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How Mummies Were Made


The entire process of mummification took 70 days to complete. Several embalmers conducted the task in the special embalming shop or per nefer. The chief embalmer was a priest known as the hery seshta. He wore a jackal mask to represent Anubis, the god of mummification. Assistants called wetyu bandaged the body and carried out other tasks of the embalming process.

After being delivered to the per nefer, the first task that needed to be done was to remove the soft, moist body parts that would cause decay. One of the embalmers would use a knife to make an incision in the left side of the abdomen. Although this step was entirely necessary to remove the organs, they didn't like it because it was considered sinful to disrespect a corpse. The other embalmers present would curse and throw stones at the man who made the cut. They weren't really trying to hurt him, it was all just a symbolic part of the ceremony.

The stomach, intestines, liver, and lungs were removed and preserved by drying them in a special salt called natron. Natron is chemically similar to a mixture of table salt and baking soda. Originally dissolved in the ground water, it is found in clumps by oases where it gets left behind when water evaporates.

Once thoroughly dried, the organs would be put into separate containers called canopic jars. The Egyptians believed that all body parts would be magically reunited in the afterlife and the body would become whole again, just like the god Osiris. According to Egyptian mythology, the god Osiris was murdered by his jealous brother Set and hacked into pieces. The goddess Isis reassembled the pieces and Osiris was magically restored, and went on to become the god of the afterlife.

The stoppers of canopic jars were shaped like the heads of the four sons of the god Horus. Each son protected the organ placed inside his respective jar. Duamutef, who had the head of a jackal, guarded the jar that contained the stomach. Qebehsenuf, who had the head of a falcon, watched over the intestines. Hapi, the baboon-headed son of Horus, protected the lungs, while human-headed Imseti was in charge of protecting the liver. Canopic jars were usually stored in a chest that was later placed in the tomb with the mummy.

Isis, Osiris, and Set

Duamutef, Qebehsenuf, Hapi, and Imseti

Tutankhamun's canopic jars in a chest. The stoppers were carved to look like him. By Jon Bodsworth [Copyrighted free use], via Wikimedia Commons

Although it didn't get its own canopic jar, the brain was another organ that was taken out of the body. The bone that separates the nasal cavity from the brain was broken open by ramming a sharp instrument up the nose. Next, a long hook was used to stir up the brain until it was liquefied. Then the embalmers would turn the body face down to allow the brain to ooze out the nostrils. The Egyptians were so rough on the brain because they didn't realize its importance. They thought its sole purpose was to produce snot!

Brain removal hook

After all the organs were removed, the body was washed with wine and rubbed with spices. The alcohol in the wine acted as an antiseptic, helping to kill bacteria. The corpse was then covered with natron for 40 days to dry out. Once dried, the skin was shrunken, wrinkled, and leathery. The mummy was cleaned one more time and rubbed with sacred oils to soften the skin.

In one Egyptian myth, the god Horus had his eye miraculously restored after losing it in a battle with the evil god Set. The Eye of Horus, called a wedjat, is associated with healing and protection. A wax or bronze plate with a wedjat carved on it was placed over the embalming incision to magically heal the gash in the afterlife.


After the body was fully dried and cleaned, it was adorned with jewelry. Then it was covered in linen shrouds and bound with linen strips. During some time periods, the name of the mummy would be written on the ends of the bandages— an ancient practice that has helped modern Egyptologists identify certain mummies! When the Greeks and Romans occupied Egypt in the very late periods of its history, arranging the linen wrappings in neat geometric patterns was popular.

Small magical amulets were inserted between the layers of the bandages to further protect the mummy so the ka could be guaranteed to live forever. As each layer was added, it was coated with a sap called resin to hold the wrappings together with a waterproof seal.

Some funerary amulets: ankh (symbolizes life); djed (for strength
and stability); tet (protects the limbs); and a scarab (symbolizes rebirth)

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