dynasty XXII
Dynasty XIX through Dynasty XXI
It was fashionable to bury the dead inside a nest of anthropoid-shaped wooden coffins and inside a stone sarcophagus.
The decoration of the coffins continued to be decorated in the style of Dynasty XVIII and could vary in material: wood,
cartonnage, gilded, or solid gold.
This overlapping period was the start of the painting of the sky goddess Nut on the inside of the coffin, rather than
on the outside.
This dynasty saw the introduction of the wooden footboard, which was attached to the
innermost coffin, made of cartonnage. The coffin(s) maintained anthropoid shape.
Dynasty XXI through Dynasty XXVI
Particularly eminent of these dynasties was the adornment of the mummy with two red leather straps that crossed over the
chest, resembling a pair of braces. On the mummy was also a shroud of blue faience beads, on which could be attached protective
amulets. In very rare instances (for it had to be imported from the east) the use of silver as materials for creating coffins
was done (i.e. Psusennes I's coffin is made of silver with hints of gold).
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When one thinks of ancient Egypt, one of the first things that comes to mind is the amulet. Amulets are talismans that have
protective characteristics that the dead or the living wore or carried on them. Those that were worn by the living were incorporated
into items of jewelry. When one died, these amulets were often included in the burial. Those that were worn by the dead were
called funerary amulets and they were positioned in specific places on the dead body, held in place by the mummy wrappings
or on a beaded shroud. In order to remember where a certain amulet was placed and at what point during the embalming process
one should place them, the embalmers referred to the pages of the Coffin Texts and the Book of the Dead, which were the same
thing, the texts being written on different materials (coffins versus papyrus, respectively). Within these texts were detailed
instructions on this particular subject. Some were wrapped up in the bandages, while others were temporarily in contact with
the body. Images of the amulets themselves could be drawn on the wrappings as well (remember: images were considered powerful
and verisimilartude to the real thing). For each instance, the magic of the amulets would take effect. Also contained in the
Book of the Dead was information on what materials each amulet should be made of, if they should be strung, and with what
string one should use to string a certain amulet.
The number of amulets on a dead body appears to denote various amounts of protection. In other words, the more one had within
their wrappings, the more protection the amulet provided to the wearer. It has been discovered that there could be as many
as several hundred amulets on a body! The most ubiquitous and highly important amulets were the heart scarab, the wadjat-eye
(or the "Eye of Horus"), the djed-pillar amulet, the tyet amulet, the wadj-amulet, and the golden vulture
collar. The heart scarab was a protective amulet of the heart. This amulet was rather large and was wrapped in the mummy bandaging
over the deceased's heart.
The materials one used to create this amulet were those of various green- and dark-colors, including the following: glazed
stearite, schist, feldspar, hematite, and obsidian. The heart scarab had written on it Chapter 30 of the Book of the Dead,
which were instructions to the heart of the dead person to deny any of the wrongdoings that the dead person may have committed
during his or her life (this was done when it came time for the judgment before Osiris and the tribunal of gods). Along with
the heart scarab amulet, heart-shaped amulets could be placed inside the wrappings of the mummy to ensure that the heart would
remain in the decedent's body until the weighing of the heart ceremony. According to Chapter 29B of the Book of the Dead,
these amulets should be made of cornelian, a salmon-colored material, which reminds one of the color of the heart.
Another important amulet was the wadjat-eye or the "Eye of Horus". It was probably used more than any other amulet
to place on a mummy. The shape of this amulet is denoted in the title: an eye. This amulet was placed atop the incision typically
cut in the left side of the dead person's abdomen--from where one extracted the internal organs. It is said that Horus presented
his healed eye to his dead father, Osiris, in hopes of bringing him back to life. Needless to say, it worked. The wadjat-eye
amulet represented healing, strength, and perfection.
The djed-pillar amulet (top left of the picture) was representative of Osiris. Actually, it was said to have represented
his backbone, representing stability. Some also believe that the djed-pillar originally represented a stylized tree
trunk with the branches chopped off. Whatever its significance, this amulet, according to Chapter 155 in the Book of the Dead,
was to be strung with a fiber of sycamore and placed at the throat of the deceased, on the day of burial. Yet another amulet
associated with Osiris was the staircase amulet, representative of the stepped platform where his throne stood.
The amulet that was representative of the blood or the girdle of Isis was the tyet-amulet. It was in the form of a
knot or a tampon. In terms of the latter form, one could consider this as so in that it may have been representative of such
an object that was inserted into Isis when she was pregnant in order to prevent miscarriage or to prevent her evil brother,
Set(h), from harming her unborn son, Horus. According to Chapter 156 of the Book of the Dead, this amulet was to be made of
red jasper (thus, "the blood of Isis" idea).
The wadj-amulet, according to Chapters 159 and 160 of the Book of the Dead, was to be made of green feldspar. This
is rather interesting because, in ancient Egyptian, wadj means "green". This amulet took the shape of a single stem
and flower of a papyrus plant and was representative of eternal youth, something that was ensured to any dead person who wore
The golden vulture collar, according to Chapter 157 of the Book of the Dead, was to be placed at the throat of the deceased,
just like the djed-pillar amulet. It is interesting that the Egyptians considered an amulet in the shape of a vulture
because they associated the vulture with the goddess Isis, a protective mother goddess, usually depicted with large encircling
vultures' wings. On the heads of some statues of the pharaohs, the wings of Isis are carved, illustrating that Isis is protecting
(Taken from Ancient Egypt: an illustrated reference [...], 410): Other amulets included the headrest amulet, to ensure the
head of the deceased would be eternally raised up, reflecting the path of the sun; the animal-headed was-scepter amulet,
which granted well being and prosperity; the mason's plummet amulet, which guaranteed perpetual equilibrium; and the carpenter's
square amulet, which guaranteed eternal righteousness.
Tiny amulets depicting deities were also considered as protective objects. Some examples of such are that of Selket, the scorpion
goddess, and Anubis, the jackal-headed god of mummification. In addition, tiny amulets of the parts of the body were used
in order to ensure that, if and when a part of the mummified body become suddenly detached, the deceased person, in the Afterlife,
would be able to use a body part amulet as a substitute. These amulets could also be used to endow the deceased person with
whatever action or sense each part represented: walking in association with the foot amulet, tactile movements and actions
with the hand amulet, etc.
The following is not exactly an amulet, but it is similar in function to the body part amulets: reserve heads. These were
considered as a type of funerary equipment that was used to serve as a substitute head for the deceased person, if ever the
real one became detached after burial (by tomb robbers or by other circumstances). One could also use animal-shaped amulets
to give the deceased person that particular animal's characteristics: the virility of a bull or a ram, the speed of a hare,
and so on. One famous mummy who almost needed a reserve head was that of Tutankhamun's. During analysis of his mummy by
Howard Carter's team, the gentlemen wanted to separate the head from the funeral mask. Because the skull adhered to the inside
of the mask with dried resin (a sort of glue), the team had difficulties. This is what ended up happening: Tut's head was
separated from his body.
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For each major cult center in Egypt, there was a creation myth. It is practically impossible to decipher which creation myth
was highly believed and at what time each came about. However, in each story, there is a self-engendered "higher being" (more
or less equivalent to God of Christian religion) who commences with first creating the gods and goddesses, followed by humankind.
Each of the deities mentioned in each of the stories relate to the historical and geographical areas where the myths were
developed (one can find the following creation stories in a magnificent book entitled Ancient Egypt: an illustrated reference
to the myths, religions, pyramids and temples of the land of the pharaohs.
The Creation Myth of Memphis
Ptah was the self-engendered creator god to whom the ancient Egyptians referred as the "father of the gods from whom all life
emerged". He brought the universe in to being by conceiving all aspects of it in his heart, then speaking his thoughts out
loud. First he created the other deities, and then towns with shrines in which to house them. He provided wood, clay, the
spirits or divine power (ka) of the deities, and offerings to be made for them forever. All things, including all people
and animals, were brought into being by Ptah declaring their names.
The Creation Myth of Elephantine
The creator god of Elephantine was Khnum, a ram-headed deity. He created the universe by modeling the other gods, as well
as all of humankind (both Egyptians and all those who spoke other languages), fish, birds, reptiles, plants, and other animals
out of clay on his potter's wheel. He paid extreme attention to the molding of the human figure, permitting the blood to flow
over the bones and stretching the skin meticulously over the body. He took special care with the installation of the respiratory
and digestive systems, the vertebrae, and the reproductive organs. Afterwards, he ensured the continuation of the human race
by watching over conception and labor.
The Creation Myth of Hermopolis Magna
The fundamental factors necessary for the creation process were arranged in four male-female pairs: primordial water (Nun
and Naunet), air or hidden power (Amun and Amaunet), darkness (Kuk and Kauket), and formlessness or infinity, interpreted
as flood force (Huh and Hauhet). Modern scholars refer to these divine personifications of the basic elements of the cosmos
as the Ogdoad (Greek for "group of eight"; in Egyptian it is called khmun). The four male gods were all frog-headed
and the four goddesses were snake-headed. At some point the eight elements interacted to create a burst of energy, allowing
creation to take place. There are two versions of the events that follow in this creation myth:
1) A primeval mound of earth (the Isle of Flame, in this case) rose up out of the primordial water. The god Thoth, in the
form of an ibis, placed a cosmic egg on the mound of earth. The egg cracked, hatching the sun, which immediately ascended
into the sky.
2) A lotus flower, divinely personified as the deity Nefertem, bobbed on the surface of the primordial waters when the lotus'
petals opened, releasing from its center the sun. On this occasion the sun was identified as Horus.
The Creation Myth of Heliopolis
Before anything existed or creation took place, there was darkness and endless, lifeless water, divinely personified as Nun.
A mound of fertile silt emerged from this watery chaos. The self-engendered solar creator god Atum ("the All" or the "Complete
One") appeared upon the mound. By sneezing he was able to spit out the deities Shu (the divine personification of air) and
Tefnut (moisture). Now that a male-female pair existed, they were able to procreate more conventionally. The results of their
union were two deities: Geb or Keb (the earth) and Nut (the sky). These two were forcibly separated from each other by their
father Shu, who lifted Nut up to her place above the earth. The Ennead (in Greek it means "group of nine"; the Egyptians called
it pesedjet) of Heliopolis includes these deities: Atum ("the Bull of the Ennead"), Shu, Tefnut, Geb and Nut. It is
completed by the offspring of the two latter gods (Geb and Nut): Osiris, Isis, Set(h), and Nephthys.
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