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.


The Texts of the Coffin of Userhat (E.512)

One of our most prized and most viewed objects is the box-coffin of Userhat (E.512). The coffin was excavated by John Garstang in 1902 and was one of the first objects on display in the museum of the Institute of Archaeology in 1904. The text inscribed upon the coffin tells us that Userhat was a soldier He lived during a period Egyptologists call the Middle Kingdom (c. 1991-1783BC).

The Inner coffin of Userhat (E.88.1903) kept at the Fitzwilliam in Cambridge

The Inner coffin of Userhat (E.88.1903) kept at the Fitzwilliam in Cambridge

When Userhat died, he was mummified and interred in an anthropoid (human-shaped) coffin, which was then placed inside the box coffin. Userhat’s inner coffin was donated to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge by the Beni Hasan Excavation Committee in 1903, where it is kept today (E.88.1903).

As Garstang was a pioneer in the use of photography within archaeology we are also able to see the coffin as it was first discovered, with the inner coffin laying on its side, with the face of the coffin looking out of the painted eyes upon the outside of the box coffin . The rest of the tomb merely contained a few pieces of pottery.

The coffins of Userhat in situ

The coffins of Userhat in situ

The texts which adorn the coffin are dedicated to a number of funerary deities, such as Osiris, Anubis, Isis and Nepthys. Most of these texts are highly standardised, with only a few alterations made in each register. The texts translated here are the first inscriptions that would have been seen by Garstang, they are from the head end of the coffin and refer to “the revered one” (i.e. deceased) Userhat in reference to specific deities.


Userhat Text

Top: Revered one before Nepthys, the Soldier Userhat

The image in the centre of this panel is of the goddess Nepthys, whilst the goddess Isis strikes a similar pose at the foot end of the coffin.

Left column: Revered one before the Great Ennead, the Soldier Userhat

Right Column: Revered one before the Lesser Ennead, the Soldier User(hat)       

An Ennead (pesdjet in Egyptian) is a grouping of nine-god. Some of these groups are more important than others, hence the “Great” and the “Lesser” Enneads.

It seems that the painter of this coffin had not planned the size of the text out fully before applying the paint as despite requiring the same amount of space and signs, they ran out of space  for Userhat’s  name, cutting off the lower parts of these signs.

Detail from the Coffin of Userhat as it stands on display in our galleries

Detail from the Coffin of Userhat as it stands on display in our galleries

Come and see the Coffin of Userhat in our Egyptian Afterlife Gallery, we are open to the public every Wednesday from 10 ’til 4 and are completely FREE!


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.