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How were the Middle to Lower Classes Buried in Ancient Egypt?

We all know that the royals and elites of ancient Egypt were mummified and encased in beautiful caskets. But did you ever wonder how the process was done for those who weren’t part of the upper class? The reality is, mummification wasn’t accessible to everyone until a certain time.

When mummification was available to the middle and lower classes, the embalmers would cut out their hearts so that the elites would not need to live the afterlife with them. The heart was believed to be the vessel of their soul and would be essential to access the afterlife.

The Details on Egyptian Mummies

Mummification is the method of embalming or treating the body of the deceased. With special techniques, they were able to remove all the moisture from the body. However, dehydrating the body did not stop the decay.

To the Egyptians, preserving the body was important. This is how the dead would appear in the afterlife. Their process was quite effective in that when you see a mummified body today; you would have a clear image of what they looked like in real life over 3,000 years ago.

Did the Egyptians Develop the Method on Their Own?

The method was practiced throughout Egyptian history. But the early mummies were most probably made by accident. For example, in an incident where a body was buried in a shallow grave, they observed that dry sand and warm air preserved it.

During the 4th dynasty, about 2600 BC, Egyptians began mummifying the dead on purpose. They have developed their technique for over 2,000 years.

It was noted that during the 18th to 20th dynasties, mummies were best prepared and preserved. This included the mummies of Tutankhamen and other prominent pharaohs. (Source: The Smithsonian)

Did It Take Long for Them to Mummify the Bodies?

The process of mummification would often take about 70 days. Only special priests worked as embalmers. They treated and wrapped the body following correct rituals and saying the right prayers.

Beyond the rituals, the body had to go through several stages. (Source: The Smithsonian)

  1. Removal of Internal Organs – The embalmer would need to remove the internal organs since they decayed the fastest. The brain was extracte carefully by inserting a special tool that would go through the nostrils to pull the brain tissue out. Next would be the abdominal organs that would pass through the chest cavity. They only left the heart, which was believed to be a vessel for their soul. All the organs will later be treated, wrapped, and buried with the body.
  2. Dehydration – They removed all the moisture by covering the body with a special salt called natron. When the body completely dried out, they would fill the sunken spaces.
  3. Wrapping – Each mummy was then wrapped in several yards of linen carefully. After serveral coats, they were coated with warm resin and wrapped again.

After the process was done, the priests performed special rites at the tomb’s entrance. The most important part of the ritual was the Opening of the Mouth. This was where the priest uses a tool to touch the dead’s body parts for the deceased to use those parts in the afterlife. By touching the mouth, the dead would be able to speak and eat. (Source: The Smithsonian)

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