Journey to the Next World

by Clio Whittaker. Images courtesy of museums. | 06 May 1999

The ancient Egyptians believed that a person would enjoy eternal life in the next world if their body was preserved after death. Objects relating to the rituals and practices surrounding the burial of high-ranking ancient Egyptians can be seen in museums around Britain.

Mummification was a complicated and lengthy procedure. First, theinternal organs were removed from the dead body and it was covered witha strong salt to draw out the moisture. After a couple of months, thedried body was packed with linen and rubbed with scented oils.(Roxie Walker Gallery of Funerary Archaeology, British Museum).

The body was then bound in layer upon layer of narrow linen strips. Amulets were often tucked inside the wrappings to ensure that the deceased person was protected from evil on their journey to the next world. The heart scarab ensured that the person's sins on earth were not revealed in the next world.

The liver, the lungs, the stomach and intestines were bound with linenand replaced inside the body or placed in special containers calledcanopic jars. The four canopic jars, which were topped with the headsof a jackal, falcon, baboon and a human, represented the four sons of Horus.

The mummy was then ready for the ceremony of the 'opening the mouth', which is shown taking place at the tomb chapel. Priests and family participated in this ritual, which was believed to restore the power of breathing to the dead person.

Several days later the mummy was placed in a wooden coffin and draggedon a sled to a tomb. Coffins were magnificently decorated both inside and out with hieroglyphic inscriptions and brightly coloured scenes and patterns.

The tomb chamber was filled with everything the dead person might need in the next life - furniture, hunting equipment, clothes, food, games. The little figurines were expected to come to life and work on behalf of the dead person in the afterworld (The Egypt Centre, University of Wales).

Priests then lowered the coffin into the sarcophagus, which was covered with a heavy lid. The tomb was sealed, the entrance concealed and the body left in peace. That is, until the arrival of tomb robbers!

During the Roman period, painted panel portraits of the dead person were often incorporated into the outer wrappings of mummies. Computer-aided tomography has enabled curators to confirm that many of the mummified bodies are the same age as their portrait.

As well as preserving the bodies of humans, the ancient Egyptians perfected the art of mummifying animals. Birds, fish, mammals and reptiles were all worshipped as gods in animal form and many thousands of mummified and carefully wrapped bodies of animals have been found.

European archaeologists like Sir Flinders Petrie undertook many excavations in Egypt during the past and so Britain has some of the richest collections of ancient Egyptian material outside Egypt itself. The power of ancient Egypt to fascinate and enchant is today as strong as ever.

  • Back to top
  • | Print this article
  • | Email this article
  • | Bookmark and Share
Museum Crush digest sign up ad
We are culture24