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.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How the Egypt­ian Pyra­mids Were Built: A New The­o­ry in 3D Ani­ma­tion

How a Bal­ti­more Hair­dress­er Became a World-Renowned “Hair Archae­ol­o­gist” of Ancient Rome

Rome Reborn – An Amaz­ing Dig­i­tal Mod­el of Ancient Rome

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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