How to make a mummy

Close your eyes, and imagine for a second you’re a pharaoh (or king) in ancient Egypt. Do you want to be re-joined with your body in the afterlife when you die? Of course you do!

To ensure that happens, let’s learn how to make a mummy, step by gruesome step.

illustration of the mummification process
This is an illustration of the whole process - mummification is a messy business.

When you die, your body will be taken to the place of purification called the ibw (pronounced ‘ibu’), which is a tent situated on the west bank of the River Nile. This is because the sun god Ra sets on this side, which is thought to be a symbol of death and the afterlife.

In the ibw, this is what will happen to you. If you have a sensitive stomach, look away now:

1.

The first step is to wash the body. This can be done with wine, Nile water, or both.

2.

Next is the removal of your brain. The brain was thought to be useless, as ancient Egyptians believed that we thought with our hearts, not our heads. To be fair, some of us probably do.

Getting the brain out is tricky, and quite disgusting. To do it, a long hook is inserted up the nose and swivelled around to blend the brain, which is then poured into a bowl.

(Don’t say we didn’t warn you how gross this would be!)

hooks used in mummification process
These are replicas of the hooks used to mush the brain up - that’s what we’d call extreme nose picking.

3.

Then a cut is made on the left side of your body, so that the liver, lungs, intestines, stomach can be removed. Your heart might be removed too, but only to be dried and put back in later. Ancient Egyptians believed that the heart was the most important organ in the human body, and that you needed it in order to enter the afterlife.

4.

All of these organs need to be cleaned. The liver, lungs, intestines and stomach get put into special containers called canopic jars, which allow the organs to be rejoined with your body in the afterlife.

Each of the jars have a different Egyptian god’s head on them:

  • Qebehsenuef (pronounced kay-beh-sinoo-uf) has a falcon head and holds the intestines
  • Hapy has the head of a baboon and holds the lungs
  • Duamutef has the head of a jackal and holds the stomach
  • Imset has a human head and holds the liver
canopic jars used in the mummification process
Together, these gods are the four sons of Horus, who is the guardian of Ancient Egypt.

If the heart has been taken out, then at this point it will be put back.

5.

Next your body is filled with straw, dried grass, rags, sawdust or even mud, to help keep its shape.

6.

Your body is now filled and covered with special Egyptian salt called natron - which gets rid of moisture and prevents decay - and you’re left for around 40 days, depending on how long it takes to dry you out. The natron will be changed on a daily basis.

7.

When you’re dried out, the salt is removed and you’re cleaned with wine, spices, and scented with myrrh and other nice things. Lovely.

8.

Resin, a sticky substance produced by some trees, is then used to close the wound that was opened to take out all your organs. If you’re really special, it will be stitched up.

Once closed up, either a large plaque in the shape of an eye, or a two-fingered amulet (jewellery that is thought to have protective properties) is put on the closed wound to prevent evil forces from entering the body.

9.

Next your body is dressed in linen binds - this gives you the ‘mummy look’ we all know and love. This process can use up to a huge 375m² of linen. Whoever’s mummifying you shouldn’t forget to use resin on alternate layers for extra protection, and to occasionally put amulets in there too, to help with the journey into the afterlife.

an illustration of a bound mummy in a sarcophagus
Resin in Arabic is ‘mummia’, and this is actually where the word ‘mummy’ comes from. The more you know!

10.

Finally, a mask is put over your face, you’re placed into a casket, and lastly put into a sarcophagus, which is a sort of fancy coffin, ensuring you’re ready for the afterlife. Done!

King Tutankhamun's sarcophagus
This is King Tutankhamun in his extremely lavish sarcophagus. To be frank, yours probably won’t be as nice - he was a very powerful and massively wealthy ruler.

If you want to try this at home, we'd strongly suggest not using a person. Watch this clip to see how you can mummify an orange instead:

Who was Tutankhamun?
What did the ancient Egyptians believe in?
What was life like for the ancient Egyptians?