I still don’t know why I decided to write about mummies. But, once it became a part of the second Afterlife Calls book, I fell down a research rabbit hole that I’m very much still in.
So much so, I’m working my way through a Wondrium* course on Ancient Egypt and plan to learn hieroglyphs when I’m done with that.
(Side note: the writing style is called hieroglyphs. Hieroglyphic is an adjective, and therefore used to describe the type of writing, e.g. ‘hieroglyphic handwriting’.)
While not all of my research has made it into the book, it’s a fun rabbit hole to spend my spare time hiding in.
So I thought I’d share some of my favourite random and unexpected facts with you.
Warning: some of thees are a bit gross. If you’re not sure, check the subheading first! That should give you an idea of how gross what comes next is.
I’ve linked to my sources in the resources section at the bottom. Most are documentaries available on YouTube, or the aforementioned Wondrium* course.
1. The Egyptians didn’t invent mummies
Everyone associates the Egyptians with mummification, since they were around for 2400 years, which makes for a lot of mummies. They also did a lot of writing, although they didn’t write much about mummification – there’s only one papyrus that exists about mummies.
There were lots of other cultures who carried out mummification well before the Egyptians. They didn’t do it quite as well, though, so there are fewer of those around.
It’s thought the first mummies came from South America.
2. Nobody knows how the idea came about
It’s thought that the Egyptians decided to start mummifying bodies because burying them in sand lead to the animals around destroying the bodies.
The sand and hot, dry weather also partially mummified bodies if the animals didn’t get to them. Which caused someone to decide to do it themselves and keep the bodies in sarcophaguses, often in pyramids, to keep the animals away.
3. Mummification can happen naturally in the right climate
Some cultures mummified bodies naturally, using the dry atmosphere to preserve the bodies.
Other times it happened accidentally, in super cold temperatures. (Like Ötzi the iceman.)
4. Some cultures took their mummies with them
This wasn’t an Egyptian thing, but I wanted to include it anyway. The reasoning behind this isn’t entirely understood since it pre-dates writing, but it could be a religious thing, or a sentimental thing.
But there’s evidence to suggest that some South American cultures carried their deceased loved ones around with them after the mummification process, even having them (sort of) take part in events and rituals.
This includes nomadic cultures, some of whom also did mummification.
5. The Egyptian mummification process took 70 days
OK, back to the Egyptians. Their mummification process took around 70 days. We know this because of the one papyrus that existed which talks through the process.
The first few weeks allow the body to dry out ready for the rest of the process.
Then, they’d prop the body on stilts so that they could remove the organs, put the organs into canopic jars, and finally, wrap the body in bandages.
People were often wrapped in their own bedding, or other fabric they owned. This can be seen by the fact that there’s rarely clean lines at the start or end of the fabric used to wrap the mummy in – it’s almost always torn.
6. The brain was the only part which wasn’t saved for the afterlife
While the Egyptians had a better understanding of anatomy than we sometimes might think, it wasn’t perfect. They thought the brain was so useless that they’d scramble it and throw it away.
(Skip to the next bit if you’re squeamish.)
To do this, they’d poke a stick up with a hook on the deceased’s nose, move it around until the brain was all mushy, pull the brain out, then discard it.
7. All other organs went into a canopic jar
While internal organs were removed as part of the mummification process, everything but the brain was kept nearby and stored in a canopic jar. These were left with the mummy, and were sometimes plain, sometimes decorative.
It’s a canopic jar on the cover of The Mummy’s Curse, with the head of Anubis on it. I went with this because it looks cool and it’s a key part of Egyptian culture. The canopic jars also play a significant role in this book and later ones in the series.
8. They were buried with slaves
Well, not actual slaves. Little figurines that represent slaves. The more money someone had, the more of these they were buried with.
This was so that, when they went into the afterlife, they had someone to look after them.
9. Miscarried foetuses were sometimes mummified
Again, this wasn’t so much of an Egyptian thing (except maybe in the case of King Tutenkahmun, who had two premature/stillborn babies with him), but evidence has been found of tiny mummified foetuses. These were so tiny – just 1-2 inches in size – that archaeologists we’re sure if they were real or dolls.
It took someone with serious experience with an MRI scanner to identify tiny details on the scanner to indicate that they were babies.
10. Sarcophagus means ‘flesh eater ‘
This is probably my favourite fact, and the one I discovered most recently.
When sarcophagi were first discovered in the (I think) 1700s, no one understood what had happened to these people. There wasn’t the same understanding of mummification or decomposition that there is today.
So they thought that the sarcophagi were eating the mummies inside. And so, four hundred years later, here we are, still using the word ‘sarcophagus’.
Unrelated dog fact
This isn’t a mummy fact, but you know me and dogs. So I had to include it.
Whippets are descendants of the Ancient Egyptian pharaoh’s hound.
I’m never going to look at a whippet the same way again.
And obviously, now I want one.
Think Millie would mind?
That’s all, folks!
There you have it – 10 random facts about mummies. Which one surprised you the most?
- Ancient Egyptian* (Wondrium)
- Mummy forensics (YouTube)
- Top 10 real mummies (YouTube)
- Tut’s Treasures – Hidden Secrets (Disney+)
* Affiliate link. It won’t cost you any extra, but you’ll get an extended free trial and I’ll get a small commission if you purchase through my link 🙂