The Unusual Mummification Examples Reflect the Craze for the Afterlife in Different Eras

From ancient Egypt to 1920s Russia, to Utah today, the ancient practice of mummification just might get you a spot in the afterlife.
Marcia Wendorf

The ancient Egyptians believed that in order for someone to continue on in the afterlife, their body must be preserved in a lifelike form. Early on, the ancient Egyptians buried their dead in small pits in the desert, and the heat and dryness of the sand quickly dehydrated the bodies and mummified them. However, when the Egyptians placed their dead within coffins, the bodies decayed.

Over many centuries, the Egyptians developed a method for preserving bodies so that they would remain lifelike. Mummifying a body took up to 70 days. To prevent decay, many of the internal organs, such as the lungs, stomach, liver, and intestines, were removed, and placed in canopic jars. Each canopic jar had a differently shaped lid, representing one of the Egyptian gods.

Canopic jars
Canopic jars Source: Tim Sneddon/Flickr

The Egyptians believed the heart, rather than the brain, was the organ of reasoning and that it would testify as to the goodness of the deceased. The heart was left within the body, and if accidentally removed, it was immediately put back.

Mummified bodies were preserved with natron, a naturally occurring mixture of sodium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate. Packages of natron were placed inside the body, and the body was wrapped in natron-soaked linen.

Once it was desiccated, the body was washed, packed with wads of linen soaked in resin, and wrapped it up to 20 layers of linen. Then, the body was placed in a wooden coffin that was often elaborately painted.

King Tutankhamun

In 1922, when they were first opening King Tutankhamun's tomb in the Valley of the Kings, the English Lord Carnarvon, who was bankrolling the expedition, asked archaeologist Howard Carter, "Can you see anything?" Carter replied, "Yes, wonderful things."

One of those wonderful things was the sarcophagus of King Tut, inside of which was his mummy. Tutankhamun's mummy remained within its sarcophagus in its tomb in the Valley of the Kings until November 4, 2007, 85 years to the day after Carter's discovery.

Then, his linen-wrapped mummy was removed from its golden sarcophagus and placed within a climate-controlled glass box. This was done to prevent decomposition caused by the humidity from thousands of visiting tourists.

King Tutankhamun's mummy
King Tut's mummy Source: Howard Carter/Wikimedia Commons 

Queen or "King" Hatshepsut

In 1492 BC, Egypt had a problem. King Thutmose I had died, and his throne went to his son, Thutmose II and Thutmose II's new queen, his half-sister Hatshepsut. Hatshepsut was also a daughter of Thutmose I.

When Thutmose II died suddenly, Hatshepsut became regent for her stepson, Thutmose III, who was only an infant. Then, in 1473 B.C., in an unprecedented move, Hatshepsut took on the full title and powers of a pharaoh. An astute woman, Hatshepsut extended Egypt's trade with the distant land of Punt, and she built the Temple of Deir el-Bahri.

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By her order, in sculptures and paintings, Hatshepsut was depicted as a male with a beard. When she died in 1458 B.C., she was buried in the Valley of the Kings, rather than the Valley of the Queens, and she had her father's sarcophagus reburied with hers so they could lie together in death.

Hatshepsut's successor, Thutmose III, removed all evidence of her reign from temples and monuments, and she was effectively lost to history until 1822, when scholars were able to read the hieroglyphics on the walls of Temple of Deir el-Bahri.

In 1903, Howard Carter discovered Hatshepsut’s sarcophagus in the Valley of the Kings, but it was empty. In 2007, a team of archaeologists discovered her mummy, and it is now housed in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

Ramesses II

Considered Egypt's most powerful pharaoh, Ramesses II reigned for almost 60 years, from 1279 to 1213 B.C. He lived to be over 90 years old, and fathered over 100 children. Ramesses was buried in the Valley of the Kings, but his body was moved to a royal cache over the fear of looters.

Ramesses' body was discovered in 1881, and was put on display at the Cairo museum. In 1974, Egyptologists noticed that his mummy's condition was deteriorating, and they had it flown to Paris for treatment. Ramesses II was issued an Egyptian passport that listed his occupation as "King (deceased)", and at Paris's Le Bourget Airport, his mummy was received with the full military honors befitting a king.

Ranesses II
Ramesses II Source: G. Elliot Smith/Wikimedia Commons

V.I. Lenin

In the center of Moscow, in Red Square, lies the mausoleum of the architect of 1917's Russian Revolution, Vladimir Lenin.

Lenin served as head of government of Soviet Russia from 1917 to 1922, and when he died in 1924, expert embalmers preserved his body and placed it on public display.

In October 1941, when it looked as if Moscow would be captured by German troops, Lenin's body was evacuated to Tyumen, Siberia, and only returned after the war.

In 2016, the Russian government said it planned to spend 13 million rubles on the preservation of Lenin's body.

Lenin's mummy
Lenin's mummy Source: TheLipTV2/

Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov

In 1927, Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov was the twelfth Pandito Khambo Lama, the head of the Buddhist faith in Russia. When he knew his time was coming, Itigilov began the last meditation and he died mid-chant.

His followers placed his body in a wooden coffin, still seated in the lotus position.

Itigilov remained so for the next 75 years, when his body was reintroduced to the public. Despite nothing having been done to it, only the holy man’s eyes and nose showed signs of deterioration.

In 2004, a Russian forensic expert concluded that Itigilov's tissue deterioration equaled that of someone who had died a mere 36 hours earlier.


In the U.S. state of Utah, is a company that has been mummifying pets for over 30 years, and now, they want to mummify people as well.

Started by Claude "Corky" Nowell, who also went by the name Summum Bonum Amon Ra, Summum is now taking applications from people wanting to undergo the ancient ritual of mummification.

Among other techniques, Summum promises to cover your body in a fiberglass finish, and encase you in a steel or bronze casket.

When Nowell himself died in 2008, his body underwent his mummification ritual and was placed in a golden casket, which is on display to visitors in Summum’s joint pyramid-winery headquarters in Salt Lake City.