Ancient Egyptians Believed Their Souls Could Reanimate Their Bodies

posted: 10/11/16
by: Sasha Brown-Worsham

Credit: Penn Museum

The average ancient Egyptian only lived about 40 years, so it stands to reason that their plans for the afterlife were rocking enough to keep the party going for millennia. But what exactly did the afterlife in ancient Egypt entail? And why did they mummify their dead?

Some of these questions are answered at the Penn Museum. Their Egypt Galleries are full of artifacts that satisfy curiosity and cause the spine to tingle. There is something about seeing an ancient mummy that never gets old. In the gallery there are carved reliefs, stone coffins, and impressive sculptures that show off the craftsmanship in ancient Egypt.

Credit: Penn Museum

But besides movies like The Mummy and other Hollywood depictions of ancient Egypt, why do we remain so fascinated by a culture that existed so many thousands of years ago?

Mummification was a complex process that was practiced for about 3,000 years and changed over that time. Over the course of the practice, there were likely more than 70 million mummies created. The type of mummification varied depending on social class. Priests would prep the body and extract the organs in varying ways depending on the time period. The body was then wrapped in linens soaked with chemicals that stopped the process of decay. The priest would also secure a number of amulets among the bandages that contained the formula to the afterlife to help guide the deceased.

Credit: Penn Museum

No wonder we are terrified of them, right?

But it all made sense to them. According to the Ancient Egyptians, the body was made up of several parts: the ba or soul, the ka or life force, and aj, the force of divine inspiration of life. To survive in the afterlife, the ka needed the body in some version. Hence, mummification. The body was preserved in order to rehost the soul at a later time.

Tombs varied in terms of wealth. Kings and dignitaries were buried lavishly with gold and servants (who were sacrificed to the cause), pets, and even various means of transport for when their soul returned.

Credit: Penn Museum

Of course, the process for the deceased was much longer. After death, the deceased went immediately to the underworld where he or she was led by Anubis, the god of the dead, in to the Hall of Two Truths. In order to demonstrate goodness according to the judges of the underworld, the deceased would have to proclaim his innocence, say he didn't cause harm in his life, and weigh his heart against the weight of a feather on a scale. Only if he was judged worthy, could he enter "paradise."

The tasks were many and the trip arduous. The amulets were there to guide the way, according to legend.

Of the many mummies found over the years, only few have survived. It wasn't until recently that preservation became an issue and a desire. Mummies are a precious link to an ancient time and we still have much to learn from the ghosts of Ancient Egypt.

The Penn Museum was founded in 1887 and is one of the largest university museums in the United States. Visit the museum's website to learn more about the signature exhibits, like the Egypt (Mummies) Gallery, and to plan your visit.

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