In honor of the upcoming remake of the movie, The Mummy, I thought it would be a good chance to talk about mummies. The original movie series starting in 1999 was actually a reboot of the even older series of Mummy movies based off the horror movie The Mummy in 1932. This film, about a resurrected Egyptian priest, was inspired from the opening of the Tutankhamun tomb in 1922, a major historical event. The concept was dreamed of and driven by Carl Laemmle Jr. (son of the Universal Studios founder and head of production for the studio) who had also made the 1931 films Frankenstein and Dracula (Dracula being the first legal adaptation of the novel). This movie was then followed by several somewhat sequels, pushing forward the mummy as a classical monster movie character. The series was then remade as The Mummy, which wasn’t a remake as its plot differed except for the bare bones which would make it more inspirational than anything else. This new film seems to be within the same frame of mind: resurrected priest (maybe), carry out diabolical scheme or search for someone, people need to stop them.
Discovery of the Tomb of King Tutankhamun
Here are some photos of the initial discovery:
Cool side fact, Pharaoh Tutankhamun possessed a dagger made from a meteorite. The idea had been thrown around for years due to the composition of the blade but a recent study proved it was true.
This movie is specifically being rebooted to jumpstart an entire series of films, under the shared universe called Universal Monsters headed by Universal Pictures. If you don’t know the phrase shared universe think Avengers (all the movies take place in the same timeline, allowing you to link them together). The intention is that by rebooting several old monster films (Dracula, Frankenstein and Wolf-Man) and then connecting them they can create a new franchise based off of existing material. The main concern I have is the same as the DC approach: if you don’t lay enough groundwork it could quite possibly become hollow and generic. Each film should genuinely be its own film and stand by themselves on their own merits. As much as I’d like to see them all be made we’ll have to see the first few to get the feel for how a series will be treated. I offer my sincerest wishes of good fortune as I’ve been starved of proper monster and horror films for a long time now.
Aside from the movie I thought now would be a good chance to talk about mummies. They’ve been a part of our culture for over a hundred years from collecting antiquities to film, music, plays and more. The first mummies in Egypt weren’t the elaborate ceremonies you see below but natural processes of the environment around them. They used to place the dead in pit graves out in the desert and as time went by the hot sun and sand and lack of any moisture would naturally dry and preserve the corpse.
The reason people were mummified was to preserve their body for the afterlife, a place the Egyptians believed you would enter after death and only if you could pass certain tests. Special priests and embalmers would work on the body and different priests had different specializations. Given the number of mummies discovered it’s clear that there was an extensive network of these priests present in society. They would have been in even higher demand as mummification became a procedure that everyone could afford.
The list below summarizes the steps for mummification:
- The first step was to remove the brain through the nose (essentially stabbing it until it spilled out).
- Liquid resin is poured into the brain cavity to prevent bacterial growth. Remember they are preserving the body as much as possible.
- They would then make an incision into your waist so they could remove your internal organs. Except for your heart. Since they believed that this is where your soul was, that had to stay with you.
- Once they are removed the organs are dried out (usually with natron) and placed in jars, called canopic jars, to be placed with the mummy once it is buried. They will also accompany you on your journey to the afterlife.
- There were 4 jars for your main organs: stomach, liver, lungs and intestines. Each different organ had a different god guarding it (one of Horus’s sons) along with a companion god and the son of Horus guarding the jar had their likeness sculpted as the jar lid. Hapi, the baboon headed god of the north (lungs), jar protected by Nephthys, Duamutef, the jackal headed god of the east (stomach), jar protected by Neith, Imsety, the human headed god of the south (liver), jar protected by Isis and Qebehsenuef, the falcon headed god of the west (intestines), jar protected by Serqet.
- These jars were then placed in decorated canopic chests.
- The interior of the body is filled with linen, sawdust, salt (usually natron) and other materials to dry out the body.
- The body is washed and then covered in natron salt to suck away the moisture and preserve the body.
- This salt natron I’ve been bringing up was used for more than just mummies. Teeth cleaner, mouth wash, meat salt, soap, antiseptic and insecticide were a few uses this salt was good for.
- After the body is dried the salt is washed off.
- Perfumed oils and plant resins were rubbed over the body.
- Finally the wrapping came in several steps which changed depending on the era they lived in. A different resin was applied so that the cloth wrappings would be glued to the body
- The head hands and feet are wrapped first.
- As the layers are wrapped amulets are woven in for spiritual protection. The resin had to continually be reapplied to these wrappings.
- The last wrapping layer covers the whole body
- During this process they could also paint murals onto the wrappings, lay object over you and in some cases place a death mask on your face, as in the case of the Greek mummy discovered below.
- Finally they placed you into a coffin or larger sarcophagus and then place you into a room along with the items you will need in the afterlife.
These videos detail the practice specifically:
This TED video describes the process of mummification as the others have but at 3:37 they also describe the degree of preservation that the ancient Egyptians achieved. They state that the remains are intact enough to determine diseases they had in life and even died from. Some remains can even have their DNA samples extracted as well, attesting to level of preservation the ancient Egyptians were capable of.
It’s important to remember that all of this wasn’t developed overnight. It took centuries of new myths, practices and changes in thoughts to codify this entire practice. While the mummy was being prepared their rooms were also being prepared. When the sarcophagus was brought to the room where it would be interred the priests performed the opening of the mouth ceremony so that the deceased would be able to eat and drink in the afterlife. This is however not the end but merely the beginning of your journey. Now you must progress through the endless dangers of the afterlife
After death your spirit would travel through Duat (the Egyptian afterlife) where you would be judged by multiple demons, overcome dangers and obstacles and finish with Anubis who would way your heart against the feather of truth. If pure you would be taken by Ra to the Fields of Aaru, ruled by Osiris. If sin-riddled it would be devoured by a demon. In Aaru, you could grow your crops and hunt but you pledged fealty to Osiris as ultimate overlord. I personally view this as a manifestation of the society the Egyptians lived in placing itself onto their image of what paradise was.
The Egyptians used to believe only the pharaoh could go to the afterlife but eventually it was opened to anyone. This opening up to the lower class was also accompanied by the complex story of what you had to do to enter paradise. The most important point here was mummification; without being mummified you could not go to the afterlife. It was believed that those who died in different circumstances went to a different place without joy. On that note I think we’ll end the article on a congratulatory note to mummies in general. However you may feel about the upcoming movie you do have to admit that mummies will be making a comeback to the forefront of our culture once again. Let’s just see if they can stay there.