Grave robbing was already happening before the construction of the majestic pyramids and this exposed some of the bodies buried in cemeteries.
The first graves were just shallow pits in the sand with a few grave goods. When these pits were opened, the ancient Egyptians discovered the natural drying-out (desiccation) process. This process had taken place when bodies were buried in sand in the dry desert climate. Gradually graves become larger and deeper and this prevented the natural desiccation of the body and therefore the body decayed. Perhaps this is where the idea of preserving the body of the dead started.
To prevent this decay, the Egyptians started experimenting in the preservation or embalming of the body, as early as the First Dynasty. To ‘embalm’ is to preserve a dead body by treating it with scented oils and spices.
At first the body was only covered with layers of linen soaked with resin, but this is not true embalming and the body was not in the typical mummy-shape of later periods. True mummification only started in the New Kingdom.
The mummification process
Seventy days had to pass from the day of death to the funeral, in order for the body to be properly embalmed. First the brain was removed through the nose with a metal hook and then discarded. The lower organs, except the kidneys, were removed through a slit in the left side of the abdomen. Everything but the heart, ‘the seat of the mind’, was removed from the chest cavity. The internal organs were embalmed and packed in four canopic jars.
A mummified bird of prey. The eyes and beak and some feather shafts are visible. (c) Iziko Photo Archive by Carina Beyers.
The shape of the mummified object indicates that it represents a mammal, possibly a cat. Black dots can be seen surrounding the area arround the ears. (c) Iziko Photo Archives by Carina Beyers.