|You live again, you live again forever,|
here you are young once more forever.
|Final phrase of the mummification ritual|
t the British Museum in London is a man called Ginger. He lived more than 5000 years ago and exists today as a preserved body together with some of his belongings. An Egyptian, he was buried in about
3200 BCin a hot, dry desert grave after being wrapped in matting.
The body was preserved because the bacteria that would rot it away need moisture. In the hot desert all the body fluids were soaked up by the sand and the body did not decay.
In the photograph you can see the knives and pots that were buried with this man. The pots contained food and drink and this provides evidence that he was expected to live on somehow, after death. The preservation of the body enabled the spirit to recognise it after death and give it continued life.
The ordinary people continued to be buried in this way but the nobility of Egypt wanted to take much more than a few pots with them. They also wanted to pass on to the afterlife in something much more grand than a desert grave. At first they began to make special underground chambers from wood and stone but these were often damp. The people had not realised how important the hot, dry sand was in preserving the bodies.
A method was needed to preserve the body for the afterlife. Sand worked well but it made the skin very tight and not very lifelike. Something was needed that removed the moisture but left the body resembling it's appearance in life. A substance found around the lakes near Cairo provided a solution, a salty substance called natron.
his ritual began as soon as possible after death. First the body was washed in the waters of the Nile as a sign of rebirth. Then it would be taken to a building where the embalming began.
The brain was removed, usually down the nostril, and thrown away. The stomach was cut open and the insides removed. The heart remained in the body.
The parts that had been removed were dried in natron. When cleaned, perfumed and wrapped in cloth they were placed in four canopic jars. These jars would later be placed in a wooden chest to be buried with the mummy.
Once the organs had been removed the drying process was helped by packing the body with sand and rags or dry grass. The body was then covered in natron with the table at an angle so that fluid would drain away from it. This part of the process took 40 days.
The stuffing was then removed from the body which was cleaned, dried and stuffed again. Because the skin was so shrivelled lotions were applied to soften it.
The cut in the stomach was stitched and the body coated in resin to make it firm and waterproof. Finally the body was bandaged - a ritual that took 15 days. Within the bandages amulets were placed as spiritual protection for the body.
Before the body went into the coffin one last ceremony was performed - The Opening of the Mouth. Here one priest, dressed as the god Anubis, would hold up the body whilst a second touched the mummy's mouth with an adze. They believed that this ceremony would give back to the mummy all of the senses which were lost at death.
Illustrations © John Shackell