The traditions of Ancient Egyptians and their obsession with the afterlife is a topic which still fascinates today. Journey back thousands of years in time with Egyptomania authors Emma Giuliani and Carole Saturno to discover how a mummy was made and why.
For Ancient Egyptians, when death occurred, it did not mean that life came to an end; on the contrary, it had only just begun. They were the first people to imagine death as the start of a journey towards eternal life. But to get there, it was necessary to respect certain rites of passage. Mummification was the first of these rites, preparing the body for its rebirth. Specialist priests devoted themselves to the practice of wrapping the body in linen and resin before burying it in a tomb, but only for the wealthiest, including the pharaohs, of course.
The priests removed organs that would rot and Canopic jars made of stone, wood or terracotta, containing the liver, intestines, lungs and stomach, each with a guardian deity on top, were placed beside the sarcophagus. The heart, on the other hand, was considered the seat of thought and emotions, and this was left in place. The body was then washed and coated in natron, a type of salt, and perfumed herbs, oils and pieces of cloth were placed inside to guard against bacteria and insects, before it was wrapped in strips of linen. Amulets – figurines to protect the dead in the afterlife were placed between the strips.
The sarcophagus was seen as a new house for the deceased and between 1500 and 1000 BC, the shape developed from a simple rectangular box into a mummy-shaped container. The pharaohs’ sarcophagi were covered in magnificent decorations and everything that it was thought that the deceased might need in the afterlife was placed inside. During their earthly life, most Ancient Egyptians built modest houses. When preparing for the afterlife however, they spent as lavishly as possible. Ancient Egyptian tombs, especially those of the kings, held up to their promise of eternity – many remain standing today, centuries after they were built.
To reach the kingdom of eternal life, once the embalming ritual had been completed, the deceased had to pass the weighing of the heart. Presented to a tribunal of judges presided over by the god Osiris, the pharaoh-god reigning over the world of the dead, the deceased was expected to give an account of their life and to declare their faults with honesty. Their heart was placed on one pan of a set of scales, with Maat’s feather, symbolizing Truth and Justice, on the other. The fate of the deceased depended on which way the scales tipped!
The Book of the Dead was the survival manual that accompanied mummies on their journey to the afterlife containing all the magical spells necessary to pass the tests that the dead might encounter on their path. The four gods Osiris, Isis, Nephthys and Anubis oversaw the deceased’s arrival into the kingdom of eternal life ‘the fields of Hotep’. That was the name given to this other highly desirable world – a kind of paradise, where the lands were always fertile, the floods always peaceful and harvests abundant.
Egyptomania by Emma Giuliani and Carole Saturno is published by Laurence King. This beautiful large format lift-the-flap book, for ages 6+ delves into everything primary school kids need to know about Ancient Egypt. Perfect for pouring over in a group, this outstanding book brings a perennial topic to life!
Osiris, the pharaoh-god who reigned over the world of the dead with his sisters Isis and Nephthys.