Mummy: Ancient Egypt and Mummification

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The Importance of Mummification

One of the first thoughts that usually comes to an individuals mind when thinking about Egyptian history is pharaohs, pyramids and mummies. This is a common thought that has led many historians and archaeologist to study Egyptian history. My research will be focused on mummies. Mummification is one of the most mysterious aspects of Egypt’s past. I hope to show you how important mummification was for the Egyptians by my research done on the history, purpose and process of mummification. To begin, the practice of mummification by the Egyptians seems to have started sometime before 3100 BC. However, there is a lack of written evidence or valid physical proof from this period to really confirm or deny this. One of the oldest surviving mummies is Ginger, currently stored at the British Museum. Ginger was buried in a shallow grave and wrapped only in light cloth but due to the hot, dry desert he survived intact to discovery in the late 19th century. Ginger’s name comes from the color of his hair, which is still attached to his body. Evidence from his discovery supports the belief that even at this early age the Egyptians believed in the afterlife. Tools and pottery were found buried with Ginger’s body, which suggests that there was belief in life after death. It was common practice for the Egyptians to place such items as pottery, food, and water in the grave with their dead. Examples of these are bread, duck, dried fish, and figs. The mummification process was thus improved over time and eventually spread from royalty and dignitaries all the way down to the middle and lower class man.

The purpose of mummification can be traced to strong Egyptian cultural beliefs in life after death. Egyptians believe the body consisted of four categories, the ka, the ba, the shut, and the khet. These categories could be further split into the physical and spiritual. The khet was the physical body and the shut was the shadow of one’s physical body. The survival of there shadow was something that was very important to them. The Egyptians believed that inappropriate behavior by an individual could result in an individual’s shadow being devoured by a demon known as the ‘shadow gobbler’. None the less, the state of the ba and the ka in the after life is what started the practice of mummification. It was believed that without the survival of the physical body the ba and ka would be unable to survive. Ba and ka were non-physical in nature and the two main elements survived after death. Egyptians believed ka was formed at birth but was a mirror of the living individual after death. Some scholars also believe that the shut, along with a person’s name, also survived into the after life but it did not hold the aura of the ba and the ka. Ba was believed to have been similar to what we consider individuality and was separated from the body at death. The ba was represented in Egyptian hieroglyphics by a bird, and was said to have flown from the grave, to the afterlife to be with the ka. Before doing so it would hover over the dead waiting for the akh, spirit, to pass through the land of the dead. Originally, the ba was the exclusive possession of the king, but as mummification spread from the pharaohs to the population as a whole so did the assumption that all men had their own ba (Montet 167). Records indicate that all men regardless of wealth or social status had a ka. The ka can be compared to our modern day version of the soul. They believed that the ka would leave the individual at death and travel to the after life hoping to someday reunite with the ba, and form a new body in the after life.

The first night after a persons burial was considered to be a long night. The akh, which is a person’s spirit, would travel to the land of the dead to be judged by the gods. The gods would often test the akh to see if it was good enough to pass through to paradise on the other side. An individual was expected to be a...
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