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Mummification, either natural or intentional, refers to the preservation of the skin and flesh of a corpse, which is closely linked with ancient Egypt. Although Egypt’s mummies are the most recognized, cultures all over the world adopted creative ways to preserve their dead.
See the fact file below for more information on the mummification or alternatively, you can download our 23-page Mummification worksheet pack to utilise within the classroom or home environment.
Key Facts & Information
- Mummification, from the English root word mummy, originated from the Latin mumia, a word borrowed from the Arabic word mumiyyah, meaning “bitumen”.
- The Arabic word came from the Persian word mumiya, which also meant “bitumen”, and mum, meaning “wax”, materials used in mummification.
- Because of their strong belief in the afterlife, mummification was the main focus in the history of ancient Egyptian civilizations. They believed that the body was the home for the spirit or soul in the afterlife. Their faith in the ka, ba, and akh or the “double” of a person, meant that the “soul” was free to wander in and out of the tomb, and had to face final judgement in the underworld before it could enter the afterlife.
- During the Old Kingdom (c.2686 B.C. – c. 2181 B.C.), only the pharaohs had the power to attain immortality. The Egyptians believed that the tears of the Gods turned into materials to mummify the corpse.
- Before mummification evolved, the corpse, together with clay pots and jewelry, would be buried in a fetal position, buried in a pit covered with sand. This method of burial dehydrated the body and preserved it.
- Mummification was perfected between 1070 and 712 B.C. According to Greek historian Herodotus, there were three types of mummification techniques.
- Ginger, the earliest known “mummified” individual from 3300 BCE, was said to be buried in the hot desert sand, preserving the body and preventing it from being eaten by jackals. This unknown mummy had its red hair intact, together with pottery vessels containing supplies for its afterlife journey in the desert.
- Garments were removed, and the body was laid out on an embalming couch in order to be purified.
- Using an obsidian or another stone knife, an incision was made on the left side of the abdomen, removing the liver, stomach, intestines, and lungs, and leaving the heart inside. These organs were stored in four canopic jars: the human-headed Imsety guarded the liver; Hapi, a baboon, protected the lungs; Duamutef, a jackal, looked after the stomach; and Qebehsenuef, a falcon, looked after the intestines.
- Using an iron hook, the brain was extracted from the nostrils, as it was believed that it had no importance in the afterlife.
- The body cavity was temporarily stuffed with a disinfectant, natron powder, packs of linen with gum, straw and plant stuff, and coarse powders with quartz sand.
- The entire corpse was covered in natron and left for 70 days. The natron salt caused rapid dehydration of the body and prevented decomposition.
- The stuffed materials were removed, and the corpse was washed with water and dried with towels and sometimes alcoholic liquid.
- The body was then permanently packed with myrrh, cinnamon, frankincense, sawdust with resin, and onions. Beeswax was also used to stuff the mouth, eyes, and ears.
- Sometimes, embalmers painted the face and the body – red for men and yellow for women.
- They believed that amulets were helpful for the body’s resurrection.
- The corpse was covered in approximately 35 layers of linen, with the fingers and toes individually wrapped.
- Lastly, it was placed in a sarcophagus or coffin. If the deceased was a pharaoh, it would be placed in a special burial chamber.
- A cheaper method compared to the first did not include wrapping the body. This was also used in animal mummification.
- The anus was injected with oil of cedar, and the whole body was treated with natron only.
- The skin and the skeleton only remained in this type of mummification process.
- This was the cheapest method among the three. The stomach and internal organs were removed through an incision in the abdomen on the left side of the body.
- Body cavities were sterilized with Ethyl alcohol and then buried in natron salt.
- Spontaneous mummies can also occur, resulting from extreme cold (glacier), acid (bog), or dryness.
- Found in 1991, Ötzi the Iceman is one of the most famous ancient mummies. He was frozen in a glacier in the Otzal Alps around 3300 BCE.
- Tollund Man, a naturally mummified man who lived in the 4th century B.C., is an example of a bog body. A bog is a freshwater wetland with acidic deposits and moisture from rain and snow. The acidity of the water, cold temperature, and lack of oxygen contributed to the tanning of the body’s skin.
- Because of the sub-zero temperature and dry winds, “Greenland Mummies” were found in an abandoned indigenous settlement called the Qilakitsoq. It consisted of mummies who died 500 years ago: a six-month-old baby, a four-year-old boy, and six women of different ages.
- Between 16 to 24 Buddhist monks or priests in northern Japan, within the vicinity of Yamagata Prefecture, practised Sokushinbutsu, which caused their own deaths and leading to self-mummification.
- Buddhists believe that only advanced masters can practice self-mummification and purify themselves without decaying.
- 1,000 days before their death, these monks only eat nuts, seeds, fruits and berries, roots, pine bark, and urushi tea, which triggers dehydration.
- They also engaged in extensive physical activity to remove all their body fat.
- In 1599, monks of Palermo, Sicily, started mummifying their dead. The Capuchin catacombs house thousands of bodies, many of which are clothed and standing.
- Jeremy Bentham, the founder of utilitarianism, wished to be mummified after his death, leaving instructions to be followed including displaying his body. Because of him, interest in modern-day mummification occurred.
- In 1994, 265 mummified bodies were discovered in the burial place of a Dominican church in Vac, Hungary.
- Summum, the only organization who introduced modern mummification for people and animals, uses up-to-date techniques combined with ancient methods. Instead of dehydrating the corpse, Summum applies chemical processes in order to preserve the body in a way that the DNA also remains intact, opening possibilities for cloning in the future.
- Nowadays, mummification is a varied and culturally broad burial trend, depending on the practices of a culture, religion, or country.
This is a fantastic bundle which includes everything you need to know about the mummification across 23 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use Mummification worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about the mummification, either natural or intentional, which refers to the preservation of the skin and flesh of a corpse, which is closely linked with ancient Egypt. Although Egypt’s mummies are the most recognized, cultures all over the world adopted creative ways to preserve their dead.
Complete List Of Included Worksheets
- Mummification Facts
- Mummification 101
- Canopic Jars
- Sweet Recipe
- Compare and Contrast
- Mummy Maze
- Arrange Me
- Why Mummify?
- Ancient VS Modern
- 21st-Century Mummy
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Use With Any Curriculum
These worksheets have been specifically designed for use with any international curriculum. You can use these worksheets as-is, or edit them using Google Slides to make them more specific to your own student ability levels and curriculum standards.