Just in time for Halloween, archaeologists in Egypt found 30 coffins with perfectly preserved mummies inside. The mummies were so well sealed, the intricate inscriptions were visible. Egyptian Antiquities Minister Khaled El-Enany said it’s “the first large human coffin ever discovered since the end of the 19th century.” The remains date back to tenth century BCE and the 22nd Pharaonic dynasty.
The mummies were buried double-stacked and included 23 adult males, five adult females, and two children. Researchers were able to identify the genders by the carvings on the coffins, said Mostafa Waziri, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities. If the coffin was carved to show open hands, the person inside was a female, while those with hands balled into fists contained males.
According to the Egypt Antiquities Ministry, this find has been “one of the largest and most important discoveries.” The coffins will be moved to the Grand Egyptian Museum, which is scheduled to be built near the Giza Pyramids in Cairo next month. El-Enany said the department will be doing more excavations, including tombs which date back to Middle, New Kingdom, and Late Periods (1994 BCE to 332 BCE).
Becoming a Mummy
Unlike some popular scary movies, people were not usually mummified as a punishment or for fear they might return and extract revenge. In fact, only pharaohs, nobility, and the rich were able to afford the high price. The process took about 70 days to complete, involving many steps and several people to work on each mummy.
It is believed the earliest mummies from prehistoric times were not created on purpose. Egypt is a dry land without much rainfall and experts think the dry sand and air preserved bodies that had been buried in shallow pits in the sand.
However, when the ancient Egyptians did start practicing mummification, it was for the purpose of preserving the body and preparing a comfortable chamber to see the deceased off to the afterlife with everything they would need.
Priests and other experts would remove the internal organs and put them into special containers called canopic jars. These jars would later be buried with the mummies. Next, it was time to dry out the body. This was accomplished by covering the body with natron, a type of salt, and then placing more natron packets inside the body until all of the moisture was removed, then the packets were eliminated as well. Any sunken areas were filled out with linen and other materials. Sometimes false eyes were added.
The final step was wrapping the mummies in hundreds of yards of linen. The strips were wound around the body, wrapping each finger and toe separately. Priests would attach amulets while praying, and write magical words on the linen strips as a way to protect the person from harm. The mummy was then wrapped in the final cloth, also known as a shroud, and secured with more linen.
Hopefully, by the time the mummy was complete, his or her tomb had also been finished and customized. The tomb held the deceased’s personal affects that would be needed in the afterlife. These could include objects such as furniture, religious paintings, food, valuables, and clothes.