How Did the Egyptians Make Mummies? An Animated Introduction to the Ancient Art of Mummification

Not every child looks for­ward to a trip to the muse­um, but how many have failed to thrill at the sight of an ancient Egypt­ian mum­my? How many adults, for that mat­ter, can resist the fas­ci­na­tion of this well over 5000-year-old process of pre­serv­ing dead bod­ies in a state if not per­fect­ly life­like then at least eeri­ly intact? If you’ve ever won­dered exact­ly how mum­mi­fi­ca­tion worked — or if you’ve sim­ply for­got­ten the descrip­tions accom­pa­ny­ing the dis­plays you saw on those muse­um trips — this short video from the Get­ty Muse­um’s Youtube chan­nel pro­vides an insight into how the ancient Egyp­tians did it.

The video uses a real mum­my as a case study, the pre­served body of a twen­ty-year-old man named Her­ak­lei­des (as we know because his mum­mi­fiers, though them­selves uniden­ti­fied, wrote it on his feet), who died in the first cen­tu­ry A.D. He had most of his inter­nal organs removed — even his heart, which com­mon prac­tice usu­al­ly dic­tat­ed leav­ing in, but for some rea­son not his lungs  — and spent forty days buried in salt that drew every last bit of mois­ture out of him.

He then received rub­bings of per­fumed oils, fol­lowed by a poured-on lay­er of resin to which strips of linen (the mum­my’s char­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly copi­ous “ban­dages” of pop­u­lar cul­ture) could adhere. Wrapped onto a board, equipped with a “mys­te­ri­ous pouch” as well as a mum­mi­fied ibis, and cov­ered with an unusu­al red shroud embla­zoned with sym­bols and a por­trait of him­self, Her­ak­lei­des was ready for his jour­ney into the after­life.

“Such elab­o­rate bur­ial prac­tices might sug­gest that the Egyp­tians were pre­oc­cu­pied with thoughts of death,” says the Smith­so­ni­an’s page on Egypt­ian mum­mies. “On the con­trary, they began ear­ly to make plans for their death because of their great love of life. They could think of no life bet­ter than the present, and they want­ed to be sure it would con­tin­ue after death.” The ancient Egyp­tians believed “that the mum­mi­fied body was the home for this soul or spir­it. If the body was destroyed, the spir­it might be lost.”

If you find your­self shar­ing these beliefs, do have a look at Nation­al Geo­graph­ic’s guide on how to make a mum­my in 70 days or less. And just as you’d need to arrange the right ingre­di­ents to pre­pare a sat­is­fy­ing meal, some­thing else the Egyp­tians enjoyed, don’t attempt any mum­mi­fi­ca­tion at home with­out mak­ing sure you’re ful­ly stocked with resin, oint­ments, lichen, straw­dust, beeswax, palm wine, incense, and myrrh. And it goes with­out say­ing that how­ev­er many feet of wrap­pings you’ve got, it could­n’t hurt to have more.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Open­ing of King Tut’s Tomb, Shown in Stun­ning Col­orized Pho­tos (1923–5)

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

The Met Dig­i­tal­ly Restores the Col­ors of an Ancient Egypt­ian Tem­ple, Using Pro­jec­tion Map­ping Tech­nol­o­gy

Try the Old­est Known Recipe For Tooth­paste: From Ancient Egypt, Cir­ca the 4th Cen­tu­ry BC

The Turin Erot­ic Papyrus: The Old­est Known Depic­tion of Human Sex­u­al­i­ty (Cir­ca 1150 B.C.E.)

A Drone’s Eye View of the Ancient Pyra­mids of Egypt, Sudan & Mex­i­co

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.


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