Quote from Greek historian Herodotus (about 485 – 425BC)
The first picture show a bronze probe used to remove the brain. X-rays can reveal the small broken bones in the nasal cavity caused by this process. The second picture shows bronze tweezers. These were used by the Egyptians to remove hair but examples of various sizes have also been found in embalmers kits and are thought to have helped remove the organs. The third picture shows a small section of a scene from the Book of the Dead of Hunefer, around 1275BC. This shows Hunefer’s heart being weighed against the feather of Maat (the established order of things). Anubis watches over the scales whilst the ‘devourer’ (shown here as part-crocodile, part-lion and part-hippopotamus) waits to see the judgement. If the heart is heavier than the feather then the deceased would be eaten by the devourer and not reach the afterlife.
These are painted wooden canopic jars depicting the Sons of Horus. They date from approximately 700BC.
The first object is a painted jar. The decoration is coloured blue, red and black. The motifs are floral with echoes of the elaborate collars worn by wealthy Egyptians. It dates from around 1300BC. The second picture shows a linen bag containing salt. Salt was piled over the body and could also be placed inside to aid dehydration. The third object is a faience perfume jar in the shape of a lotus bud dating to around 1300BC. It was found in the cemetary of an Egyptian colony in Sudan.
The first picture shows a piece of linen decorated with blue and red stripes on the edge. It dates from around 1550BC. Mummy bandages were not always specifically made but could be strips of household linen. The second picture shows the mummy of a young woman, 950-650BC. The two amulets are types that were commonly included in mummy wrappings. The eye shaped amulet is the Eye of Horus, a wedjat. This shape is associated with healing and ‘making whole’. The regenerative nature of this amulet meant it is found in great quantities associated with mummies. The winged amulet is a pectoral depicting a hovering falcon. It is gold with inlaid glass, dating from after 600BC.
The first coffin shown was found in 1827. It belongs to King Nebkheperra Intef who ruled in the 17 th Dynasty and dates from around 1600BC. The second coffin shown is the inner coffin of Henutmehyt, about 1250BC. The coffin is covered entirely in gold leaf apart from her wig, eyes and eyebrows.
How were mummies
Herodotus (a famous ancient Greek historian) described
mummification in this way:
“As much as possible of the brain is taken out through the nostrils with
an iron hook. What the hook cannot reach is rinsed out with drugs.
Next the side is cut open with a flint knife and the whole contents of
the abdomen removed. The space is then thoroughly cleansed and
washed out, first with palm wine and again with liquid containing
spices. After that, the space in the body is filled with pure myrrh,
cassia, and other perfumes except frankincense and sewn up again.
Then the body is placed in natrum, covered entirely over, for seventy
days - never longer. When this period is over, the body is washed and
then wrapped from head to foot in linen cut into strips and smeared
with gum, which is often used by the Egyptians instead of glue. The
body is given back to the family, who have it put into a wooden case
shaped like the human figure. The case is then sealed up and stored
in a burial chamber, upright against the wall.”
Herodotus provides us with written evidence of the process of
mummification. The British Museum contains objects and documents
which help us to understand how this process was carried out.
The Egyptians did not understand what the brain was for. They
needed to take it out to preserve the body. The easiest way to
do this was through the nose with a hooked probe.
A small incision (cut) was made in the left side
of the body to remove the internal organs.
They left the heart inside the body. It
would be needed during the journey to the
afterlife where it was weighed against the
feather of truth.
They removed the other organs and dried them to preserve
The organs could be placed in Canopic jars to keep them safe.
Qebehsenuef the falcon-headed god looks after the intestines.
Hapy the baboon-headed god looks after the lungs.
Duamutef the jackal-headed god looks after the stomach.
Imsety the human-headed god looks after the liver.
They washed the body with pleasant smelling liquids.
They then covered it in natron
(natural salt) for 40 days. This
dehydrated (dried out) the body
and stopped it rotting. This
ensured the body was preserved.
Once the body had dehydrated it was washed again
using perfumes and oils.
The clean and dehydrated body was then carefully
wrapped in linen sheets and strips.
The body was wrapped very carefully to
look like a human figure. This shape
could be used in the afterlife if the
person’s body itself did not survive very
Amulets were placed in the
mummy wrappings. These were
like good luck charms and were
used to protect the body.
The mummified body was placed in a coffin.
This coffin could be shaped like a human.
The coffin could be painted or
embellished with other decoration
such as gold.
The family then took the coffin to the tomb.
Funeral ceremonies were performed and the tomb was sealed with the hope that
the dead person would reach the afterlife.
Find out more about ancient Egyptian mummification
Visit the main Museum website
Use Explore to look at some of our mummies
Learn more about mummification