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MUMMY OVERVIEW

Mummies have captivated audiences for centuries and continue to reveal hidden secrets. Old and modern movies such as The Mummy’s Hand or The Mummy Returns continue to fascinate many people. This fascination can be attributed to their eerie appearance as well as their symbolic association with immortality. None the less, Hollywood found them alluring and quickly cast them as evil villains. Their cinematic appearances alone have made them topics of discussion and continue to feed our obsession with mummies.

Mummies in Ancient Egypt are preserved corpses that have been embalmed. They received their modern name “mummy” due to their skin being blackened. Early researchers believed that mummies had blackened skin due bitumen, a dark tar like liquid, that was used to preserve the body. The term derived from the Latin word mumia which was taken from the Persian word mūm—thus in turn, created our modern term “mummy.”

Though the Egyptians are notoriously known for their mummies, others exist around the world too. Most of the mummies found around the world were not intentional; however, the circumstances were enough to preserve the bodies. For example China revealed the Cherchen mummies. These mummies were accidentally preserved in the desert almost 4000 years ago due to salt basins and a dry climate. South America revealed three mummified children from the Incas. These small mummies were relics of a sacrificial ritual and were found frozen atop Argentina’s Mount Llullaillaco. Though they are not Egyptian, the
 

   
    A Gradual Process to Mastering Mummification

The art of mummification did not happen overnight. It took hundreds of years to master the process. The earliest attempts were recorded around 3000 B.C. The technique during this period was minimal. As the embalmers learned more about the process of mummification they started removing the organs for a better result. The organs were then stored inside canopic jars to avid decomposition and were set aside until stored with the body. It wasn’t until the Middle Kingdom that the embalmers used natural salts to remove excess moisture from the body. This dried it out and preserved it perfectly. Once dried, the mummies were anointed with oils and perfumes to complete the ritual process. The 21st Dynasty brought forth its most advanced skills in embalming and the mummification process had reached its peak.

Though most of our knowledge is attained by examining the mummies, there are no written documents or evidence to inform us how the process was actually done. Most of what we know today is collected by tomb drawings or small hints revealed by the mummies when examined.

The Fate of Most Mummies

Most Ancient Egyptians prepared for their death and tried to provide a secure resting place that would safeguard their bodies. Although this was their wish, it did not work out that way. Instead bad weather or tomb robbers were the main culprits that destroyed and plundered many grave sites. If the mummies were royal, their chances of survival were minimal at best. Most tomb robbers, who were believed to be the tomb builders, often reentered the tombs after they were sealed. There, they unwrapped the mummies and removed all the amulets and jewelry. The coffins made of wood and precious stones were also picked and destroyed too. After destroying the tomb many of the mummies would be taken out and burnt for fuel or sold. Tomb robbers were the main culprits but modern cultures also contributed the desecration of mummies too.

The Arabs and Western nations had a huge hand is destroying many mummies. Most mummies that were collected by the Arabs were regarded as pagan symbols. They were drawn in by Ancient Egyptian enchantment, and for this reason alone, they used the mummies as ingredients for magic and medicinal purposes. The mummies were collected then ground into a powder and added to magic recipes. These false superstitions lead to the destruction of many mummies. This eventually caught on to the Europeans who bought the power and who eventually did a great deal of damage too.

The Europeans imported mummies by the ton and collected oils from boiled mummy carcasses. This oil, which was skimmed off the top of the water, was used to stop bruising and was used to cure a variety of ailments. Many of the monarchs relied upon it. Although used as medicinal purposes by Europeans and Arabs, the Americans used the linen (the material used in wrapping the mummy) for paper. During the Victorian age, many mummies were unwrapped at parties. During this mummy craze many mummies were imported then destroyed— including most royal mummies.

A Stop to the Destruction

It was apparent that mummies were being taken out of Egypt without permission with no regard to the dead. The mummies and their items simply became a product and this alone spurred more tomb robbers to loot more tombs. The benefits of finding a mummy were great as most mummies were wrapped with amulets, jewels, and expensive items. Everything was sold and any record of the past was usually destroyed in the process.

To combat this, Auguste Mariette, an influential Egyptologist, started a program called the ESA (The Egyptian Service of Antiquities) in 1859. It was the first program installed to ensure the protection of the mummies or any Ancient Egyptian artifact.

   
This new protection law insisted that permits be taken before any digging could begin.  If a tomb was found, Egyptian inspectors had to be present if the Egyptologists wished to enter the tomb.  Anything found could not be exported and artifacts went straight to the museum.
         
 
     

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