How to Make a Mummy — Demonstrated by The Getty Museum

From the day we first learn of them, ancient Egyptian mummies fascinate us. Granted, that day usually comes in elementary school, and soon after it we become aware of the mummy as a prominent presence in various horror movies. But the elaborate, ritualistic process of mummification, and what it says about ancient Egyptian society, continues to intrigue, even though we might no longer want a mummy of our own to prop up in our room like we did at age seven. As it happens, though, the Getty Villa in Malibu has a mummy of their own: a fellow by the name of Herakleides, mummified around 150 A.D., who “combines the millennia-old Egyptian tradition of mummification of the dead with the Roman tradition of individualized portraiture.”

In the three-minute Getty-produced video at the top of the post, you can see a reconstruction of Herakleides’ mummification process, from internal organ removal (a particularly interesting phase back in first grade, as I recall) to de-moisturizing with salt, to the application of oils and resins, to the characteristic wrapping with layer upon layer of linen strips. Though this gives you an accurate overview of how the ancient Egyptians preserved their dead, much more remains to be said about mummies in general and this mummy in particular. If you now feel that same desire for further detail that you felt in the classroom those decades ago, see also the lecture just above, “Getting to Know Herakleides: Exploring a Red-Shroud Mummy from Roman Egypt,” from the Getty Museum’s associate conservator of antiquities Marie Svoboda.

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los AngelesA Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.


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