Mummies have captivated audiences for centuries and continue to reveal hidden secrets. Old and modern movies such as; The Mummy’s Hand, or The Mummy Returns continues to fascinate many people. But what is a mummy? The word mummy derived from early spectators who presumed that mummies were covered with bitumen, which meant in Persian moumia and therefore took the modern name mummy. Whether it’s been preserved naturally or deliberately, all mummies must survive the duration of time.
Gaining most of its fame from Egypt, mummies also exist in many other ancient cultures and countries. Countries such as China revealed the Cherchen mummies, which were preserved almost perfectly. Another place, such as South America, revealed three children from the Incas who were relics of a sacrificial ritual and were found frozen atop Argentina’s Mount Llullaillaco, which is about 22,000 feet high.
Although mummification existed in other cultures, eternal life was the main focus of all Ancient Egyptians, which meant preserving the body forever. The earliest attempts were recorded in 3000 B.C. The technique used during this period was minimal and not yet mastered. As time progressed, the organs were eventually removed and stored in canopic jars, allowing the body to preserve better. It wasn’t until the Middle Kingdom that embalmers used natural salts to remove moisture from the body.
This dried it out and preserved more flesh then bone. Once dried, mummies were anointed with oils and perfumes, which was part of their ritual. The 21st Dynasty brought forth its most advanced skills in embalming and the mummification process reached its peak. After going though the process, the mummies were laid to rest inside a tomb. There the mummy would rest forever, or so it was thought.
Most Egyptians prepared for death; they tried to provide a secure resting place that would last an eternity. Although this was their wish, it did not work that way. Often times the weather and tomb robbers were the main culprits that destroyed many tombs. Most tomb robbers, who were believed to be the tomb builders, often reentered the tomb after it was sealed, unwrapping the mummy and removing all amulets and stones. The coffins made of wood, which also held many precious stones, where also picked and destroyed. After destroying the tomb, many of the mummies would be taken out and burnt for fuel or sold as a souvenir product. Although tomb robbers were the main culprits, modern cultures also influenced the desecration of many mummies.
After the fall of the Egyptian empire, the Christians soon dominated along with the Arabs. Most mummies that were collected by the Arabs were used as pagan symbols, while the Christians cast aside the bodies. The Arabs, who learned of Ancient Egyptian enchantment, saw the mummies as tools of magic and medicinal purposes. Used as medicine, the mummy powder or mummy oil was to be applied externally or taken internally. These false superstitions lead to many thousands of mummies to be destroyed.
The Europeans imported mummies by the ton, and collected oils from boiled mummy bodies. This oil, which was skimmed off the top of the water, was used to stop bruising and was used to cure a variety of disorders. Many of the monarchs relied upon it. Although used as medicinal purposes by Europeans and Arabs, the Americans used the linen for paper -- the material used in wrapping the mummy. The cholera epidemic broke our soon after and it was seemingly reported that the paper was the cause. Production was halted.
During this time it’s evident many mummies were destroyed, including most royal mummies. Something needed to be done. Cairo was flourishing with people seeking Ancient Egyptian Artifacts and had to soon stop its looters. It was not until 1858 did Auguste Mariette start a program called Antiquities Organization. This started the trend to protect all artifacts. Any one who was digging in Egypt had to have a permit, and this allowed inspectors to enter a site at any given time if a discovery was found such as a tomb. No one could enter the site until the inspector was present and any tomb found intact went straight to the Museum.
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