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Anubis, a god associated with the afterlife tending a mummy.

Anubis, a god associated with the afterlife tending a mummy.

Credits:Wellcome Library, London.

The need to preserve the body after death was central to ancient Egyptian religious beliefs. Mummification was a complicated preservation technique that took up to 70 days to complete. To prevent the body from quickly decaying, many of the internal organs were removed. The lungs, stomach, liver and intestines were each put in a canopic jar with a different shaped head as the lid, each representing one of four Egyptian gods. These were known as the Sons of Horus and each son looked after a different body part. The falcon-headed Qebhsnuf looked after the intestines, the jackal-headed Duamutef protected the stomach and the baboon-headed Hapi cared for the lungs. Human-headed lids represent Imsety, who was the guardian of the liver.

However, it is believed this part of the process of mummification may have given the Egyptians some knowledge of the internal organs, although the people carrying it out, priests or their servants, did not study the organs but simply placed them in the appropriate jar.

The body was then preserved with natron, a naturally occurring mixture of sodium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate. Packages of natron were placed inside the body, which was then wrapped in natron-soaked linen. After the natron had absorbed the body fluids it was removed, the body was washed and the body cavity packed with wads of linen soaked in resin. It was then wrapped in up to 20 layers of linen before being placed in a wooden, often elaborately painted, coffin for burial.

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