The Mummification Process

The Mummification Process

The word “mummy” can mean either a naturally or artificially preserved body. Some of the oldest Egyptian mummies were naturally mummified—the hot sand dried all the water out of their bodies. Without water, bacteria couldn’t breed, so the bodies didn’t decay.

Many scholars believe that this kind of natural mummification gave Egyptians the idea for more elaborate artificial processes. The goal was to preserve the person’s appearance—only then could their spirit recognize and return to the body.

The Greek historian Herodotus described three different methods of Egyptian mummification that were based on the wealth of the deceased’s family. The priciest option involved a lengthy, three-step process:

  • First, internal organs that would hasten decay were removed and preserved in vessels called canopic jars.
  • Next, the body was dried in natron for forty days, which prevented decay.
  • Lastly, embalmers used resins, oils, and padding to restore the body’s appearance before wrapping it in linen.

Most of The Field Museum’s mummies fell into the mid-range cost, which involved injecting solvents into the body to dissolve internal organs, rather removing and preserving them.