Mummies – Origin


The origin and the practice of mummification is directly viewed by the ancient people as connecting to the Heavens, the Gods, the Afterlife and prosperity in the Other side.

One of the good examples that is preserved until today, is the mummy of Herakleides who died in Egypt in the first century AD, around 20 years old. By this young man’s body we can see that the mummification process was to first to remove all internal organs with the exception of the heart, but in this case the heart was removed and the lungs were left out.  Then the body is covered with salt so it can extract the fluids for 40 days. Perfumed oils and plant resins were rubbed on the body, then thick layer of resins were applied to “glue” down the body when the lenin was covering from head to toe the whole body.  After that, the body was placed on a wooden board and again with some oils and wrappings was the second layer. In this case, another unusual thing was that with the body they mummified a deceased ibis bird and placed on the abdomen.  Long lenin strips were added, then a portrait on the face of the deceased and again a layer of large lenin cloth was wrapped around the body and it was painted red (a rare occasion). Finally, Egyptian symbols of the Afterlife, Rebirth and protection were drawn with pigments and gold, with the name of Herakleides written at the feet in Greek.

Usually, for the upper class, the process can be summed up with the following steps: first they wash the body with water and salt; the brain of the deceased is removed with a hook through the nostrils (sometimes mashed, sometimes the liquefy it and then removed); organs were removed except the heart, and placed into jars associated with the Gods (Hapi – for lungs; Duamutef – for stomach; Imsety – for liver; Qebehsenuef– for intestins); then the body is filled with spices, sewn together, packed with special salt (natron) for 40-70 days, balsamed it filled with sawdust for the original shape after dehydration adding false eyes and a wig so that the deceased can look more life-like. Then the body was wrapped in layers of lenin.

Mummy of a young unknown man, Thebes, Egypt

For the lower class it was a bit different – with much less care, the dead body was injected with oils liquefying the internal organs, packed with the special salt nantron for 40-70 days and returned to the family.
Masks of the common folk were often made from papyrus that was recycled from for documents or poems. Curiously, such mask for “poor people” was discovered from papyrus that is the oldest known gospel (Gospel of Mark, 90 AD).

Mummies were buried in a sarcophagus of stone and if the deceased was from the upper class it was ornamented with gold. Often mummies had some items of the Gods for safe passage through the paths of the Afterlife or pets of the deceased to go with the dead person.

Earliest found Mummies – The Chinchorro

Mummification is attributed to the ancient Egyptians, but may be this is not the case. Fascinating find from Chille – the oldest found mummy to current times is from the desert … dated 9000 years! The Chinchorro culture –  were fishermen that managed to get their food from the narrow river valleys in the Atacama dessert.
They made their mummies with such care from babies to young adults, with no class separation and that sets them apart from the rituals from Ancient Egypt and of course the span of 2000 years time period.

Their technique (referred as “black mummy technique”, 7020 BC-1300 BC) is removing the flesh with flint stone knives disemboweled the body removing all soft tissue and the brain. Then reinforce the skeleton with sticks tied around the bones, the empty body cavities filled with grass, ashes and animal hair and then the skin reattached.  Arms and legs are also strengthen with sticks then individually wrapped with matting.  The entire body covered with ash-white paste. A mask and a wig covered the face and the head. After all that ingenuity the mummies were designed to be moved, not like the Egyptians.

There are also two other techniques – “the red mummy technique” and “mud coat” and it can be seen that they over time became simpler. Another interesting thing is that the Atacama desert is rich with nutrient soil and because of the aridity of the desert, making it perfect for preserving the body for thousands of years.

A CT scan of several dolls found in the desert confirms the most unique mummy find – mummification of a fetus! The only culture in the world that mummified from fetuses to grown men and anything in between with the oldest found mummies in the world.

The question remains – what kind of stone age people make mummies, signs of religion only in that practice, living like a tribe with simple clothing and way of life. For now it is a mistery.