Ancient Egyptian Mummies



Content Warning: Images of unwrapped mummy. 



The discovery and analysis of mummies from ancient Egypt, has fueled a long-standing fascination with ancient Egyptian culture. Mummies enable the modern audience to connect with the physical forms of people who lived thousands of years ago. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, mummies inspired morbid curiosity among the upper classes and wealthy patrons would host ‘unwrapping’ parties where the remarkably preserved bodies would be have their bandages removed, bringing people face to face with ancient Egyptians. Modern analysis of mummies is far more controlled and scientific, involving scanning, x-rays, DNA analysis and blood tests. For example, the mummy displayed here at the Garstang Museum is known to be blood group A from the tests performed on it in preparation for their later use in testing the mummy of Tutankhamun. The stunning preservation of mummies enables archaeologists to reconstruct ancient lifeways in beautiful technicolour, but the process of mummification is perhaps one of the most intriguing practices in ancient Egypt.


The Garstang Mummy (2015/13)

How to make a mummy?

The extensive, 70 day embalming and burial process was an important part of Egyptian belief, and was crucial for a successful journey into the afterlife. The mummification process consisted of two main components: the embalming of the remains, and the wrapping and burial of the body.


Canopic jar heads in the shape of the hawk-headed deity Qebehsenuef and the baboon-headed deity Hapi (E.7840 E.7841).

During the embalming process, the body was washed with water from the Nile for purification. The internal organs were then removed and stored in canopic jars. Canopic jars come in sets of four, each identifiable with a specific god; Imsety, a human-headed jar to store the liver; Qebehsenuef, a falcon-headed jar to store the intestines; Hapy, a baboon-headed jar to store the lungs; and Duamutef, a jackal-headed jar to store the stomach.

Next the heart (ib) was put back into the body, and the body was stuffed and covered with natron (salt) to dry it out, before being covered for 40 days. The body was then unwrapped for the final time to be coated in embalming oils before being stuffed with dry materials to give the corpse the appearance of life.

The wrapping of the corpse began with the head and neck, then the individual fingers and toes, and finally limbs. Ritual spells would be spoken over the mummy by priests during the wrapping to protect against evil spirits in the journey into the afterlife. The limbs were then bound into the body with cloth that was wrapped around the entire corpse, and liquid resins were used to glue the bandages tightly. The body was then placed into a series of coffins for its final journey.


Canopic jars featuring the human-headed deity Imsety and the hawk-headed deity Qebehsenuef (E.5267 & E.5266).

How do we know about the mummification process?

Greek historical texts are a useful (if often confusing) source of information for mummification; writers including Diodorus of Sicily and Herodotus discuss mummification practices in ancient Egypt. Herodotus left little to the imagination in his description of the processes:

“…making a cut near the flank with a sharp knife of Ethiopian stone, and then take out all the intestines, and clean the belly, rinsing it with palm wine and bruised spices.”

Perhaps even more interesting in Herodotus’ writing is the discussion of burial practices when there is little physical body to preserve:

“…anyone, Egyptian or foreigner, known to have been carried off by a crocodile or drowned by the river itself, must by all means be embalmed and wrapped as attractively as possible and buried in a sacred coffin by the people of the place where he is cast ashore…”

Mummy Mysteries

At the Garstang Museum, a mummy placed in a child’s coffin was always believed to be the remains of a child. However, X-Ray analysis revealed that the mummified remains were those of two cats, wrapped to look like a child.

There are two obvious possibilities here; the most likely theory is that there was a mistake by the embalmers leading to the original body being lost and replaced, but it is possible that the child was carried away by some creature from the Nile. The embalmers may have crafted the best impression of a child mummy they could to allow the ka (soul) of the child to carry on into the afterlife with some form of a physical body buried in their place, as alluded to in Herodotus.

 E.537 (2)

E.537 (3)

Child’s coffin containing the mummified remains of two cats (E.537).

Preserving Identity

The processes and rituals behind mummification have long fascinated societies around the world, from ancient Greek travellers and historians to modern archaeological scientists. Mummies provide a remarkable opportunity to understand ancient Egyptian people, their lives and their identities. Arguably, the most striking feature of mummies is how easily identifiable they are as humans, allowing a modern audience to look directly into the face of the past.

Greta Brown.


Personal Piety: Religion and the People

The ancient Egyptians did not have a word for religion; their religion was so deeply ingrained into everyday society that it was more an intrinsic way of life than a formalised set of beliefs. However, decorum during the Old and Middle Kingdoms of ancient Egypt dictated that only royalty could be depicted interacting with the gods. Therefore, our evidence for ancient Egyptian religion and worship is drawn almost entirely from royal tombs and the burials of elite individuals. This gives us a very narrow view of the everyday Egyptian’s experiences with the divine.

One of the few known examples of a god involved in the personal sphere is Bes, the protective dwarf god. His short, squat stature, leonine features and gurning face were believed to have scared away evil spirits. Unusually Bes was always depicted from the front, rather than the traditional profile seen in Egyptian art. Representations of the god are found on so-called ‘Bes Jars’; these were often found in the home and are thought to have protected women and children. Images of Bes (along with numerous other protective demons) are also found on ivory ‘wands’.


‘Bes Jars’ represent the grotesque features of the household god, Bes. (E. 6807)


Ivory ‘wands’ often included images of protective demons with surreal forms. (E. 7007)

It was during the Ramesside Period that changes in belief meant that the gods could be shown interacting with anyone. Increased evidence of ‘personal’ piety during this period gives us a greater understanding of the way the gods were conceptualised in the ‘everyday’. The gods were now represented in almost every aspect of Egyptian life. For example, Egyptian magical medicine rituals used statues of the young god Horus, known as cippi statues, in healing and protective rituals.

In non-royal tombs, it became more acceptable for the tomb owner to show personal interaction with the gods. This personal connection is visible through divine patronage, which could be used by Egyptians to justify their decisions in life and further their status in death. In his tomb, Zimut-Kiki claimed to have left his entire fortune to Mut, emphasising his personal connection with the goddess. Funerary stelae from this time also show the gods having a direct impact on their non-royal worshippers; the stela of Amennakht claims that Amennakht was struck blind by the goddess Meretseger as testament to her power.

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This Graeco-Roman stele depicts the deceased being led to the afterlife with the support of the gods. (E. 89)

During the Ramesside period Egyptians seemed to have more direct access to their gods. Statues of deities were still sequestered away in their temples, and only the very highest order of priests, and the king, were allowed contact with them. However, at the Temple of Amun at Karnak, the addition of a ‘Temple of the Hearing Ear’ suggests that Egyptian people could pray directly to the gods, and possibly receive answers to their questions. Similarly, numerous stelae exist that depict the gods alongside iconography of ears, implying that the gods took a personal interest in hearing the prayers of their followers.

It is hard to understand such a complex religion, which has been extinct for thousands of years, but by looking at the material culture of everyday religion in ancient Egypt we can achieve a broader comprehension of the way that non-royal Egyptians made sense of their world. This enables us to move beyond the historic fixation on the elite of Egyptian society and better understand the lived experience of ancient Egyptian people.

Louise O’Brien, Chris Bebbington


Ancient Egyptian Festivals

Throughout Egyptian history, numerous festivals were celebrated during each year. The Egyptian calendar was divided into 12 months of exactly 30 days, with the year split into three seasons – Akhet, the season of inundation; Peret, the season of growing; and Shemu, the season of harvesting. An additional five days were added to the calendar that were not part of any specific month, each day celebrating a different deity.

Festivals played an integral part in worship in ancient Egypt, and often religious festivals would involve the “procession” of a god, by land or boat, across a specific route. Perhaps the most famous processional route is found at Karnak; the temple of Amun at Luxor depicts scenes of celebration as the boats of Amun, Mut and Khonsu travel from the main temple at Karnak to Luxor during the Opet Festival.

Some Prominent Festivals in Ancient Egypt

The Gods’ Birthday Parties: The Five Special Days

The five days added to the Egyptian calendar to bring it up to 365 days each involved the celebration of the birth of a specific god. The first was the birth of Osiris, the Lord of the Duat (the Egyptian underworld). The second day was the birth of Horus, a very prominent falcon-headed deity associated with kingship. The third day celebrated Seth, a god associated with chaos and the wild deserts of Egypt. The fourth and fifth days celebrated the goddesses Isis and Nepthys, two sisters who were associated with protective funerary rites and who brought the god Osiris back from the dead.


Osiris, Isis and Horus were three of the gods honoured on the five special days. (E.9324)

Egyptian New Year’s Day(?): The Coming Forth of Sothis (Akhet Month 1 Day 1 – allegedly!)

The Egyptian New Year was supposed to be celebrated when the star Sothis (modern Sirius) seemed to disappear from the sky and then reappear on the Eastern horizon at sunrise; this is known as the Heliacal Rising of Sothis. Although due to the nature of the Egyptian calendar, the Rising of Sothis did not coincide with the New Year (1st Month of Akhet, Day 1) as it was supposed to, the ancient Egyptians still celebrated the Peret Sopdet, the “Coming Forth of Sothis” festival, at the start of each New Year.

A 15 Day Celebration: Festival of Opet (Akhet Month 2)

During the Beautiful Festival of Opet, which stretched across 11 to 15 days, the Theban Triad (Amun, Mut and Khonsu) would travel from the Karnak Temple to the temple of Luxor. There, Amun-Re of Karnak would meet with Amun of Luxor in union. Through being united, they would ensure the re-creation of the cosmos each year. This potent union would be extended to the King of Egypt, who is depicted as part of the procession and who would also participate in the regeneration of divine power. As well as being an important part of Egyptian religious cosmology, the Opet Festival was the longest celebration in the Theban festival calendar.

The Massive Party: The Festival of the Valley (Shemu Month 2)

The Theban Festival of the Valley was celebrated on the New Moon of the second month of summer. This festival celebrated the bonds between the living and the dead, and was associated with the living strengthening their bonds with the dead. During this festival, citizens would adorn themselves with collars made of fresh flowers (called wah). Feasts were held, offerings were given to the ka of the deceased, and celebrations involved drinking alcohol, singing and dancing.


Offerings for the deceased were placed on offering tables such as this one. (E.44)

A Jubilee Festival: The Sed Festival

The Sed Festival was a special festival in Egypt celebrated by the king during the year of their 30th jubilee (although many kings enjoyed multiple Sed festivals, and the 30-year rule was not always observed!). This festival included religious rites, offerings, processions and the ‘raising of the Djed pillar’, which symbolised stability, strength and potency. On inscriptions, the King is often depicted running during the festival, symbolically proving their fitness to rule.


Some depictions of the Sed festival show the king racing alongside the Apis bull. (E.824)

  Christopher Bebbington.

Object in Focus: A Terracotta Figurine of the Goddess Nike (C.531)


Terracotta statuette of the goddess Nike (C.531)

This terracotta figurine is of the Greek goddess Nike (C.531). It dates to the Hellenistic period (2nd – 1st century BC) and comes from Apulia in Italy.

During the Hellenistic Period (c. 323-31 BC), winged statues of figures like this one of Nike, the personification of Victory, or of Eros, personification of love, became increasingly popular.

These figurines, typically made of terracotta, were mainly deposited in tombs, most often


Terracotta figure of Nike (C.531)

those belong to women and children. They were also often placed in sanctuaries, where they were dedicated as votive offerings, expressing the desire of visitors to communicate with and show devotion to the gods.

By the 8th century BC, the city-states of Greece had colonised much of Apulia (modern Puglia) in south-eastern Italy. In 706 BC, the Spartans founded the city of Tarentum (modern Tarento), one of the most prominent cities in the region. With their easy access to the Mediterranean, fertile hinterland, and quality craftsmanship, many of these colonies flourished.

This figurine may have been manufactured in Tarentum, as the motif of the winged Victory was a popular one in this area. Beyond this, however, its provenance is largely unknown, but it is unlikely to have come into the Museum’s collections from John Garstang’s excavations, as is the case for many of the Egyptian objects in the collection.


Wing and wing-tip from C.531

The figurine is in good overall condition. The left wing was reattached by restorers, but the tip was not. The right wing is detached from the object, and the tip is missing. Based on the marks of repair at the figurine’s neck, the head was likely also restored or reattached. The base also shows signs of restoration. The base of the statue is hollow, and there is a circular whole at the back of the object, between the wings. The figure’s clothing also has residues of green, red, yellow, and white pigment. Coloured glazes or slips were used to decorate terracotta in this way until the 5th century BC.

Object in Focus: A Meroitic Lion Statuette- E.8003



The object in focus this week is a small limestone statuette of a Lion from the ancient capital of Sudan, the city of Meroë (around 200km northeast of modern Khartoum). He is 14.8cm tall and was discovered by Prof. John Garstang during the 1912 season of excavations. Garstang excavated extensively at Meroë on behalf of the Institute of Archaeology between 1909 and 1914. His excavations revealed a complex layout of houses, temples and palaces built of stone and mud brick, with the remains of earlier periods being buried by later constructions as the city continued to be occupied for nearly a 1000 years. Meroë had a big impact on Garstang’s life, shown by the fact that he named his daughter after the city, which he had spent so long excavating.

The Kushite Empire was long lived and dates from between 890 BC and AD320. Whilst it was centred in the cities of Meroë and Napata, the rulers of Kush also held Egypt for around a century during the period known by Egyptologists as the Late Period. During this time a number of Kushite kings, such as Piye (Piankhy), Shabaqa and Taharqa also ruled over the Nile Valley as the 25th Dynasty of Egyptian kings. Despite losing their territory within the Egypt during the Assyrian conquest of the country, the Kingdom of Kush remained a major power in East Africa well into the early fourth century AD.

The art and culture of these kings was a fusion of the classically Egyptian and that of their native Sudan, both of these traditions living side by side. The golden age of the Kushite rulers within Egypt is often focused on the reign of Taharqa, who rebuilt temples within the Nile valley and attempted to extend the borders of his kingdom north of the Sinai. However, it was not to be, and the Assyrian King Ashurbanipal eventually expelled these rulers from the Egyptian Nile valley. Taharqa also produced one of the best known objects from this time, a sphinx in the British Museum which clearly shows the fusing of Egyptian and Kushite artistic traditions.


BM EA 1770 -The Sphinx of Taharqa (Trustees of the British Museum)

Whilst the mythical sphinx is not unusual within Ancient Egypt, after all there is an exceptionally large example hewn into the Giza plateau itself, the lion also held a special significance within the Meroitic culture for a number of reasons. In fact, lions are a recurrent element found in the artefacts of this culture. As such, this statuette is only one of many leonine artefacts within our collection.

One of the primary functions of the lion was as a marker of royal authority, often shown devouring captives, or in this case seated regally.  The lion headed god Apedemak was worshipped as “the Lord of Royal power” in his temple at Naqa (south of Meroë). One famous relief in this temple shows a three-headed, four-armed Apedemak being adored by Queen Amanitore and King Natakamani.


In addition to this, lions were also hunted, along with rhinoceroses. This dangerous game hunting was a sign of the power of the individual. The burial of animals with the Kings of Kush is well attested- with the first King buried at the site of el-Kurru, King Kashta, with a number of chariot horses. In this tradition, there is also evidence for the burial of three young lions at Sanam- though why this was done is unclear.This statuette will be displayed in our new galleries in 2014 with a range of Ancient Sudanese material from Gartang’s excavations. He will be joined by a whole pride of lions both small and large!


An Unknown Official and an Unseen Statuette (E.7804)



During the course of the work we are currently doing on the redevelopment of the Garstang Museum of Archaeology, a number of interesting artefacts have been found languishing in the museum stores. Many of these objects have been in storage for decades, and some may never have been seen by the public.

This elegant, yet sadly damaged, statue is one such object. It is carved from a relatively soft stone known as steatite, or soap-stone, and is a beautiful matte-green in colour. Even though the head and the bottom of the figure’s legs have broken away and been lost, it is nonetheless possible to tell that the figure was male and in the ‘active pose’ – with his left leg extended as if in mid-step.

This pose was highly popular throughout Pharaonic history, for kings and commoners alike. The stance, along with the youthful physique of the statue (with highly defined muscles) was intended to convey the “go-getting”-attitude and vitality of the deceased individual.



The dating of the object is not too difficult, even though it does not have any archaeological context. The pointed wig and posture is highly reminiscent of late Middle Kingdom private sculpture. Examples of this style are found in museums all over the world, such as this basalt statue currently residing in the Petrie Museum of Archaeology (UC8711).

Attached to the back of the figure is a pillar containing a hieroglyphic inscription of the offering formula. The purpose of this formula was to ensure a perpetual supply of foodstuffs and goods in the afterlife, and is a very common feature of ancient Egyptian funerary material. A similar back-pillar and inscription is also found on the now-famous “spinning” Middle Kingdom statue of Neb-Senu from the Manchester Museum. Despite keeping a close eye on E.7804, we have not yet witnessed any spinning – perhaps due to the loss of his legs!

E.7804 Inscription

E.7804 Inscription

The inscription on E.7804 is dedicated to “Osiris, Lord of Ankh-Tawy” which is quite an unusual combination of god and epithet. Ankh-Tawy was the necropolis district of the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis and is almost always associated with the god Ptah. However, on occasion Osiris, as the Ruler of the Dead, was associated with this vast cemetery during the late Middle Kingdom, which adds further support to our suggested date for the figure.

Unfortunately the inscription breaks off just before the point where one would normally expect the name of the statue’s owner to appear. Egyptian statues were highly stylised, rather than being accurate portraits of the individual they commemorated. For this reason the inclusion of the individual’s name on an object of this type was of critical importance as it allowed the owner’s ka (spirit) to identify, and subsequently inhabit, the statue.

E.7804 will be going on display with a number of other funerary statuettes in the new gallery of ancient Egyptian funerary beliefs, opening in 2014.