Compiled by Janet Wood


  • 1. The first mummies in Egypt were preserved naturally when the deceased was buried in the desert sands. This enabled desiccation (drying out) to take place. Bodily fluids would seep into the sand and what remained namely; skin, hair, tendons and ligaments, would dry out naturally.
    Other ways that bodies have been preserving around the world are; ice, sunlight, smoke, fire, chemicals, peat bogs, certain soils and muds.
  • 2. The ancient Egyptians believed that to enjoy the Afterlife, the body of the deceased should bear as close a resemblance to the living person as possible. Features of the face were often modelled in linen bandages and painted. Even nipples and the male sex organs have been found modelled in cloth and placed in position so the deceased would be entire in the afterlife.
  • 3. When graves became more elaborate and the deceased were no longer just buried in the desert, the ancient Egyptians found that the bodies started to decay. Which was the complete opposite to what they strived for. So, they started to look for ways to emulate, by artificial means, the preserving properties of the sand graves.
  • 4. By the first dynasty there is evidence that natron, a natural salt found in Egypt, was being used. The body would be covered in the salt, which acted like the hot desert sand and started the process of desiccation.
  • 5. However using natron alone proved not to be enough, as bodies would still decompose due to internal organs.
  • 6. Evisceration (disembowelling) was the next stage of development in mummification, which involved removing the internal organs so the moisture they contained did not cause internal rotting of the corpse.
  • 7. Removal of the brain was done through the nose, using a pick. The heart was left in place as the Egyptians believe it housed the person's soul.
  • 8. Removed body organs would be wrapped in linen, coated in resin and laid close by, either in a recess, or in later dynastic periods, in four canopic jars. This was to ensure that the deceased would still be whole in the afterlife.
  • 9. The entire body was covered in many layers of linen, impregnated with resin to try and keep out the elements.
  • 10. However it was eventually realised that the decaying process started from within the body and not by the outside elements.
  • 11. The quality of the linen varied according to the quality of the mummification.
  • 12. The reams and reams of bandages gave shape to the dried out corpses.
  • 13. It's believed that the word 'mummy' comes from the Arabic word 'mummiya' meaning bitumen - a tar-like substance. This is because when early Arabs saw mummies, which were covered in black resin, they thought that the ancients had used bitumen.
  • 14. Immortality depended upon the mummification of the body, as it also preserved the 'Ka' - the spirit that accompanied the physical body in life. If the body decayed so did the person's 'Ka' spirit.
  • 15. The New Kingdom (18th - 20th dynasties 1600 - 1050 BC) produced some of the best-preserved mummies.
  • The process of mummification started in the 'House of Purification' where the body would be washed in Nile water.
  • Next the body was taken to the 'House of Mummification' where the organs were removed and the body's cavity washed out with palm wine. The body was then covered with natron (salt) for 40 days whilst it dried out.
  • After the salt was removed the body was taken back to the 'House of Purification' where the body cavity was filled with various materials, including natron and linen. The corpse was then covered with resin to seal out moisture and finally wrapped in bandages.
  • The wrapping process was very involved and could take a few weeks to complete. They usually started with the hands or feet, wrapping each digit individually.
  • Resin was applied to each new layer, gluing them together.
  • Spells and incantations were uttered by the temple priests and amulets such as; ankhs, scarabs, djed pillars were placed within the bandages to offer protection in the Afterlife.
  • Death masks were often placed on the corpse and the finished mummy would be placed in a body shaped coffin, 'Suhet'(sarcophagus) which was then placed in the tomb along with all the items the deceased would need in the afterlife - eg food, drink, games, clothes, jewellery, furniture, writings, and even servants in the form of Shabti or Ushabti (clay figures).

QUOTE: Revealed, secret of the mummies"
Researchers have unravelled the mystery of how the ancient Egyptians mummified their dead, using sophicated science to track the preservative to an extract of the cedar tree.
German chemists replicated an ancient treatment of cedar wood and found it contained a preservative chemical called guaiacol. Tests showed it had a high anti-bacterial effect without damaging body tissue.
"Modern science has finally found the secret of why some mummies can last thousands of years" Ulrich Weser, of Tuebingen University, told the scientific journal Nature.

Read More Here


Without mummification a body will start to decay (decompose) in a matter of hours and within a few months will be reduced to a skeleton if left uncovered. Different cells die at different rates, for example the brain cells die within 3-7 minutes, whilst skin cells can take over 24 hours. Decomposition in the air is twice as fast as decomposition under water and four times fastest than those underground. Generally speaking corpses take longer to decay the deeper they are buried.

Soon after death rigor mortis occurs, which is caused by a complex chemical reaction (involving lactic acid and myosin), which forms a gel like substance which creates the body's stiffness. Rigor mortis lasts approximately 24 hours (depending upon ambient temperature), during which time decomposition has already started.

The body temperature drops soon after death but, as organisms and enzymes start to break down cells, the temperature of the corpse will begin to rise again due to gases being produced by the active bacteria. Internal organs decompose at different rates, first to be attacked are the intestine and blood.

The stages of decay can be divided into different stages:
  • Initial decay (Known as 'autolysis') - externally the corpse looks okay, but internally the organs are breaking down.
  • Putrefaction - after approximately two-three days bacteria are active and the body is swollen with gases and accompanying odours.
  • Black Putrefaction - Skin starts to turn black and the corpse collapses as gases escape.
  • Fermentation - Very strong odours with some surface mould but the body has begun to dry out.
  • Dry Decay - The cadaver has for the most part dried out and the rate of decay has slowed considerably.

(For the curious amongst you - not the squeamish!)
  • Approximately 150,000 maggots can be found on an exposed corpse.
  • Blood settles in the those parts of the body that are closest to the ground, turning the top part grayish white and waxy looking, whilst darkening the underside. This results in a deep red-brown stain. For example if a person was to die and keel over then the blood would settle in their head, which would result in a bruised-like stain to the face and neck.
  • Within 8 to 12 hours the deseased's eyes will have sunken and the body extremities will have turned blue.
  • Bacteria first eat through the gut, with the first sign usually being a greenish patch on the lower right belly. The putrefaction spreads across the stomach, down the thighs, over the chest.
  • Internal gases push the intestines out through the rectum. Gases produced include hydrogen sulphide (the smell produced by rotting eggs) and methane.
  • The tongue may protrude and fluid from the lungs oozes out of the mouth and nostrils.
  • A hollow needle can be inserted into a corpse to release the gases and this may cause the body to lunge forward. (Not a job for the faint-hearted)
  • A corpse left above ground is rapidly broken down by insects and animals, including bluebottles and carrion fly maggots, beetles, ants and wasps. A corpse can become a moving mass of maggots within days, even hours in hot climates.
  • After about a month or so the tissues become liquefied if the body is above ground
  • It is a myth that fingernails and hair continue to grow after death. What happens is that the skin dries outs and pulls away from the nails and hair which makes them stand out more prominent.
  • The hair, teeth, and nails begin to loosen after a couple of weeks and sometimes fall out.
  • Buried six feet down, without a coffin, in ordinary soil, an unembalmed adult normally takes ten to twelve years to decompose to a skeleton.
  • Funeral directors (Undertakers) tend to lift the head of a corpse in the coffin in order to prevent discolouring of the face.
  • Glue is used to shut the eyes and lips as these would naturally draw back
  • Undertakers make sure that the body is properly groomed. The hair will be washed and styled, while the face is skillfully made-up using cosmetics.
  • After cremation, the ashes of an average size man weigh approximately 7.4 pounds, whilst those of a woman, about 5.8 pounds.
  • In England and Japan cremation is the most common form of disposition and the second most common in the United States.
  • During the actual cremation process the coffin is placed in a chamber (furnace) which is heated to an extremely high temperature. After several hours all that is left are small bone fragments. These are then reduced to ashes which are placed in an urn and returned to the family.

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