Mummymaking Methods:

       The Egyptians made mummies for over 3,000 years, and their mummy-making process evolved during that time span. By the time that the mummymakers perfected their craft, successful mummymaking was generally a three-part process:

removing internal organs

removing moisture

protecting dried remains

     But this process varied considerably depending on the time period, the mummymaker, the wealth of the family, and other factors.

     Here's a brief look at how this was done in ancient Egypt (for the dates of each time period below, see the Dynasties Page.)


Pre-Dynastic Era

     Very few mummies have been found from this period. The ones that have been recovered are naturally dried by the sun.


Old Kingdom                                                                               

     Very few mummies have been found from this period, but linen and plaster were important components. An examination of one Old Kingdom body revealed that the limbs were wrapped separately; altogether sixteen layers of linen were wound around the body. Often plaster was applied to the bandages to create a kind of "mummy sculpture." Sometimes a separate layer of plaster was added as a final layer, which created an even more statue-like look. The face would be painted onto the linen/plaster.

     During the 4th Dynasty, internal organs were apparently removed for the first time. The abdomen was then packed with linen. The plaster sculpture look was generally stopped by the end of the 6th Dynasty or the beginning of the 7th Dynasty, though later examples are known, especially one in the 11th Dynasty. Sometimes rather than linen/plaster, linen/resin was used (with padding beneath with bandages); the face was then painted green (the color of resurrection, according to Egyptologist Joyce Tyldesley). Old Kingdom mummies might also be dressed in linen clothes (worn over the the wrappings). The plaster and resin mummies looked great, but produced terrible mummy results--underneath the wrappings, the mummies rotted from the moisture trapped inside.


Middle Kingdom                                                                                                   

      During this time period, many different methods of mummification were used. Mummymakers learned to remove internal organs, but not necessarily all of the main four (that were eventually removed): liver, lungs, stomach, and intestines. The heart was almost always left in the body, but there are examples of its removal and replacement (after wrapping it with linen) inside the body. The body's face was no longer painted; instead, a funerary mask was placed over the mummy's head. Some researchers suspect that one (more unusual) method of making mummies used during this a part of this time period was cedar oil enemas (strange but true), which seems to have been used at least in some mummies during the 11th Dynasty. Rather than cutting the body open to remove internal organs, mummymakers seem to have injected cedar-oil/ turpentine  into the rectum; this substance would help dissolve (at least partially) the internal organs. But this method would never have been used on important people; it may well have been an economy measure. 


New Kingdom                                                                                                         

      During this time period, royal mummymakers almost always removed the brain, removed the four internal organs (they were washed and dried, painted with resin, and wrapped in linen), and coated the body with lots of resin. Sometimes when they removed the lungs, they may have accidentally removed the heart--they wrapped it up and returned it to the body. After drying the body with natron (and most likely changing the natron whenever it got moist), they would fill the body with resin-soaked linen to provide a natural shape and inhibit insects from settling in. Other non-royal mummies made during the New Kingdom show that, although the brain and the internal organs were not removed, they were well-wrapped. At least one non-royal New Kingdom mummy was also coated in beeswax possibly to help with preservation.


Third Intermediate Period                                                                                  

      The best royal mummymaking methods are found in the 21st Dynasty. At that time, they did their best to make a mummy as real and lifelike as possible. They removed internal organs through an incision in the abdomen (and then placed them back within the body)--then covered it with a metal plate with the design of an eye." They made numerous other incisions (apparently between five and seventeen cuts) in the skin so that the body could be padded realistically. The abdomen, the back, and the neck would be padded out (often with linen, sawdust, sand, and/or mud); so would arms, legs, buttocks, and thighs. They often placed wax over the eyelids and plugged the nose and ears with wax or linen as well. After drying and packing, the body would be painted next (red = men; yellow = women); eyes would be replaced with glass, stone, or painted linen. The entire body would then be coated with hot resin and bandaged (a 10-15 day process for the bandaging alone). Of course, this was the best method of making mummies; not everyone had the resources required for such treatment.


Late Period                                                                                  

     From the 22nd Dynasty on, mummymaking techniques began to decline. More and more people wanted to become mummies upon death; mummymakers began to take many shortcuts-- except in their bandaging techniques (which are extraordinary).  Mummymakers used less stuffing and more molten resin which tended to turn the mummies dark and heavy. Inside, under the bandages, the bodies were not in particularly good condition. Sometimes bodies were mixed up and combined (accidentally) so that scientists have found parts or two or more people wrapped together sometimes. Internal organs were placed in canopic jars again during the 26th Dynasty. In succeeding dynasties, wrapped internal organs were placed between the mummy's legs but "dummy" canopic jars (they were empty) were used for symbolic purposes.


The Insides Scoop

       Mummies were treated and made in many different ways--there wasn't just one "recipe." Pharaohs received special treatment, but the "pharaoh recipe" changed over time as well. Rich people received different mummy treatments than poorer people. Sometimes mummy recipes depended on the part of Egypt where a person lived. 

     So here's what happened to some of the major parts of the body...but be careful: this didn't happen to everyone all the time throughout the history of ancient Egypt. You'll have to do more precise research to pin down the methods used during any particular dynasty.

Arms & Legs                                                                                                           

     These appendages became very shriveled and quite thin as they dried out. During 21st Dynasty, padding was added under the skin to make them look more life-like. The padding was added through a number of incisions made in the skin.


      Until the 18th Dynasty, the brain was usually left inside the skull. (However, brains were sometimes removed as early as the Old Kingdom but this was not a commonplace occurrence.) During the 18th Dynasty, the brain began to be removed, most often through the nostril (occasionally through an eye socket or a hole drilled into the skull). After removal, the brain cavity was filled with sawdust, resin, and/or resin-soaked linen. By the end of the 2nd Century A.D., brain removal had mostly stopped.


     The eyeballs were often pushed into eye socket and covered with linen pads. Sometimes eyes were painted onto the linen, but eventually the Egyptians began to use stone or glass eyes. Some mummies received onions skins and occasionally whole onions for eyes.

Fingers & Toes                                                                                                    

     During the New Kingdom, finger- and toenails were actually tied onto the body so that they wouldn't fall off during the drying period.


     The only major organ left in the body, though it may have been removed accidentally on occasion. It was considered the location of "reason, emotion, memory, and personality."


     The intestines were usually placed in canopic jar. When mummymakers misplaced (or ruined) the internal organs of one mummy, a rope was substituted for the intestines in a canopic jar.


     The kidneys were usually not removed. There is no word in ancient Egyptian language for kidneys, so if they were sometimes removed, it may well have been accidental.


     The liver was usually placed in canopic jar.


     The lungs were usually placed in canopic jar.


     The mouth was sometimes packed with material (such as linen or even wax), and the tongue was sometimes covered with a tongue plate, often made from gold.


     The nostrils were often plugged, especially by the New Kingdom. Resin covered with onion skin was put in nostrils of Ramesses IV. Mummymakers plugged nostrils with wax during the 21st Dynasty. One mummy's nose was even plugged with peppercorns during the 21st Dynasty.


     The skin became dried during the mummification process, so Egyptians rubbed different "moisturizers" onto the skin, such as oils, beeswax, spices, and even milk and wine.


     The stomach was usually placed in canopic jar.