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Mummies have fascinated people for centuries. In folklore, mummies are portrayed as mysterious, magical, and even dangerous. People have removed mummies from their tombs and displayed them in museums. Mummies have even starred as villains in horror films!


A mummy is a human body that has been preserved for a long period of time. Mummies are found in many places, from Alaska to China. But the world’s best-known mummies come from ancient Egypt. The Egyptians began making mummies more than 5,000 years ago. Over the next 3,500 years, they made millions of them!

Some mummies are accidental. They occur when bodies are accidentally preserved. That usually happens in areas where decay happens slowly. Most accidental mummies are found in very hot or very cold places with dry climates. But they are also found in muddy peat bogs and even frozen in ice. Accidental mummies can last for thousands of years.


The ancient Egyptians made mummies for religious reasons. They believed in life after death. They thought that people were reborn after they died and needed a body in order to live in the afterlife. The Egyptians took special care to preserve the bodies of wealthy, important people.


Making a mummy was complex and took about 70 days. First, mummy makers removed the body’s internal organs and placed them in special containers. They also took out the brain. But they usually left the heart in place. They believed a dead person’s soul remained in the heart. The heart spoke for a dead person in the afterlife, during judgment before the gods.

Next, mummy makers applied chemicals to the body to dry it and remove moisture. Then they perfumed the body and wrapped it in bandages made from linen cloth. They placed lucky charms between the wrappings, for spiritual protection.

Once prepared, they laid the mummy in a wood or stone coffin. After about 2000 bc, mummies were often put in human-shaped coffins. The coffins might be painted with a portrait of the dead person along with pictures of the gods. Sometimes the coffins were made in sets that nested one within another.


Finally, the mummy was carried to its tomb. There, priests performed a ceremony called the Opening of the Mouth Ritual. They believed this ceremony brought the dead person’s senses back to life so they could live in the next world. Family members put useful items and food in the tomb to keep the mummy’s spirit alive.


Other people of the world also made mummies. Like the ancient Egyptians, they practiced mummification for religious reasons.

The people of the Inca Empire in Peru are famous for making mummies. During the 1600s and 1700s, Inca mummy makers preserved bodies with smoke in the cold, dry climate of the Andes Mountains. A prepared mummy was placed in a large clay jar with jewelry, clothing, food, and other items.


Frightening tales about the magical powers of mummies have been told for centuries. By the 1700s, storywriters warned of the terrible curses that would befall anyone who disturbed a mummy. Modern horror films have kept this theme alive by portraying disturbed mummies as violent and dangerous.

The ancient Egyptians looked at mummies very differently. For them, mummies were a soothing reminder that their loved ones had passed on to a carefree existence with the gods.

May 21, 2009 Posted by | History, Who is Who, World Heritage | Leave a comment