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Works of Radical Imagination

Tamara Bower on the Secret of Mummification

October 19

by Kurt Vonnegut

Ever wondered how exactly the Ancient Egyptians preserved their dead? So have we. Problem is that those storied embalmers never wrote down their secret. But with the help of some ancient texts and modern experiments, we have a rough idea. Tamara Bower, author of The Mummy Makers of Egypt, breaks it down.

From The Mummy Makers of Egypt author Tamara Bower:

Mummification was a closely guarded secret and never written down by the embalmers. We do have descriptions of the mummification process written down by ancient Greek authors; and we have the research and experiments done by Egyptologists such as Bob Brier and Salima Ikram, which have given us a good idea of the embalming process.
The body was washed, then the brain and the internal organs were removed, as they contain much moisture that will cause the body to rot. The body was then packed with rags and bags of natron to restore its shape. Natron is a chemical similar to baking soda, which dries the body out. The body is then entirely covered with natron for about 35-40 days, until it is completely dry. Dryness is what preserves the mummy. 
Once the mummy is dried, it is washed again, and then wrapped with strips of linen. Some of the strips were from torn clothing, other strips were made especially for the mummy, and sometimes inscribed with prayers.
As the linen was wrapped around the body, amulets were inserted to magically protect the mummy. Then the bandages were sealed with molten resin. The resin usually came from the sap of the pistachio tree. This resin was a sacred substance and was also used on wooden coffins and other wood objects. It tends to turn yellow or brown over time.
Once the resin hardened, a gold mask was put over the mummy's head, and straps around the body. Then the mummy was placed in the inner coffin. Yuya, the mummy in this book, had 3 coffins; one within another, as did King Tutankhamen. This was because Yuya was the father of the Queen, an important man. Some noblemen only had one or two coffins.

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