Imagine that you could step back in time and get a firsthand look at what daily life in ancient Egypt was like. For decades, archaeologists have been taking just these types of journeys, and their tour guides have been the mummified remains of individuals who died centuries ago. Even though they are silent, mummies speak volumes to those who know how to ask the right questions.
When most people hear the word "mummy," they usually think of ancient Egypt. But mummies have been found all over the world, including China, Europe, Peru, and Mexico. In fact, many mummies have formed naturally without any human involvement or preparation at all.
For mummification to occur, all water must be removed from the body. When there is water, bacteria can get in and start to decompose, or break down, the body. Therefore, in order for mummification to occur, they body must get dried out. As you might expect, most mummies have been discovered in desert environments. But they have also been found in peat bogs, where the water is extremely acid and has little or no oxygen, and in the tundra, where individuals have become trapped in glacial ice. In both environments, bacteria cannot break down the body tissue. Some scientists argue whether "bog men" and "ice men" are true mummies, but these bodies still can reveal a great deal about the world they lived in.
The earliest Egyptian mummies date back to around 3200 B.C. By reading the text on the walls of tombs, scientists have learned that the mummification process changed over time. In early days, preparers would simply treat the body by covering it with a natural salt, called natron (now called baking soda), to help dry it out, and then wrap it in bandages soaked in a type of resin. Almost two thousand years later, the art of mummification reached its peak. Before treating the body, the preparer would remove the brain and many vital organs. Then they would pack the abdominal (or body) cavity with natron, sand, or sawdust and cover the body in more natron for about 40 days. After that, the body was washed, repacked with spices and more natron, and wrapped in those resin-soaked bandages. The whole process took about 70 days.
People were often buried with food, tools, jewelry, clothes, and even pets. By studying these artifacts and using modern analysis on the mummies, scientists have unlocked many mysteries about diet, health, and even grooming habits. With the help of modern science, mummies have told us many secrets of their pasts.
The 5 steps of Egyptian mummification:
1. Inner organs are removed and placed in canopic jars (intestines, stomach, liver, “lungs”)
2. Body cavity is stuffed with natron (drying salt). Salt is also packed around the body.
3. Body is left to dry for 40 days.
4. Then body is cleaned and rubbed with fragrant oils and spices.
5. Finally, the body is wrapped in strips of linen dipped in resin.
6. Mummy is placed in sarcophagus, given a facemask, and sent off into the afterlife surrounded by amulets and anything else s/he might need in the afterlife.