New evidence asserts why ancient Egyptians used mummification, and it's not what you think

We've been wrong all this time
Nergis Firtina
Gold-colored replica model of an ancient Egyptian pharoah sarcophagus.
Gold-colored replica model of an ancient Egyptian pharoah sarcophagus.


Many of us think ancient Egyptians mummified dead bodies to preserve them. However, Manchester Museum's upcoming exhibition indicates that this is not the case.

Will be opened in January 2023, "Golden Mummies of Egypt" exhibition shows that the technique is actually a way to guide the deceased toward divinity.

As reported in LiveScience, the museum's curator Campbell Price said that Victorian academics came to the incorrect conclusion that ancient Egyptians preserved their deceased in a manner akin to how one would keep fish, which gave rise to the Western concept. The main substance was salt.

"The idea was that you preserve fish to eat at some future time," Price also added. "So, they assumed that what was being done to the human body was the same as the treatment for fish."

New evidence asserts why ancient Egyptians used mummification, and it's not what you think
Ancient Egyptian mummies.

They used "natron" to preserve them.

The salty material utilized by the ancient Egyptians was not the same salt used to preserve the daily catch. This naturally occurring mineral, also known as natron, which is a mixture of sodium carbonate, sodium bicarbonate, sodium chloride, and sodium sulfate, was common near lake beds near the Nile and was a crucial component in mummification.

"We also know that natron was used in temple rituals [and applied to] the statues of gods," Price said to LiveScience. "It was used for cleansing,"

"Look at frankincense and myrrh — they're in the Christian story of Jesus and were gifts from the three wise men," Price said. "In ancient Egyptian history, we've found that they were also appropriate gifts for a god."

"Senetjer" or "to make divine"

Price also gave information about ancient Egyptians' approach to divinity.

"Even the word for incense in ancient Egyptian was 'senetjer and literally means 'to make divine.' When you're burning incense in a temple, that's appropriate because that's the house of a god and makes the space divine. But then, when you're using incense resins on the body, you're making the body divine and into a godly being. You're not necessarily preserving it." 

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Myrrh and Ancient Egypt

A gum resin known as myrrh is obtained from various tiny, thorny tree species in the genus Commiphora. Myrrh resin has been utilized historically as a medication, incense, and fragrance. In ancient cultures, myrrh was frequently combined with posca or wine for general merriment and as an analgesic.

One of the most revered botanical ingredients in ancient Egypt was myrrh, which was offered as a priceless gift to all the Deities. Essential oil and gum resin were its two main uses. Myrrh gum resin was regularly burned as incense, and myrrh oil was regarded as one of Egypt's "Seven Sacred Oils."

One of the most significant ingredients used in mummification was myrrh oil, which is why some ancient Egyptian mummies still have a myrrh-like aroma. An old passage states, "Death is before me today, like the aroma of myrrh." There was a legend that myrrh came from the underworld.

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