It has long been believed that the ancient Egyptians practiced mummification to preserve a body after death. However, a new exhibit at the University of Manchester reveals that the ancient Egyptian method of mummification was never intended to preserve bodies.
The “Mummies: Life Beyond Death” exhibition features approximately 100 artifacts from ancient Egypt, including some of the oldest known mummies. It also includes a mummification workshop reconstruction and an explanation of the embalming process.
Mummification was not only reserved for royalty or wealthy Egyptians. Common people could also afford to have their bodies mummified, but their tombs were not as elaborate as the elite’s.
According to the exhibit’s curator, Dr. John Taylor, the purpose of mummification was not to create lifelike effigies of the dead, but rather to allow the spirit of the deceased to return to its body so it could continue its journey in the afterlife.
The practice originates from the culture and religion of the Ancient Egyptians, who believed that the physical body was still important in the next world, where a person would face various trials before ascending to the eternal paradise known as the Field of Reeds or the underworld known as Duat.
Researchers from the Manchester Museum of the University of Manchester have debunked the existing myths or common misconception as part of its preparations for the exhibit next year called the Golden Mummies of Egypt.
Campbell Price, the curator of the museum’s Egypt and Sudan collections, told Live Science that the misconception started when the Western-led idea beginning with Victorian researchers, who wrongly perceived that ancient Egyptians were preserving their dead in a similar fashion as one would preserve fish. Their reasoning? Both processes contained a similar ingredient: salt. However, the salty substance used by ancient Egyptians differed from salt used to preserve the catch of the day.
This new understanding of mummification’s intended purpose essentially upends much of what children learn about mummies.
The exhibition “Golden Mummies of Egypt” will open at the Manchester Museum on February 18, 2023. To accompany the impending show, the museum has also published a book with the same title written by Price.