Questions and Answers about Mummification in Ancient Egypt
On occasion, visitors to the Mummy Tombs have written with interesting (and sometimes strange) questions about Egyptian mummies. Here is a selection of their questions with my answers. If you have a question about Egyptian mummies, you can write to me. If I can, I will post an answer here.
Cleft Palate in Egyptian Mummies?
QUESTION from K: I am looking for information about mummies that show evidence of a cleft palate. I have only a couple of them so far. I feel sure there could be more, but either I don't know whom to ask, or CT scans have not been done to show this. Do you have any suggestions about where I should look next? I am not an Egyptologist. I have a bachelor's degree in nursing ... but Egyptology has been a life-long interest. I have been working on my own for a couple of years to learn what I can about classical Egyptian. I am now a part of an online group who is doing the same. I feel I am finally getting somewhere! I was born with a cleft palate and lip. That explains my interest in this particular subject. I would like to see what I can find and write a paper on it.( My daughter who is recent college graduate about to go off to graduate school, is helping me somewhat.) I appreciate your taking the time to read this, and I hope you can give me a suggestion or two. ANSWER: I did find some information about cleft palates in Egyptian Mummies. You will find the information in this book on pages 63-64. It is not clear if the evidence is from mummies or simply skulls (that is, burials that were not preserved)...but the skulls date back to the times when Egyptians mummified their dead. There is a pretty good bibliography at the end of the book, so this may lead you to further finds. Also in doing a fast web search, I see:
"the young Tut had a slightly cleft palate and an impacted wisdom tooth."
(from Emory University) "The second child was about five years old, and there was evidence that he or she suffered from a cleft palate, a condition that can cause facial disfigurement, speech impediments, and, in severe cases, the inability to ingest food. There are several other documented cases of cleft palate from ancient Egypt, though they are not common. Two fractures, one of the skull, and a second just above the knee, may have been related to the child's death. Traces of gilding on the face of this mummy suggest it dates to the Roman period. Little disease, other than dental, could be found in the mummies, although the well preserved body of a bearded man of the same era, who was at least 35 when he died, had evidence of tapeworms, parasites that can be transmitted by eating infected pork, a likely source of infection in ancient Egypt."
(from the University of Sydney's Nicholson Museum) "Their discoveries included what is thought to be the first ancient Egyptian with a cleft palate and impacted wisdom teeth. An even bigger surprise was that another mummy was a man, not a woman as the coffin had indicated."
Hope this helps jump-start your search.
Mummy of Ptolemy II
QUESTION from Beverly: I have a friend who is a private collector. He claims to have the mummy of Ptolemy II (no coffin) which he acquired from a private university who got it from a major public university. He has no documentation that the mummy is Ptolemy II. Does the mummy of Ptolemy II exist? Any ideas on how to determine the identity of the mummy? ANSWER: According to the books I consulted, no one knows what happened to Ptolemy II--how he died, etc. No mummy has ever been located. It is rather unlikely that your friend would have Ptolemy II's mummy...especially passed down from universities. To identify, you should contact a reputable museum with a good Egyptian collection and provide photos of the mummy to see if anyone can make some preliminary guesses. Arm position alone might be able to indicate whether it is of royal descent. But other factors can also tell an expert the quality of the mummification. Still, since no one knows how Ptolemy's life ended, proving that the mummy is his would be very difficult. Hope this helps.
Source of Natron
QUESTION from Jonathan: We are curious about finding out how the Egyptians actually mined or gathered the compound natron. We just can't seem to find anything about that. ANSWER: A good source for all types of information about Ancient Egypt is the British Museum's The Dictionary of Ancient Egypt. Natron, according to this source, was found on the shores on lake beds at Wadi Natrun and Beheira province (both in lower Egypt) and Elkab (upper Egypt).
QUESTION from Shawn: Do you know of any way that I could obtain a pound or two of natron from Wadi Natrun or El Kab? ANSWER: I don't know of any way to obtain a pound or two of actual Egyptian natron other than suggesting that you make a trip there yourself. However, you can buy a good substitute at your local grocery store by following this link.
Mummy of Temple Dancer
QUESTION from MN: I remember seeing on TV a female mummy that "they" thought was probably a temple dancer due to the henna in her hair and fingers, arthritics in the fingers (caused by playing an instrument) , and spinal decay. If I remember correctly she had some spinal curvature prior to death that "they" believed was probably caused by being a life time temple dancer. Would you be able to put in onto her trail? A search of the web has not found what I was expecting. ANSWER: You are talking about Asru, of the Manchester Museum in the UK, I believe. Professor Rosalie David devoted a chapter to Asru in her book, Conversations with Mummies: New Light on the Lives of Ancient Egyptians.
Question about King Tut
QUESTION from Tasia: I have recently watched a documentary on King Tut's Curse. They (History Channel's "Investigating History") listed all of the people that came in contact with the tomb and how/when they died. One name that was listed was John Jacob Astor. I had thought that he died on the Titanic in 1912. Wasn't Tut's tomb found in the 1920's? So, all I am asking is could they have been wrong with listing this name as one of the possible curse victims? ANSWER: I don't have time to research this for you in depth, but I can tell you that the Titanic person was Colonel John Jacob Astor IV...his daughter was named Ava Alice Muriel Astor. According to one source, she "was an occultist. She was born in 1902, was pretty but also a very serious woman. She was a very strong willed person that was able to dominate a person in her presence unless they were also strong willed. She was into Egyptian magic and believed she was the reincarnation of an Egyptian princess and a disciple of Ikhnaton. Alice Astor may have been one of the first people to enter King Tut’s tomb, where she got herself a necklace." Perhaps this is what you heard?
Questions about Cleopatra
QUESTION from T: I recently came across a picture of a mummy in the British Museum they claim is Cleopatra, but they don't say which one. I know there was more than one, and I know it cannot be the famous Cleopatra everyone knows about. Can you give me some information on her, please? ANSWER: There is a mummy of a girl named Cleopatra in the British Museum--but it isn't the famous Cleopatra. I don't know if you saw the information about her on my website, but you can see a photo and read from info here.
QUESTION from J: Exactly what happened to Cleopatra's mummy? Is it true that somehow, her mummy was dropped down the sewers in Paris in the 1940's? Thanks! QUESTION from Tiffany: I wish your website had been around when I was a kid, it's a really great resource! I have a quick question: I'm trying to find out if the body of Cleopatra VII (Ptolemy) has ever been recovered. I have this vague memory that it was at the Louvre (maybe I read this once?), but I've been scrounging around on the Net and have been completely unable to find any reference to it. Do you happen to know if her body has been recovered, and if so, where it is? ANSWER: Cleopatra's mummy has never been found. It may well be underwater--and therefore destroyed.
List of Famous Egyptian Mummies
QUESTION from T: I need a list of all the discoveries of famous Egyptian mummies for the past years or centuries. Would you be able to help me find the people who discovered these mummies and when as well? Thanks. ANSWER: There is no such list available (and the definition of the word "famous" is a problem--what you think may be famous may not be for someone else). The best reference I can suggest to you is Ancient Egypt: The Great Discoveries by Nicholas Reeves or the appendix in The Mummy in Ancient Egypt: Equipping the Dead for Eternity by Ikram and Dodson. Both books should be available from a public library.
Help with School Projects
QUESTION from Gideon: My son is in 6th grade and he has to write a page on the middle kingdom, and we are having a little problem on finding some information. If you have some information that a sixth grader could create a couple of paragraphs out of it would be great if you could send us a copy of it. I am not sure what he needs, but I would guess, how it came about and how it came to an end and perhaps who was in charge and time frame. If you can do this it would be greatly appreciated. ANSWER: It sounds as if your son should get himself to a library and start looking at some books. I'm not able to answer basic questions when the information is readily available in books and on-line. You might want to look at these books: Chronicle of the Pharaohs: The Reign-by-Reign Record of the Rulers and Dynasties of Ancient Egypt, by Peter Clayton, Ancient Egypt by David P. Silverman (ed.), and Handbook to Life in Ancient Egypt by Rosalie David.
QUESTION from Karina: I am a student in Workman High School in California. My school gave senior students a project which takes up the whole school year to finish. We have to pick a topic and write an essay about it for the 1st semester, and do projects and a presentation for the 2nd semester. I decided to do my project on Ancient Egyptian Mummies. While doing my research for the past 2 months, I still don't know who first found mummies in Egypt and when were the first mummies found. I hope to hear from you soon. Thank you. ANSWER: Karina, what you need to realize is that people have been finding mummies ever since they were first buried (or placed in tombs). And no one bothered to record the news of a mummy being discovered--we modern people are the ones interested in the "discovery." Therefore, the way you are approaching the subject is not going to help you find an answer. You can discuss when Europeans & Americans first discovered Egyptian mummies in the 1800s and 1900s--and Egyptomania took hold. (You might also want to think about why Europeans and Americans were so fascinated with mummies--and how their fascination also brought about great destruction.) You will want to find a copy of this book: Ancient Egypt: The Great Discoveries by Nicholas Reeves. I think this will be quite helpful to you.
QUESTION from Carley: I am doing an assignment on mummies (actually ancient Egyptian religion) and I was told that I had to somehow link the mummies and temples, but I haven't been able to so far. I was wondering if you could possibly explain or send information regarding mummies and temples; it would be greatly appreciated. ANSWER: Actually, animal mummies were often left in temples as offerings to the god or goddess of that particular temple. For example, pilgrims left cat mummies at the Temple of Bastet (the cat goddess). That would make an interesting report, I think. It certainly links temples and mummies together in a nice package.
QUESTION from Stephen: I am preparing to teach a unit over early Egyptian times in the coming weeks. I have been thinking of class projects regarding the mummification process and have been reading up on the subject as best I can. I found your website to be exceptional! I was wondering if you could suggest any activity that high school juniors would enjoy. I have been considering mummifying a small animal, putting on a mock embalmers ritual, or maybe just dehydrating some fruits for example. I would appreciate any comments or suggestions if you have them. Maybe you could suggest more websites you know of or reading material. I would greatly appreciate it! ANSWER: I have a few mummy recipes posted on my website. In terms of reading material, there is so much to choose from. But if you want ideas in planning a ceremony, you might find Aliki's picture book Mummies Made in Egypt(many teachers use this as a guide and your high school students don't have to know). If you want excellent academic background information, you might try The Mummy in Ancient Egypt: Equipping the Dead for Eternity (by Ikram and Dodson). If you do anything you'd like to share with others (text and/or photos), don't hesitate to let me know. I'd be happy to post a page on your project.
Questions about Manchester Mummy #1770
QUESTION from Kevin: I am doing a project for my reading teacher about mummies!!! I need a picture of MUMMY 1770? Can you please tell me where to find one? QUESTION from Hekmat: I am in 6th grade, and we are studying mummies. I would like to get pictures and know something about mummy 1770. I know much about it but I have bits and pieces. Will you please send me something close to my request? And if you have anything that would be useful for my class... it would really help. Thank you so much, mummy master. ANSWER: You can find photographs of and information about Mummy #1770 in Rosalie David's book Conversations with Mummies: New Light on the Lives of Ancient Egyptians. Your local library should be able to get a copy.
Effect of the Afterlife on Egyptian Architecture
QUESTION from M: I have a quick question for you as I am doing an Art project. How did 'life after death' effect the ancient Egyptian's architecture? And how did it affect the painting and the sculptures? ANSWER: Sorry, but there is no quick answer to give you for this. It took the Egyptians 3,000 years to answer this question in practice. You need to start with reading some books on AE.
Questions about Buying an Egyptian Mummy
QUESTION from O: I was impressed with the great deal of information you provide through your web site about ancient Egypt and mummies. There are a few more things I would like to know about; hopefully you can help: The locations of the mummies around the world in museums, tombs, etc.; whether mummies can be sold; the price of mummies when sold; who are the possible mummy buyers around the world. Do you happen to have any information about the subject? ANSWER: I wish I could help you but I don't know of any sources for buying (or selling) mummies. I have heard that there are art auction houses that occasionally will sell a mummy...but except for a "work of art" mummies are not really sold legally unless it's from museum to museum.
QUESTION from Amanda: I am researching a possible large-scale science project that requires the dismantling of a small mummified animal. I understand from your website that there are many mummified animals in existence. Can you give me any leads on mummy dealers? Of course, I am interested in finding an Egyptian mummy that would not otherwise be displayed. I might be able to use a damaged or partial mummy, if that's an option. ANSWER: You're right: There are many Egyptian animal mummies in museums around the world--and there are even more that are not displayed. But I do not know any dealers that sell mummies (of any kind).
Egyptian Dwarf Mummies
QUESTION from Katy:Do you have any material on mummies of dwarfs found? I am interested in finding out if Little People were treated well in ancient times or not and I'm assuming this 'class/standing' could be told from the tombs' contents. ANSWER: Thank for writing with your interesting request. I have not found any information about mummies of dwarfs found in ancient times. I know that the Egyptians made statues of dwarfs and that they were respected members of society. The only book I have come across that discusses this aspect of Egyptian life is called Disease by Joyce Filer.
QUESTION from Cathy: Hey, did anyone ever find the tomb of Thutmose III? I'm researching him, and I didn't find anything on his tomb. I'm so fascinated with mummies. They're really awesome. I would love to be an archeologist in Egypt. ANSWER: Yes, they did find his tomb (so did graverobbers shortly after he was buried). You will want to find this book: Chronicle of the Pharaohs: The Reign-by-Reign Record of the Rulers and Dynasties of Ancient Egypt. It will answer all of your questions.
Egyptian Grave Robber Exhibit
QUESTION from Jim: I am currently working on a project for an Egyptian exhibit coming to our local museum. In the "discovery" room we are building a large facade of a pyramid, the inside being a tomb-like pathway leading into a main burial chamber. Off one hallway we are making a failed grave robber scene (behind Plexiglas) , and need a little assistance on a few details: How would the grave robbers' skeleton be dressed? What possible causes of death could we use to explain his demise? Were tombs really rigged with traps as so commonly portrayed? I plan on making a placard for the grave robber scene with some info I've obtained from your website, such as the false quote; "Death shall come on swift wings to him that toucheth the tomb of the Pharaoh." I know you state that there was no such inscription, but it's just too good not to use. I also plan to list the pharaohs whose tombs were robbed and then end with a statement explaining our fellows' unfortunate situation.Any info you could provide would be greatly appreciated. ANSWER: Sounds like you are working on an interesting project. But I'm not sure I know the answers about the clothing. There were false doors and pits into which a graverobber might fall. But the most interesting graverobber story I know (which led to someone's demise) is found in Mildred Pace's book Wrapped for Eternity: The Story of the Egyptian Mummy. The graverobber managed to pry open the lid of the stone sarcophagus--only to have it crash down on him (killing him--all that you can see is the bony skeleton's arm holding on to the lip of the sarcophagus. By hiding the (dead) graverobber underneath the lid, you wouldn't have to worry about clothing either. I highly recommend Pace's book to give you further insight.
Wrapping and Unwrapping Mummies
QUESTION from Chris: I have been through most of the Libraries in my area and search many hours on the Internet looking for the details on how the Egyptians wrapped mummies. I can tell you how they took the brains out and why they used salt to preserve the bodies. But I can not find anything on wrapping the body in any detail at all. ANSWER: The book you want to find is The Mummy in Ancient Egypt by Ikram and Dodson. It has an entire chapter about mummy wrappings and should be just what you are looking for.
QUESTION from J: Do you have or know about any references on how to unwrap a mummy? I have an upcoming project that requires this information. ANSWER: People who unwrapped mummies didn't usually take the time or effort to write down the instructions. They cut and sawed and destroyed everything to get inside the mummy (and then they often threw the body away). Two books might be of interest: (1) Unwrapping a Mummy: The Life, Death, and Embalming of Horemkenesi by John Taylor which might give some clues and (2) an entire chapter on mummy wrappings in The Mummy in Ancient Egypt: Equipping the Dead for Eternity by Ikram and Dodson.
QUESTION from E: Were there any techniques for burying thieves? Were they punished before being mummified, buried alive, or were they not even noticed at all after dying, etc.? ANSWER: This is a good question without a known answer. No one knows who some mummies were (the poorer ones usually, or the ones that were desecrated)...but they probably weren't thieves. A thief was most likely not going to be mummified (no matter what the 1999 Mummy movie might have you believe--and he was a murderer/adulterer). Your best bet is to find a copy of Ikram and Dodson's The Mummy in Ancient Egypt: Equipping the Dead for Eternity which covers the territory very thoroughly...with many details (but no details about thieves).
Questions about Tombs
QUESTION from A: I'm having difficulty finding the actual names of the chambers used in mummification. The only actual name I have come across is the "serdab" (where the statues are stored). Do you know the names of any of the other chamber (specifically, where the body is embalmed)? ANSWER: You would find Mark Lehner's book The Complete Pyramids: Solving the Ancient Mysterieshelpful: The burial chamber is called the Duat, the antechamber is called the Akhet. Hope this helps.
QUESTION from Jordie: I would like a list of all the things that an Egyptian mummy would be put in his tomb with. ANSWER: I wish I could give you a simple answer, but it's complicated: Ancient Egyptians were buried in many different ways, depending on the time period in which they lived and their wealth. Poor people might be buried with very little, for example. Burial goods might consist of some pottery jars with food and drink (for the afterlife) and tools or items that the person used during life. For a wealthier person, the person might be buried with a fair amount of food (joints of meat, birds), sometimes mummified itself and placed in wooden cases. A set of funeral dishes might be included as well, so that funeral-goers could have a meal at the tomb before burial (this may have been only for royalty). Bread and vegetables could be buried as well. Other items would include the canopic jars with the mummy's internal organs (but only during certain time periods). A favorite pet might be mummified and included in the burial as well. And of course when it came to the pharaohs and their relatives, the sky was often the limit. If you can find a book that shows photographs of what was found in King Tut's tomb (lots of the fancy equipment and decorative items made from gold), you'll have a good idea of other items placed there.
A Mummy Called Ginger
QUESTION from Charlotte: I am looking for info on a mummy that was discovered to have red hair. She was given the name "GINGER" and might be at the London Natural History museum, but can't find anything on their web site. Thank you so much for your great web site!!! ANSWER: Ginger is a nature-made Egyptian mummy (the sun and sand created the mummy not people), and it is in the collection of the British Museum. I don't know if it is featured on-line or not, but it is exhibited inside the museum's Egyptian Mummy display. Ginger, by the way, is really a man...named for his red hair. He died about 5,000 years ago.
QUESTION from Laura: When a mummy's viscera were placed in canopic jars, were they usually preserved? ANSWER: The answer is: not always, but usually. Until about Dynasty 4, the Egyptians didn't bury the viscera. In Dynasty 4 they began to do this, at first apparently soaking the viscera in a natron solution inside the canopic jars (though not many examples of this have been found). Sometimes the viscera went into the canopic jars, at other times they (dried by natron first) went back into the body. Occasionally, the linen-wrapped viscera must have gotten lost or misplaced, because at least one set of canopic jars had a rope (instead of the intestines) in it.
QUESTION from Michael: What type of wine and spices did the Egyptians use in mummification? ANSWER: In general, Egyptians used palm wine to wash the body. They used various spices--though there isn't a comprehensive list of them. There is also some debate: did they use cinnamon or not? Suffice it to say that they used many things that would disinfect, deodorize, and sweeten the body.
Finding a Mummy
QUESTION from Sharp: My father is the proud owner of a mummified human foot that came here from Egypt back in the 60s. The story of how it got to the USA is reliable and I would say verifiable. Anyway, I have heard that in the 20s and 30s that mummies were "parted out" for a number of uses including plain old souvenirs. Is this true? Also, I would be curious to know if any of the more famous mummies would be missing a foot. I guess unless you study this type of thing you'd never know. Is there any way in the world to find out where the rest of this mummy is, or was the desecration in the 20s and 30s so extensive that the probability would lean toward this foot being a mere souvenir of a tomb raid? ANSWER: As far as I know no famous mummies are missing only a foot (though some are missing many parts). I think it would be hard for scientists to track down the famous body that the foot belonged to--unless you have reason to suspect that it is of royal lineage (they wouldn't want to take the time--and they probably wouldn't have the financial resources). So many mummies were destroyed throughout the centuries in Egypt--sometimes to be ground into mummy powder (and sold a medicine), sometimes to be sold to antique collections (mummy feet and hands were used as paperweights). My best guess is that it is a souvenir (and it's also possible that it's not ancient--Egyptians and others were mummifying dead criminals and others much later to produce "fake mummies" for tourists and apothecaries). I'd be curious to know the story of the foot's arrival in the U.S.--how did it get out of Egypt and make the trip? (No response from Sharp).
2Mummies as Fuel?
QUESTION from B: I saw a show on TV, Discovery Channel or the History Channel titled "The History of Mummies". In this show they said that for a short period time in the late 1800's Egyptian mummies were used as fuel for trains (locomotive engines). I would like to confirm this. Could you help me? ANSWER: I can tell you that the source of this information was Mark Twain (the famous writer and humorist) who took a tour of Egypt once and reported that he saw mummies being used as fuel for locomotives as a railroad line was being built. He added that, when the mummy of a common person didn't burn so well, the engineer asked for the mummy of a king. No one knows if this is a true story or not--Twain certainly had a good sense of humor. Since no one else ever reported the same information, it is possibly an invention of his imagination. Still, considering the terrible things that people have done to mummies over the years, it would not be surprising. So, the information you heard is based on a real story--but no one knows if the story is true.
QUESTION from K: What position were Egyptian mummies placed in when they were buried? ANSWER: It's hard to give a simple answer.... At first, Egyptian mummies were made naturally (they were not made by people just by the sun baking the sand covering the body)...when bodies were buried in the sand, they were placed in a "flexed" position (that is, more like a fetal position, though slightly leaning on the left side) with the hands in front of their faces. Very early mummies (the Archaic period) made by Egyptians seem to follow this pattern... perhaps to make sure that they would fit into the coffin (a short body might not be flexed) but not many early human-made mummies have been found. Generally speaking, from the Old and Middle Kingdoms mummies were placed on their backs with their arms to their side (but this is not ALWAYS true...some still-early mummies were occasionally flexed; it might well have depended on the mummy-maker and the "preferred techniques"). By the Sixth Dynasty (and on), cartonnage masks came into use, so almost all mummies would have been placed on their backs; arm position might have varied more. In the New Kingdom, kings began to have their arms bent and their arms folded across their chest (Amenophis I was first but earlier examples of this are known from at least the Eleventh Dynasty) with clenched hands to hold onto royal scepters. In the 17th and 18th dynasties arm/hand positions changed: arms generally to the side, women often had their hands placed over their thighs, men often had their hands placed over their privates. But even when mummies were found and unwrapped to study (not a good thing to do these days since it's highly destructive) hand/arm position was hard to tell because often the arms were detached--because graverobbers had been searching for jewelry. The mummies of workers and poorer people also don't follow these above arm/hand positions...so nothing I have said was 100% all of time good for everyone. Lots of variation, and many "odd" mummies have been found. But that makes it interesting. I hope this helps.
QUESTION from DC: I'm a 6th grade student learning about Egyptian mummies. Could you please tell me what was put into the mummies' noses? ANSWER: There wasn't just one type of nose plug, but perhaps the most common plug (from the New Kingdom on) was a little ball of sticky resin (this is also the material that the Egyptians applied to many mummies which turned them very dark). Sometimes they used wax plugs and other times even little wads of linen--and sometimes nothing at all. Ramesses II's nose was packed with seeds and an animal bone. Ramesses IV's nose had resin balls wrapped in onion skin. At least one mummy had peppercorns stuffed in the nose. So, you can see, this isn't an easy question to answer.