Mummification and Burial Practices of Ancient Egypt

By | May 21, 2024

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King Tut Ankh Amun Golden Mask. Source: (commons.wikimedia.org)

An early form of embalming, mummification began in ancient Egypt circa 3500 B.C. It later spread to other civilizations including Incan, Australian aboriginal, Aztec, African, and others. While the specific rituals varied by culture, the purpose remained the same: to honor the dead and preserve their bodies.


The idea for mummifying the dead is thought to have evolved from the manner in which corpses were preserved in the dry sand during the Badarian Period. These corpses were not mummified but rather buried in shallow, rectangular or oval graves. Over time, the graves were replaced by the mastaba tomb, which was considered to be a place of transformation where the soul would move on to the afterlife. The Egyptians believed that the soul could not move on unless the body remained intact and it was for this reason that they needed a way to preserve the dead.

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Irethorru, keeper of the temple of Amon, giving presents to Osiris, Isis and the four sons of Horus. Source: (commons.wikimedia.org)

Egyptian beliefs regarding the afterlife have their origins in the myth of Osiris. According to the myth, Osiris and his wife, Isis, were the first rulers of Egypt. But Osiris’s brother, Set, was jealous and killed him, cutting up his body and scattering it all over Egypt. Isis put him back together and brought him back to life, but she was unable to retrieve all of his body parts thus he was incomplete and unable to rule on earth. Instead, he became Lord of the Dead in the underworld. Osiris became a symbol of death and resurrection, often depicted as a mummified ruler.