Ancient Egypt and Mummies

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When you think of a mummy what comes to mind? Most of us usually picture an Egyptian mummy wrapped in bandages and buried deep inside a pyramid. While the Egyptian ones are the most famous, mummies have been found in many places throughout the world, from Greenland to China to the Andes Mountains of South America. A mummy is the body of a person (or an animal) that has been preserved after death. Normally when we die, bacteria and other germs eat away at the soft tissues (such as skin and muscles) leaving only the bones behind. Since bacteria need water in order to grow, mummification usually happens if the body dries out quickly after death. The body may then be so well preserved that we can even tell how the dead person may have looked in life. Mummies are made naturally or by embalming, which is any process that people use to help preserve a dead body. Mummies can be dried out by extreme cold, by the sun, by smoke, or using chemicals such as natron. Some bodies become mummies because there were favorable natural conditions when they died. Others were preserved and buried with great care. The ancient Egyptians believed that mummifying a person's body after death was essential to ensure a safe passage to the afterlife.

Last updated February 4, 1997 by CHICO

Mummification in ancient Egypt was a very long and expensive process. From start to finish, it took about seventy days to embalm a body. Since the Egyptians believed that mummification was essential for passage to the afterlife, people were mummified and buried as well as they could possibly afford. High-ranking officials, priests and other nobles who had served the pharaoh and his queen had fairly elaborate burials. The pharaohs, who were believed to become gods when they died, had the most magnificent burials of all. In the case of a royal or noble burial, the embalmers set up workshops near the tomb of the mummy.

The art of Egyptian mummification consisted of many...
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