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 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,
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
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
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
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