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I'm curious as to when the Egyptians stopped wrapping their dead in thin strips of fabric and transitioned to burial shrouds. Any historical speculation as to the reasons for this transition would be appreciated as well.
TL;DR: Roughly around the 3rd century AD, because Christianity.
Here is an article that briefly describes the historical development of ancient Egyptian mummification practices, including their decline.
In the Late Period and Ptolemaic Period (525-30 B.C.), the technical proficiency of the embalmers began to decline. During the Roman occupation of Egypt (30 B.C.-4th century AD.), the attention of the embalmers was focused almost entirely on the outer wrappings of the mummy. These elaborate wrappings, however, masked the evermore careless treatment of the remains. With the rise of Christianity in Egypt, the art of mummification, along with the ancient religious beliefs which governed it, gradually declined.
A Wikipedia article about Roman Egypt further highlights the influence of Christianity:
During the 5th and 6th centuries the Eastern Roman Empire, today known as the Byzantine Empire, gradually transformed itself into a thoroughly Christian state whose culture differed significantly from its pagan past… The triumph of Christianity led to a virtual abandonment of pharaonic traditions: with the disappearance of the Egyptian priests and priestesses who officiated at the temples, no-one could read the hieroglyphs of Pharaonic Egypt, and its temples were converted to churches or abandoned to the desert.
Mummies in the Roman period are known for their realistic facial portraits. According to a Wikipedia article about these portraits, "they were mounted into the bands of cloth that were used to wrap the bodies," and their production "reduced considerably since the beginning of the 3rd century." However, this article also emphasizes that relatively little is known about the final decline of earlier burial practices and that there were complex reasons involved.
The Book of the Dead was Egyptians' Inside Guide To The Underworld
In 1842, the German Egyptologist Karl Richard Lepsius transformed understanding of Egyptian spirituality after he published a collection of ancient mortuary texts. Known in ancient Egypt as “The Chapters of Going Forth by Day,” Lepsius dubbed it the Book of the Dead. Its 200 chapters are a thrilling insight into beliefs about the trials, joys, and fears on the journey into death’s mysterious realm.
For centuries, it was assumed the writings found in Egyptian tombs were passages from ancient scripture. Later, when scholars learned to decipher hieroglyphs, they discovered that these texts were spells—magic “road maps” provided to the dead to navigate their way safely through the afterlife. (Explore the 4,400-year-old untouched tomb discovered at Saqqara.)
Objects accompanied the dead on their journey, such as the pectoral depicting Ahmose I, found in the coffin of his mother.
Although scholars had known of the magical content of the writings before Lepsius’s publication, his careful ordering of the spells and the assigning of a chapter number to each is the system still used to study them today. However, there is no uniform version of the Book of the Dead. Of the many versions of the spells that have been found, the texts’construction are not exactly alike—yet the arrangement of Lepsius’s publication helped scholars to see this body of work as a more coherent whole.
Passages have been found inscribed on rolls of papyrus, on the bandages used in mummification, on tombs, and on the sarcophagi and grave goods of the dead. Originally intended solely for the use of royalty, the oldest parts of the Book of the Dead were drawn from funerary writings known as the Pyramid Texts, which date back as far as the Egyptian Old Kingdom, to as early as 2300 B.C.
How and when the Book of the Dead first came to be compiled is a mystery. The earliest known example appeared on the sarcophagus of the 13th-dynasty queen Mentuhotep (1633-1552 B.C.). Between the Middle and New Kingdoms, use of the Book of the Dead was no longer limited to royalty. Anyone with enough money to produce or acquire a version of the text could, it was hoped, increase their chances of a smooth passage through the afterlife.
By the New Kingdom (circa 1539–1075 B.C.), access to the Book of the Dead was more widespread. Some copies were lavishly illustrated and costly others seem more mass-produced with blank spaces where the deceased’s name could be filled in to personalize their copy. Despite the text’s long evolution, however, its function remained the same for royalty and nonroyalty alike: to ease the passage of the deceased through the underworld, offering them protection to face the ordeals and terrors lying in wait there. (Take a look at Egypt's stunning life-lifelike mummy portraits.)
Early Dynastic Mummification
By the Early Dynastic Period, bodies were wrapped in linen and placed in rectangular clay or wooden coffin in a flexed position with their arms by their sides. Some bodies from the First Dynasty were placed on beds (a practice revived in the Greco-Roman Period). The bandages used to wrap bodies may have been treated with natron and resins to help preserve the body, but the viscera were not removed. Unfortunately, mummies from this time period have not been properly tested, and were not well looked after when discovered.
The earliest example of a royal mummy is the linen wrapped arm of Djer (or possibly his wife) which was discovered by Petrie in 1900. He sent it to the Cairo Museum, where the curator removed the bracelets which were still in place, but then threw away the arm!
Thankfully, Quibell took greater care of a Second Dynasty mummy of a noble woman which he recovered in 1911. The body of the woman was most likely dried out with natron and washed. She was then placed on her side in a flexed position and each of her limbs wrapped separately.
Ancient Egypt: Death and the Afterlife
The Egyptians believed that after death they would have a new kind of life called the afterlife. As well as needing all their everyday possessions for the next life, they also needed their bodies and so they were preserved or mummified after they died.
It took 70 days to fully prepare a body for burial, although sometimes poorer people might be mummified in less than a week. The process of preparing the body to stop it decaying is known as embalming.
Ten Ancient Egyptian Embalming Tips
1. The embalmers first had to remove the moist parts of body which would rot. The brain was removed through the nostrils with a hook and thrown away because it was not believed to be important.
2. The internal organs were removed through a cut in the left side of the body. The lungs, liver, stomach and intestines were mummified separately and placed in special containers called canopic jars.
3. The heart was left in the mummy in order to be weighed against the 'Feather of Truth and Justice' in the afterlife by the God Anubis. If the deceased had done bad things then their heart would be heavy and they would not be allowed into the afterlife. Instead Ammit (who was part crocodile, lion and hippopotamus) would devour them. Only if the heart weighed the same as the feather could the deceased person go into the afterlife.
4. The body was covered in a kind of salt called natron for 40 days to dissolve body fats and absorb the moisture.
5. Linen was used to pad out the cavities and the body was treated with herbs, oils and resin.
6. Make-up, jewellery and a wig were usually placed on the body. Any missing or damaged parts would be replaced with wooden parts so that the person's body would be complete in the afterlife.
7. Protective amulets (necklaces) were placed on the body like the scarab amulet and the wedjat eye amulet.
8. The embalmers then wrapped the body in linen bandages this took 15 days while spells and rituals were performed to ensure safe passage to the afterlife. The body was fitted with a mask and placed in a coffin or series of coffins.
9. The 'Opening of the Mouth' ceremony took place just before burial. The priest would touch the face of the coffin with special instruments to restore speech, sight and hearing for the afterlife.
10. The coffin was then placed in the tomb and surrounded by possessions and small model workers called shabtis , who would work for the dead in the afterlife.
Wealthy Egyptians were buried with larger quantities of luxury items, but all burials, regardless of social status, included goods for the deceased. Beginning in the New Kingdom, books of the dead were included in the grave, along with shabti statues that were believed to perform manual labor for them in the afterlife Rituals in which the deceased was magically re-animated accompanied burials. After the burial , living relatives were expected to occasionally bring food to the tomb and recite prayers on behalf of the deceased.
Throughout Ancient Egyptian history, despite many changes in emphasis and fashion, there were two major themes in the decoration of coffins. These reflected two of the most important strands of belief concerning the afterlife. The first theme concerned the sun god. According to one major creation myth, the sun god was the maker of the universe. The other major theme of coffin decoration incorporated elements drawn from the myth of Osiris.
The intention was to commemorate the life of the tomb owner, provide supplies necessary for the afterlife, depict performance of the burial rites, and in general present an environment that would be conducive to the tomb owner’s rebirth.
Death & Bereavement in Judaism: Ancient Burial Practices
Decent burial was regarded to be of great importance in ancient Israel, as in the rest of the ancient Near East. Not only the Egyptians, whose extravagant provision for the dead is well known, but also the peoples of Mesopotamia dreaded above all else the thought of lying unburied. One of the most frequently employed curses found in Mesopotamian texts is: "May the earth not receive your corpses," or the equivalent. In the same way one can measure the importance that Israelites attached to burial by the frequency with which the Bible refers to the fear of being left unburied. Thus, one of the curses for breach of the covenant is: "Thy carcasses shall be food unto all fowls of the air, and unto the beasts of the earth" (Deut. 28:26). Again and again the prophets use this threat, especially Jeremiah. He says, in judgment on King Jehoiakim, "He shall be buried with the burial of an ass, drawn and cast forth beyond the gates of Jerusalem" (22:19).
There is also abundant positive evidence for the importance of burial. Abraham's purchase of the cave at Machpelah as a family tomb (Gen. 23) and the subsequent measures taken by later patriarchs to ensure that they would be buried there (Gen. 49:29 50:25) occupy a prominent place in the patriarchal narratives. Biblical biographies ordinarily end with the statement that a man died, and an account of his burial (e.g., Josh. 24:30), especially if this was in some way unusual (e.g., that of Uzziah, the leprous king, II Chron. 26:23) this is not only a literary convention, but reflects the value assigned to proper interment. To give a decent burial to a stranger ranks with giving bread to the hungry and garments to the naked (Tob. 1:17). Tombs of the Israelite period in modern-day Israel show that considerable, though not lavish, care was given by those who could afford it, to the hewing out of tombs and the provision of grave goods.
Nevertheless, this assessment of the importance of decent burial must be qualified. Archaeology reveals no distinctively Israelite burial practices during almost the whole of the biblical period. The Israelites continued to use modes of burial employed in modern-day Israel long before the conquest. It follows that it is risky to draw firm conclusions about Israelite religious beliefs on the basis of specific burial practices, e.g., the provision of grave goods or lack of them, communal or individual burial, and so on, since any or all of these may have been dictated by immemorial custom rather than by consciously held conviction. The law says relatively little about burial, and where it treats the subject, the concern is to avoid defilement by the dead (Num. 19:16 Deut. 21:22). The dead do not praise God, they are forgotten and cut off from His hand (Ps. 88:6, 10), and in consequence mourning and the burial of the dead are at most peripheral matters in Israelite religion.
The one thing expressed most clearly by Israelite burial practices is the common human desire to maintain some contact with the community even after death, through burial in one's native land at least, and if possible with one's ancestors. "Bury me with my fathers," Jacob's request (Gen. 49:29), was the wish of every ancient Israelite. Thus, the aged Barzillai did not wish to go with David, "that I may die in mine own city, [and be buried] by the grave of my father and of my mother" (II Sam. 19:38) and Jerusalem was beloved to Nehemiah, in exile, as "the city of my fathers' sepulchers" (Neh. 2:5). In harmony with this desire, the tomb most typical of the Israelite period is a natural cave or a chamber cut into soft rock, near the city. Bodies would be laid on rock shelves provided on three sides of the chamber, or on the floor, and as generations of the same family used the tomb, skeletons and grave goods might be heaped up along the sides or put into a side chamber to make room for new burials. This practice of family burial, though not universal if only because not all could afford it (see references to the graves of the common people in II Kings 23:6 Jer. 26:23), was common enough to give rise to the Hebrew expressions "to sleep with one's fathers" (e.g., I Kings 11:23) and "to be gathered to one's kin" (Gen. 25:8 et al.) as synonyms for "to die."
There is no explicit biblical evidence as to how soon after death burial took place (Deut. 21:23 refers to hanged criminals only), but it is likely that it was ordinarily within a day after death. This was dictated by the climate and by the fact that the Israelites did not embalm the dead (Jacob and Joseph were embalmed following Egyptian custom, Gen. 50:2, 26). Cremation was not practiced by the ancient Israelites. There is no archaeological evidence that this was their practice, and the references to "burnings" at the funeral of certain kings (Jer. 34:5 II Chron. 16:14 21:19) presumably refer to the burning of incense or some of the king's possessions, not the body. On the other hand, it may be going too far to say, as is often done, that cremation was regarded as an outrage. That the men of Jabesh-Gilead burned the mutilated bodies of Saul and his sons is not spoken of as a desecration, but as part of their loyalty (sed) to their overlord (I Sam. 31:9 II Sam. 2:5). The references to burning of certain criminals, often cited in this connection, refer to a mode of execution, not to a mode of burial (Gen. 38:24 Lev. 20:14 21:9), and note the remarkable way in which the Mishnah (Sanh. 7:2) prescribes that this be carried out – burning of the corpse is not involved. Bodies were buried clothed and carried to the tomb on a bier (II Sam. 3:31), but not in a coffin. Joseph's coffin is to be understood as Egyptian custom (Gen. 50:26).
The New Testament sheds some light on Jewish burial practices of the first century C.E. Jesus' disciples took his body, bought a great quantity of myrrh and aloes, "and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury" (John 19:40). There was a delay in completing the preparation of the body for burial because of the Sabbath (Mark 16:1 Luke 23:56). Luke (7:11) gives a vivid picture of the simple funeral of the poor the body of a young man of Nain is borne out of the city on a pallet, clothed but without coffin, followed by the weeping mother and "much people of the city."
In Post-Biblical Times
Rabbinic legend stressed the antiquity of inhumation by relating that Adam and Eve learned the art of burial from a raven which showed them how to dispose of the body of their dead son Abel by scratching away at a spot in the earth where it had interred one of its own kin (PdRE 21). Maimonides ruled that even a testamentary direction not to be buried is to be overruled by the scriptural injunction of burial (Maim. Yad, Evel, 12:1 and Sefer ha-Mitzvot, Positive Commandments no. 231). The Talmud (Git. 61a) rules that the burial of gentiles is also a religious duty (cf. Tosef., Git. 5:5 and TJ, Git. 5:9, 47c).
In talmudic times, burial took place in caves, hewn tombs, sarcophagi, and catacombs and a secondary burial, i.e., a re-interment ( likkut a𞤺mot ) of the remains sometimes took place about one year after the original burial in ossuaries (Maim. Yad, Evel, 12:8). The rabbinic injunction (Sanh. 47a) that neither the righteous and the sinners, nor two enemies (Jeroham b. Meshullam, Sefer Adam ve-vvah (Venice, 1553), 231d, netiv 28) should be buried side by side is the origin of the custom of reserving special rows in the cemetery for rabbis, scholars, and prominent persons.
Jewish custom insists on prompt burial as a matter of respect for the dead, a consideration of particular relevance in hot climates. According to one kabbalistic source, burial refreshes the soul of the deceased, and only after burial will it be admitted to God's presence (Midrash ha-Ne'lam to Ruth cf. Zohar, Ex. 151a). The precedents set by the prompt burials of Sarah (Gen. 23) and of Rachel (Gen. 35:19) are reinforced by the Torah's express command that even the body of a man who had been hanged shall not remain upon the tree all night, but "thou shalt surely bury him the same day" (Deut. 21:23). The Talmud (BK 81a) states that speedy burial of a corpse found unattended (met mitzvah) was one of the ten enactments ordained by Joshua at the conquest of Canaan and is incumbent even on the high priest who was otherwise forbidden to become unclean through contact with the dead (Nazir 7:1). Josephus records that it is forbidden to let a corpse lie unburied (Apion, 2:211), and consideration for the dead is one of the central features of Tobit (2:8). Some delays in burial are, however, justified: "Honor of the dead" demands that the proper preparation for a coffin and shrouds be made, and that relatives and friends pay their last respects (Sanh. 47a Sh. Ar., YD 357:1). Even then, however, only a few hours should elapse (David b. Solomon ibn Abi Zimra, Responsa, Warsaw ed., 1 (1882), no. 311). In talmudic times, while the burial was not delayed, graves were "watched" for a period of three days to avoid all possibility of pseudo-death (Sem. 8:1). Later, however, it became customary to bury as soon after death as possible and in 1772, when the duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin (with Moses Mendelssohn's approval) decreed an interval of three days before the burial, the leading rabbinic authorities protested vigorously (tam Sofer, YD 338). Certain delays are unavoidable. Funerals may not take place on the Sabbath or on the Day of Atonement and although the rabbis at one time permitted funerals on the first day of a festival, provided that certain functions were performed by gentiles, and regarded the second day of yom tov as a weekday as far as the dead are concerned (Be𞤺h 6a), some modern communities prefer postponement. Where there are two interments at the same time, respect demands that the burial of a scholar precedes that of an am ha-areẓ ("average citizen"), and that of a woman always precedes that of a man.
The duty of burial, although primarily an obligation incumbent on the heirs (Gen. 23:3 and 25:9 Ket 48a), ultimately rests with the whole community. In talmudic times, the communal fraternal societies ( vra kaddisha ) for the burial of the dead evolved out of an appreciation of this duty (MK 27b).
Similarly, escorting the dead (especially a deceased scholar) to his last resting place is considered a great mitzvah "the fruit of which a man enjoys in this world while the stock remains for him in the world to come" (Peɺh 1:1 as adapted in the morning service). It justifies even an interruption in the study of the Torah (Ket. 17a and Sh. Ar., YD 361:1) and is called "the true kindness" (sed shel emet) since one can expect no reciprocation of any sort (Rashi to Gen. 47:29 cf. Gen. R., ad loc.). Josephus states that "All who pass by when a corpse is buried must accompany the funeral and join in the lamentations" (Apion, 2:205) the minimum duty is to rise as the funeral cortege passes (TJ, Bik. 3:3, 65c Sh. Ar., YD 361:4), and accompany it for four cubits ("four paces"). "One who sees a funeral procession and does not escort it," states the Talmud (Ber. 18a), "transgresses thereby 'whoso mocketh the poor (i.e., the dead) blasphemeth his Maker' (Prov. 17:5), and should be placed under a ban" (YD 361:3). Only if the hearse passes a bridal cortege is the bride given preference: to honor the living is considered greater than to honor the dead (Ket. 17a, Sem. 11:6, although cf. Maimonides' conflicting opinion, Yad, Evel 14:8). A custom instituted by kabbalists, and still largely observed in Jerusalem, forbids sons to follow the bier of their father and attend his funeral.
In rabbinic times, funeral processions were led by lamenting female mourners, often professionals. The Mishnah quotes R. Judah as ruling that "even the poorest in Israel should hire not less than two flutes and one wailing woman" for his wife's funeral (Ket. 4:4). Women also composed elegies that were chanted aloud, as evidenced by the Talmud's inclusion of eight elegies attributed to the women of Shoken-Zeb in Babylon (MK 28b). Prohibitions against women's voices being heard in public were relaxed for funerary rituals (Kid. 80b Suk. 52a). The more elaborate ancient rituals have either disappeared or been modernized. The recital of psalms in the home still precedes the burial act however, the custom of having musicians (Ket. 46b), torchbearers, and barefooted professional mourners in the funeral procession has been discontinued. In Great Britain, the custom of reciting the meḥillah (asking pardon of the corpse on the arrival at the cemetery) was discontinued by Chief Rabbi Marcus Adler in 1887. The dressing (halbashah) of the dead (even princes) in costly garments of gold or silver is forbidden (Maim., Yad, Evel 4:2), despite the rabbis' view that anyone who dresses the dead in comely shrouds (takhrikhim, from the Hebrew verb "to wrap up") testifies to a belief in the resurrection (Nimmukei Yosef to Alfasi, MK 17a). R. Judah ha-Nasi expressly ordered that he be buried in a simple linen shirt (MK 27b). Since talmudic times, it has been customary to bury a male in the tallit which he had used during his lifetime, after its fringes have been deliberately rendered ritually unfit. The victim of an unnatural death is buried in his blood-soaked garments over which the white shrouds are placed in order that all parts of the body should be interred (Naḥmanides, Torat ha-Adam Inyan ha-ho𞤺ɺh).
Coffins were unknown to the early Israelites (as they are to contemporary Oriental Jewry). The corpse was laid horizontally and face upward on a bier (II Sam. 3:31) the custom of burying important personages in coffins evolved only later. R. Judah ha-Nasi, however, ordered that holes be drilled in the base of his coffin so that his body might touch the soil (TJ, Kil. 9:4, 32b) and Maimonides mentions the custom of burial in wooden coffins (Yad, Evel 4:4). In Ereẓ Israel, coffins are not usually used. In the Diaspora, it is still customary to spread earth from Ereẓ Israel on the head and face of the corpse, but the customs of placing ink and pen beside a deceased bridegroom (Sem. 8:7) and a key and book of accounts beside a childless man (ibid.) have been discontinued (Baḥ, YD 350). The older practice of food offerings to the dead (Deut. 26:14 Tob. 4:17 Ecclus. 30:18), of placing lamps in graves, and of burying the personal effects of princes and notables with the corpse (as was done for Gamaliel I by Onkelos (Av. Zar. 11a)), have completely disappeared. The more recent custom of placing flowers on the grave is discouraged by Orthodox rabbis because of ḥukkat ha-goi . Before the funeral, the mourners tear their upper garment as a symbol of mourning ( Keriɺh ).
The funeral service, now often conducted in the vernacular, varies according to the age of the deceased. A male child who died before he was seven days old is circumcised and given a Hebrew name at the cemetery (Haggahot Maimoniyyot, Milah 1:15). Only two men and one woman participate at the funeral of children who die before they reach the age of 30 days, although children who have learned to walk and thus are already known to many people are escorted as adults. In such and normal cases, the coffin is carried on the shoulders of the pallbearers into the cemetery prayer hall (ohel Maim., Yad, Evel 4:2) where the ẓidduk ha-din ("acknowledgment of the Divine judgment") beginning with the affirmation "The Rock, His work is perfect, for all His ways are judgment" is recited. In some communities, this prayer is recited after the coffin has been lowered into the grave, and on those days on which the Tanun is not said, Psalm 16 is substituted for ẓidduk ha-din. In the cemetery while the coffin is being borne to the grave, it is customary (except on those days when the Tanun is not recited) to halt at least three times and recite Psalm 91. In talmudic times, seven stops were made for lamentations (see Ket. 2:10 BB 6:7), symbolizing the seven times that the word hevel ("vanity") occurs in Ecclesiastes 1:2 (BB 100b) corresponding to the days of the creation of the world and also to the seven stages which man experiences during his lifetime (Eccles. R. 1:2). Some Sephardi rites have the custom of seven hakkafot ("circumambulations") at the grave.
When the coffin is lowered into the grave, those present say, "May he (or she) come to his (or her) place in peace" they then fill in the grave. As they leave, they throw grass and earth behind them in the direction of the grave, while saying, "Remember (God) that we are of dust." Prior to leaving the cemetery they wash their hands (in Jerusalem, it is customary not to dry them afterward). In the ohel, Psalm 91 and the Kaddish are recited by the mourners. The participants at the funeral then recite "May the Almighty comfort you among the other mourners for Zion and Jerusalem" as they stand in two rows between which the mourners pass. The precise order of the funeral varies from place to place and from community to community. Many of the customs among the Sephardi Jews are closer to those of talmudic times than Ashkenazi customs.
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.
The first civilization to practice mummification
The oldest deliberately interred mummies were unearthed in the Camarones Valley of Chile. This valley is in the far north of the country, in a region called the Atacama Desert. A narrow strip of land between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes Mountains, this desert receives little rainfall and is considered one of the driest places on Earth. The mummies there were found in 1917 by the German archaeologist Max Uhle at Chinchorro Beach near the town of Arica, CNN reported.
The mummies belong to what Uhle called the Chinchorro culture (9,000 to 3,100 years ago), who lived in what is now southern Peru and northern Chile. Chinchorro people settled in coastal villages and relied on fishing as their primary means of subsistence, using fishing hooks made out of shellfish. They also hunted animals on land and gathered edible plants from the surrounding area.
The Chinchorro practice of mummification began around 7,000 years ago, some two millennia before the first known Egyptian mummies, according to the same CNN report. Although the practice became more sophisticated over time, the basic process remained the same. It involved the removal of soft tissue, organs and brains. The hollow body was then dried out and reassembled. The skin was stuffed with reeds, dried plants or other vegetal matter. Sticks were inserted into the arms and legs. Clay masks were placed on the corpses' faces and wigs were often attached. The finished mummy was then painted.
During the early phases of Chinchorro society (about 7,050 &ndash 4,500 years ago), mummies were painted with black manganese. From 2500 B.C. until the practice died out sometime during the first century B.C., red ochre replaced the manganese. Not just the elite but all segments of Chinchorro society were mummified, including infants, children, adults and even fetuses.
Who Was Mummified
After death, the pharaohs of Egypt usually were mummified and buried in elaborate tombs. Members of the nobility and officials also often received the same treatment, and occasionally, common people. However, the process was an expensive one, beyond the means of many.
For religious reasons, some animals were also mummified. The sacred bulls from the early dynasties had their own cemetery at Sakkara. Baboons, cats, birds, and crocodiles, which also had great religious significance, were sometimes mummified, especially in the later dynasties.
1 Time of Burial
The Hebrews buried their dead immediately, no later than a day after the person passed away. According to the "Jewish Encyclopedia," this custom stems from the Mosaic Law, which ordered that any person hung from a "tree" or "cross" as a form of execution, should be taken down and buried within a day after death. And while this law applies directly to the bodies of executed criminals, the Hebrews generally applied it to everyone. Jesus Christ, after he died from execution on a "tree" or "cross," was buried within a day.
When did the Egyptians stop wrapping their dead in bandages? - History
Ancient Egyptian civilization was based on religion their belief in the rebirth after death became their driving force behind their funeral practices. Death was simply a temporary interruption, rather than complete cessation, of life, and that eternal life could be ensured by means like piety to the gods, preservation of the physical form through Mummification, and the provision of statuary and other funerary equipment. Each human consisted of the physical body, the 'ka', the 'ba', and the 'akh'. The Name and Shadow were also living entities. To enjoy the afterlife, all these elements had to be sustained and protected from harm.
Before the Old Kingdom, bodies buried in desert pits were naturally preserved by desiccation. The arid, desert conditions continued to be a boon throughout the history of ancient Egypt for the burials of the poor, who could not afford the elaborate burial preparations available to the elite. Wealthier Egyptians began to bury their dead in stone tombs and, as a result, they made use of artificial mummification, which involved removing the internal organs, wrapping the body in linen, and burying it in a rectangular stone sarcophagus or wooden coffin. Beginning in the Fourth Dynasty, some parts were preserved separately in canopic jars.
By the New Kingdom, the ancient Egyptians had perfected the art of mummification the best technique took 70 days and involved removing the internal organs, removing the brain through the nose, and desiccating the body in a mixture of salts called natron. The body was then wrapped in linen with protective amulets inserted between layers and placed in a decorated anthropoid coffin. Mummies of the Late Period were also placed in painted cartonnage mummy cases. Actual preservation practices declined during the Ptolemaic and Roman eras, while greater emphasis was placed on the outer appearance of the mummy, which was decorated.
Wealthy Egyptians were buried with larger quantities of luxury items, but all burials, regardless of social status, included goods for the deceased. Beginning in the New Kingdom, books of the dead were included in the grave, along with shabti statues that were believed to perform manual labor for them in the afterlife Rituals in which the deceased was magically re-animated accompanied burials. After burial, living relatives were expected to occasionally bring food to the tomb and recite prayers on behalf of the deceased.
Egyptians also believed that being mummified was the only way to have an afterlife. Only if the corpse had been properly embalmed and entombed in a mastaba, could the dead live again in the Fields of Yalu and accompany the Sun on its daily ride.
Anubis and Ma'at
Anubis is the Greek name for a jackal-headed god associated with mummification and the afterlife in Egyptian mythology. In the ancient Egyptian language, Anubis is known as Inpu, (variously spelled Anupu, Ienpw etc.). The oldest known mention of Anubis is in the Old Kingdom pyramid texts, where he is associated with the burial of the king. At this time, Anubis was the most important god of the Dead but he was replaced during the Middle Kingdom by Osiris.
Anubis takes various titles in connection with his funerary role, such as He who is upon his mountain, which underscores his importance as a protector of the deceased and their tombs, and the title He who is in the place of embalming, associating him with the process of mummification. Like many ancient Egyptian deities, Anubis assumes different roles in various contexts, and no public procession in Egypt would be conducted without an Anubis to march at the head.
In Ancient Egyptian religion, when the body died, parts of its soul known as ka (body double) and the ba (personality) would go to the Kingdom of the Dead. While the soul dwelt in the Fields of Aaru, Osiris demanded work as payback for the protection he provided. Statues were placed in the tombs to serve as substitutes for the deceased.
The Funerary Scene
Arriving at one's reward in afterlife was a demanding ordeal, requiring a sin-free heart and the ability to recite the spells, passwords, and formulae of the Book of the Dead.
In the Hall of Two Truths, the deceased's heart was weighed against the Shu feather of truth and justice taken from the headdress of the goddess Ma'at. If the heart was lighter than the feather, they could pass on, but if it were heavier they would be devoured by the demon Ammut. This scene depicts what occurs after a person has died, according to the ancient Egyptians.
Beginning with the upper left-hand corner, the deceased appears before a panel of 14 judges to make an accounting for his deeds during life. The ankh, the key of life, appears in the hands of some of the judges.
Next, below, the jackal god Anubis who represents the underworld and mummification leads the deceased before the scale. In his hand, Anubis holds the ankh.
Anubis then weighs the heart of the deceased (left tray) against the feather of Ma'at, goddess of truth and justice (right tray). In some drawings, the full goddess Ma'at, not just her feather, is shown seated on the tray. Note that Ma'at's head, crowned by the feather, also appears atop the fulcrum of the scale. If the heart of the deceased outweighs the feather, then the deceased has a heart which has been made heavy with evil deeds. In that event, Ammut the god with the crocodile head and hippopotamus legs will devour the heart, condemning the deceased to oblivion for eternity. But if the feather outweighs the heart, and then the deceased has led a righteous life and may be presented before Osiris to join the afterlife. Thoth, the ibis-headed god of wisdom stands at the ready to record the outcome.
Horus, the god with the falcon head, then leads the deceased to Osiris. Note the ankh in Horus' hand. Horus represents the personification of the Pharaoh during life, and his father Osiris represents the personification of the Pharaoh after death.
Osiris, lord of the underworld, sits on his throne, represented as a mummy. On his head is the white crown of Lower Egypt (the north). He holds the symbols of Egyptian kingship in his hands: the shepherd's crook to symbolize his role as shepherd of mankind, and the flail, to represent his ability to separate the wheat from the chaff. Behind him stand his wife Isis and her sister Nephthys. Isis is the one in red, and Nephthys is the one in green. Together, Osiris, Isis, and Nephthys welcome the deceased to the underworld.
The tomb-owner would continue after death the occupations of this life and so everything required was packed in the tomb along with the body. Writing materials were often supplied along with clothing, wigs, and hairdressing supplies and assorted tools,depending on the occupation of the deceased.
Often model tools rather than full size ones would be placed in the tomb models were cheaper and took up less space and in the after-life would be magically transformed into the real thing. Things might include a headrest, glass vessels which may have contained perfume and a slate palette for grinding make-up.
Food was provided for the deceased and should the expected regular offerings of the descendants cease, food depicted on the walls of the tomb would be magically transformed to supply the needs of the dead.
Images on tombs might include a triangular shaped piece of bread (part of the food offerings from a tomb). Other images might represent food items that the tomb owner would have eaten in his lifetime and hoped to eat in the after-life.
Life was dominated by Ma'at, or the concept of justice and order. Egyptians believed there were different levels of goodness and evil. Egyptians believed that part of the personality, called the Ka, remained in the tomb. Thus elaborate and complex burial practices developed.
The removed internal organs were separately treated and, during much of Egyptian history, placed in jars of clay or stone. These so-called Canopic Jars were closed with stoppers fashioned in the shape of four heads -- human, baboon, falcon, and jackal - representing the four protective spirits called the Four Sons of Horus.
The heart was removed to be weighed against a feather representing Ma'at to determine moral righteousness. The brain was sucked out of the cranial cavity and thrown away because the Egyptian's thought it was useless. Personal belongings were usually placed in the tomb to make the Ka more at home and to assist the dead in their journey into the afterlife.
Text was read from the 'Book of the Dead' and the ritual of "openingthe mouth" was performed before the tomb was sealed.
Ancient Egyptian Tombs
Much of what we know about art and life in ancient Egypt has been preserved in the tombs that were prepared for the protection of the dead. The Egyptians believed that the next life had to be provided for in every detail and, as a result, tombs were decorated with depictions of the deceased at his funerary meal, activities of the estate and countryside, and the abundant offerings necessary to sustain the spirit.
Many surviving Egyptian works of art were created to be placed in the tombs of officials and their families. Through the ritual of "opening the mouth," a statue of the deceased (known as a "ka statue") was thought to become a living repository of a person's spirit. Wall paintings, reliefs, and models depict pleasurable pastimes and occupations of daily life. Always these images have deeper meanings of magical protection, sustenance, and rebirth. The mummy was surrounded with magic spells, amulets, and representations of protective deities.
Coffin of a Middle Kingdom Official
At the near end of the coffin a goddess stands, her arms raised protectively. The hieroglyphic inscriptions are magical requests for offerings and protection. Small magical amulets made of semiprecious stones or faience were placed within the linen wrappings of the mummy. Many of them were hieroglyphic signs.
For Egyptians, the cycles of human life, rebirth, and afterlife mirrored the reproductive cycles that surrounded them in the natural world. After death, the Egyptians looked forward to continuing their daily lives as an invisible spirit among their descendents on Earth in Egypt, enjoying all the pleasures of life with none of its pain or hardships. This vision is vividly depicted in the sculptures, reliefs, and wall paintings of Egyptian tombs, with the deceased portrayed in the way he or she wished to remain forever accompanied by images of family and servants. These forms of art not only reflect the Egyptians' love of life but also by their very presence made the afterlife a reality.
This is a tomb painting from the tomb of a man named Menna.
The Egyptians believed that the pleasures of life could be made permanent through scenes like this one of Menna hunting in the Nile marshes. In this painting Menna, the largest figure, is shown twice. He is spear fishing on the right and flinging throwing sticks at birds on the left. His wife, the second-largest figure, and his daughter and son are with him. By their gestures they assist him and express their affection. The son on the left is drawing attention with a pointed finger to the two little predators (a cat and an ichneumon) that are about to steal the birds' eggs. Pointed fingers were a magical gesture for averting evil in ancient Egypt, and the attack on the nest may well be a reminder of the vulnerability of life.
Overall, scenes of life in the marshes, which were depicted in many New Kingdom tombs, also had a deeper meaning. The Nile marshes growing out of the fertile mud of the river and the abundant wildlife supported by that environment symbolized rejuvenation and eternal life.
The figures in Menna's family are ordered within two horizontal rows, or registers, and face toward the center in nearly identical groups that fit within a triangular shape.
Mummies and Coffins
The mummy was placed in a brightly painted wooden coffin. The elaborate decoration on Nes-mut-aat-neru's coffin fits her status as a member of the aristocracy. A central band contains symbols of rebirth flanked by panels featuring images of god and goddesses. Look for the central panel that shows the winged scarab beetle hovering protectively over the mummy (probably meant to represent the mummy of the Nes-mut-aat-neru herself).
The large white pillar painted on the back of the coffin forms a "backbone." This provides symbolic support for the mummy and displays an inscription detailing Nes-mut-aat-neru's ancestry
Next the mummy and coffin were placed in another wooden coffin. Like the first coffin, it is in the shape of the mummy but more simply decorated. The inside of the base is painted with a full-length figure of a goddess.
The lid again shows Nes-mut-aat-neru's face, wig and elaborate collar. Here too the scarab beetle with outstretched wings hovers over the mummy. Below the scarab look for a small scene showing the deceased Nes-mut-aat-neru worshipping a god, and a two-column inscription.
Finally the mummy and coffins were placed in a rectangular outermost coffin made primarily out of sycamore wood. The posts of the coffin are inscribed with religious texts. On the top of the coffin sits an alert jackal, probably a reference to Anubis, the jackal-headed god who was the patron of embalmers and protector of cemeteries.
These two wooden boxes filled with mud shawabti figures were found with Nes-mut-aat-neru's elaborate nested coffins. Shawabti figures were molded in the shape of a mummified person, and were designed to do any work that the gods asked the deceased's spirit to do in the afterworld.
Stone Coffin - Sarcophagus
Masks of deceased persons are part of traditions in many countries. The most important process of the funeral ceremony in ancient Egypt was the mummification of the body, which, after prayers and consecration, was put into a sarcophagus enameled and decorated with gold and gems. A special element of the rite was a sculpted mask, put on the face of the deceased. This mask was believed to strengthen the spirit of the mummy and guard the soul from evil spirits on its way to the afterworld.
The best known mask is that of Tutankhamun now in the Egyptian Antiquities Museum in Cairo. Made of gold and gems, the mask conveys the features of the ancient ruler. Most funerary masks were not made of solid gold, however, living persons in ancient Egypt might have employed transformational spells to assume nonhuman forms. These masks were not made from casts of the features rather, the mummification process itself preserved the features of the deceased.
Masks were a very important aspect of Ancient Egyptian burials. In common with the anthropoid coffin they provided the dead with a face in the afterlife. In addition they also enabled the spirit to recognize the body.
Masked priests, priestesses or magicians, disguising themselves as divine beings, such as Anubis or Beset, almost assuredly assumed such identities to exert the powers associated with those deities. Funerary masks and other facial coverings for mummies emphasized the ancient
Egyptian belief in the fragile state of transition that the dead would have to successfully transcend in their physical and spiritual journey from this world to their divine transformation in the next. Hence, whether worn by the living or the dead, masks played a similar role of magically transforming an individual from a mortal to a divine state.
On various artifacts, we find numerous examples in art, beginning with the Predynastic palettes (such as the Two-Dog palette), representations of anthropomorphic beings with the heads of animals, birds or other fantastic creatures. Some of these are understood to have probably been humans dressed as deities, though the ancient Egyptians probably saw them as images or manifestations of the gods themselves. This was probably most evident in three dimensional representations such as the Middle Kingdom female figure from Western Thebes (modern Luxor), now in the collection of the Manchester Museum and sometimes referred to in earlier texts as a leonine-masked human. Though most certainly a human dressed as an animal, this figure was surely considered an image of Beset.
Two dimensional depictions are more difficult to interpret. The question of the extent to which these depicted masks were used in Egyptian religious rituals has not yet been satisfactorily resolved for all periods of ancient Egyptian history. This may be due to intentional ambiguity. An example is one very common depiction rendered in many mortuary scenes that records the mummification of a body by a jackal-headed being.
Such representations may document the actual mummification rites performed by a jackal-disguised priest, though it may also be interpreted as commemorating that episode of the embalmment by the jackal god Anubis in the mythic account of the death and resurrection of the god of the dead, Osiris, whom the deceased wished to emulate.
Another example is a ritual procession of composite animal and human figures, identified in the accompanying texts, as the souls of Nekhen and Pe, who carry the sacred bark in a procession detailed on the southwestern interior wall of the Hypostyle Hall in the Temple of Amun at Karnak.
Scenes such as this may either be literal records of the historic celebration performed by masked or costumed priests, or alternatively they may represent a visual actualization of faith in the royal dogma, which claimed categorically that the mythic ancestors of the god-king legitimized and supported his reign.
It is thought that the ancient Egyptians did in fact perform some ritual ceremonies wearing such masks, though these ritual objects from the archaeological record are rare. Perhaps this is due to the fragile and perishable materials from which such masks may have been constructed (though surely some were made from gold, thought to be the skin of the gods).
We do have an example of a fragmentary Middle Kingdom Bes-like or Aha (perhaps an ancient god and forerunner of Bes) face of cartonnage recovered by W.M. Flinders Petrie at the town site of Kahun. However, this relic may not have been a mask even though it does appear to have eye holes.
There was also an unusual set of late Middle Kingdom objects found in shaft-tomb 5 under the Ramesseum that included a wooden figurine representing either a lion-headed goddess or a woman wearing a similar kind of mask, which probably connected in some way with the performance of magic.
However, the only incontrovertible evidence for the use of ritual masks by the living are found from Egypt's Late Period. From that time, for example, we have a unique, ceramic mask of the head of the jackal god, Anubis (now in the collection of the Roemer Pelizaeus- Museum, Hildesheim), dating to sometime after 600 BC, which was apparently manufactured specifically as a head covering.
This mask has indentations on both sides which would have allowed it to be supported atop the shoulders. The snout and upraised ears of the jackal head would have surmounted the wearers actual head. Two holes in the neck of the object would have allowed the wearer to view straight ahead. However, lateral vision would have been limited, thus necessitating the wearer's need for assistance, as explicitly depicted in a temple relief at Dendera. In this depiction, the priest wears just such a mask, and is assisted by a companion priest. A description of a festival procession of Isis, which was led by the god Anubis, who was presumably a similarly masked priest, took place not in Egypt but rather in Kenchreai.
Funerary masks had more than one purpose. They were a part of the elaborate precautions taken by the ancient Egyptians to preserve the body after death. The protection of the head was of primary concern during this process. Thus, a face covering helped preserve the head, as well as providing a permanent substitute, in an idealized form which presented the deceased in the likeness of an immortal being, in case of physical damage. Those of means were provided with both a mask with gilt flesh tones and blue wigs, both associated with the glittering flesh and the lapis lazuli hair of the sun god.
Specific features of a mask, including the eyes, eyebrows, forehead and other features, were directly identified with individual divinities, as explained in the Book of the Dead, Spell 151b. This allowed the deceased to arrive safely in the hereafter, and gain acceptance among the other divine immortals in the council of the great god of the dead, Osiris. Though such masks were initially made for only the royalty, later such masks were manufactured for the elite class for both males and females. Beginning in the 4th Dynasty, attempts were made to stiffen and mold the outer layer of linen bandages used in mummification to cover the faces of the deceased and to emphasize prominent facial features in paint.
The forerunners of mummy masks date to this period through the 6th Dynasty, taking the form of thin coatings of plaster molded either directly over the face or on top of the linen wrappings, perhaps fulfilling a similar purpose to the 4th Dynasty reserve heads. A plaster mold, apparently taken directly from the face of a corpse, was excavated from the 6th Dynasty mortuary temple of Teti, though unfortunately, this is thought to date to the Greco-Roman period.
The very earliest masks were experimentally crafted as independent sculptural work, and have been dated to the Herakleopolitan period (late First Intermediate Period). These early masks were made of wood, fashioned in two pieces and held together with pegs, or cartonnage (layers of linen or papyrus stiffened with plaster. They were molded over a wooden model or core.
The masks of both men and women had over-exaggerated eyes and often enigmatic half smiles. These objects were then framed by long, narrow, tripartite wigs held securely by a decorated headband.
The "bib" of the mask extended to cover the chest, and were painted for both males and females with elaborate beading and floral motif necklaces or broad collars that served not only an aesthetic function but also an apotropaic requirement as set out in the funerary spells.
Hollow and solid masks (sometimes of diminutive size) were also built by pouring clay or plaster into generic, often unisex molds. To this, ears and gender specific details were than added. These elongated masks eventually evolved into anthropoid inner coffins, first appearing in the 12th Dynasty.
Masks became increasingly more sophisticated during the New Kingdom and Third Intermediate Period. These later masks made for royalty were beaten from precious metals. Of course, an obvious example of such is the solid gold mask of Tutankhamun, though we also have fine gold and silver specimens from Tanis.
However, masks of all types were embellished with paint, using red for the flesh tones of males and yellow, pale tones for females. Added to this were composite, inlaid eyes or eyebrows, as well as other details that could elevate the cost of the finished product considerably. Hence, indications of social status, including hairstyles, jewelry and costumes (depicted on body-length head covers) are often helpful in dating masks. However, the idealized image of transfigured divinity, which was the objective of the funerary masks, precluded the individualization of masks to the point of portraiture. The results are that we have a relative sameness in these objects with anonymous facial features from all periods of Egyptian history.
The use of face coverings for the dead continued in Egypt for as long as mummification was practiced in Egypt. Regional preferences included cartonnage and plaster masks, both of equal popularity during the Ptolemaic (Greek) period. The cartonnage masks became actually only one part of a complete set of separate cartonnage pieces that covered the wrapped body. This set included a separate cartonnage breastplate and foot case. During the Roman period, plaster masks exhibit Greco-Roman influence only in their coiffures, which were patterned from styles current at the imperial court. This included both beards and mustaches for males, and elaborate coiffures on women, all highly molded in relief.
However, during the Roman period there were alternatives to the cartonnage or plaster mask. Introduced during this period were the so-called Fayoum portraits, which were initially unearthed from cemeteries in the Fayoum and first archaeologically excavated in 1888 and between 1910 and 1911 by Flinders Petrie at Hawara.
Since then, they have been discovered at sites throughout Egypt from the northern coast to Aswan in the south. These were paintings made with encaustic (colored beeswax) or tempera (watercolor) on wooden panels or linen shrouds and were rendered in a Hellenistic style not unlike contemporary frescoes discovered at Pompeii and Herculaneum in Italy. Nevertheless, it is believed that such two-dimensional paintings held the same ideological function as traditional three-dimensional masks.
However, these portraits were popular among nineteenth and early twentieth century collectors and this had a tendency to at first isolate them from their funerary contexts. They were studied by classicists and art historians who, basing their conclusions on details in the paintings along, such as hairstyles, jewelry and costume, identified the portraits as being those of Greek or Roman settlers who had adopted Egyptian burial customs. In fact, successful attempts have been made, based on the analysis of brush strokes and tool marks and the distinctive rendering of anatomical features, to group these portraits according to schools and to identify some individual artistic hands.
However, though the portraits do appear at first to capture the unique features of specific individuals, it appears likely that only the earliest examples were painted from live models. Studies have indicated that the same generic quality that permeates the visages of the cartonnage and plaster masks persists within the group of Fayoum portraits that have been preserved and therefore we believe that they served in a similar fashion as the earlier masks.
There may also be evidence for a cultic use of these paintings while their owners still lived. The fact that the upper corners of some of these panels were cut at an angle to secure a better fit before being positioned over the mummy, that there are signs of wear on paintings in places that would have been covered by the mummy wrappings, and that at least one portrait (now in the British Museum was discovered at Hawara still within a wooden frame indicates that the paintings had a domestic use prior to inclusion within the funerary equipment. They may have been hung in the owners home prior to such use.
Yet the iconographic elements, including gilded lips in accordance with the funerary spells 21 through 23 of the Book of the Dead to insure the power of speech during the afterlife, as well as the allusions to traditional deities, such as the sidelock of Horus worn by adolescents, the pointed star diadem of Serapis worn by men, and the horned solar crown of Isis worn by adult females, together with other evidence, emphasize a continuity of native Egyptian traditions. Though the product of the Hellenistic age of Roman Egypt, they date from the end of a continuum of a desire to permanently preserve the faces of the dead in an idealized and transfigured form that began in the Old Kingdom and lasted to the end of pagan Egypt.
The last examples we have of funerary masks are actually painted linen shrouds of which the upper part was pressed into a mold to produce the effect of a three dimensional plaster mask. Some examples of this type of object may date as late as the third of fourth century AD. First unearthed by Edouard Naville within the sacred precinct of the mortuary chapel of Queen Hatshepsut, they were initially and incorrectly identified by him as the mummies of early Christians. However, later analysis by H. E. Winlock, particularly noting the ubiquitous representation of the bark of the Egyptian funerary god Sokar, correctly identified these as further examples of masks consistent with pagan Egyptian funerary traditions, even though certain motifs, such as the cup held in one hand, seem to present the final transition from pagan mask to Coptic icon painting and the portraits of Byzantine saints.
Egyptian funerary art was inseparably connected to the belief that life continues after death and that in order to make the journey between this and the next, images and memorabilia should be preserved. The Valley of the Kings was built as a necropolis for royal and elite tombs from about 1500 BCE, while the Theban Necropolis was later an important site for Mortuary temples and mastaba tombs. Individual portraiture of the deceased is found extremely early on.
The intention was to commemorate the life of the tomb owner, provide supplies necessary for the afterlife, depict performance of the burial rites, and in general present an environment that would be conducive to the tomb owner's rebirth. There is a special category of Ancient Egyptian funerary texts, which clarify the purposes of the burial customs. The Egyptian mummy, encased in one or more layers of coffin, is famous the Canopic jars contained several internal organs.
Lower citizens used common forms of funerary art including shabti figurines (to perform any labor that might be required of the dead person in the afterlife), models of the scarab beetle and books of the dead which they believed would protect them in the afterlife During the Egyptian Middle Kingdom, miniature wooden or clay models depicting scenes from everyday life became popular additions to the tomb. In an attempt to duplicate the activities of the living in the afterlife, these models show laborers, houses, boats, and even military formations which are scale representations of the ideal ancient Egyptian afterlife.