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Early Egyptians buried their dead in the ground, placing them in a fetal position, in shallow graves dug in the sand. Egypt grew into a powerful prosperous nation on the dynastic period began in 3100 BC. Around this time Egyptians began to construct more and more elaborate tombs to house their dead. There were also several basic types of tombs such as the mastaba. The mastaba is a low reInactangular flat topped tomb made of mud brick or stone. The mastaba had a shaft inside that led to an underground burial chamber. Egyptians also sometimes carved into the rocks of steep cliffs to create burial chambers.
Of course, the most famous and remarkable Egyptian tomb were the massive pyramids they began to erect around 2700 BC. The magnificent of them all is the Great Pyramid of Giza. The Great Pyramid of Giza was made to house the Pharaoh Khufu around 2550 BC. This gigantic beauty stand 481 feet tall and required around 2.3 million stone blocks to create. Some of the block weighing as much as 15 tons. The pyramids were a part of a complex city surrounded by temples and other buildings. Egyptians believed that a person’s spirit became disconnected from the body at death, but it could be awakened in the afterlife only if the proper rituals were performed at death. This meant preserving the body carefully. This began the process of mummification in around 2600 BC. Mummification is the process of removing moisture from the body in order to leave behind a dried out form that would resist decay. When the process began it was so elaborate and expensive that it was only used for Pharoahs. Later a simplified version was available to other Egyptians.
The mummification process was carried out by a special class of priests. These priest were responsible for treating and wrapping the body. During the mummification the priests would also perform rituals and prayers. The first step was the removal of the brain. The brain was removed through the nostrils using a hooked instrument. Special care was taken to ensure the corpse’s face was not disfigured in the process. Next, the priest would cut open the abdomen and remove other organs such as the stomach, liver, lungs, and intestines. Often times these organs were preserved separately in jars or wrapped and reinserting into the body. The only organ that remained intact was the heart. The Egyptians believed that the heart contained the core of one’s intelligence and spirit. The next task was covering the corpse with natron, a salt that acts as drying agents. Additional pouches of natron where also placed inside the body. Once all of the moisture was absorbed the priest washed of the natron. Removing the moisture would cause areas of the corpse to have a sunken appearance so the priest would place linen and other materials in those areas to fill them up. This was done so that the dead body would continue to resemble they was the person had looked alive.
The next step was wrapping the body. The body was wrapped in hundreds of yards of fabric that was cut into strips. The priest would write prayers and enchanted words on the fabric, and inserted amulets between the layers in order to protect the dead person from any dangers that they might encounter on their journey to the afterlife. Often times they would attach a mask that was made to resemble that person’s face between the strips of linen. The body was covered with warm resin, to hold the linen together. In the end they wrapped the completed body in shroud, and secured it with additional linen.
Egyptian funerals were also intricate. The body was place in a coffin and then transported to the tomb in a cart pulled by oxen. It was accompanied by a procession that included relatives, priest and priestess, dancers, and musicians. Sometime the jars containing the dead person’s organs were carried by the participants. They would march to the banks of the Nile. Once they reached the Nile everyone would board boats to make their way across the western side. The western side was the preferred location for burials. Once they arrived at the tomb, the body would be raised upright and the priest would begin to perform rituals to make sure that the dead would be able to use of their senses in the afterlife. These rituals included included prayers and touching the body with sacred objects. Food and clothing were also placed in the tomb to accompany the person on their journey to the afterlife. In approximately 2000 BC, Egyptians began placing small statues of human forms called shabtis in tombs. Initially the shabtis served as an alternative body for the dead persons life source, or ka. Over time the functions of these figures began to evolve. A person would be buried with an assortment of shabits. The Egyptians believed the shabits would serve functions such as labor as farm workers or servants in the afterlife. This would spare the dead person from having to work in the afterlife.
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