How well did Egyptian mummification work?

Were they well preserved?

You know …mummies?

Well, compared to all the other two to three thousand year old dead bodies that are lying about everywhere…

With some mummies you can pretty much tell what the person looked like in life. Say Ramses II.

In terms of preventing bacterial degradation - not too bad. As AK84 says, Ramses II looks pretty well preserved - I was surprised when I saw his mummy in the flesh - so to speak. On the other hand, in terms of preserving the body so that the subject would transform and journey to join the gods, well perhaps not so good.

This. Basically, unless you were lucky(?) enough to fall into a bog or be otherwise naturally preserved, mummification was one of the few ways to guarantee that you’d be dug up to spend time in a museum. Otherwise, to quote Lion King, when we die, our bodies become the grass.

I read that most of their success with preserving bodies had to do with living in an extremely dry environment.

That’s where they got the idea. Bodies buried in the desert tended to dry out and were remarkably preserved - “grandpa looks just like he did when we buried him 20 years ago, but the damn jackals - we have to build something over this hole in the sand.” Then, they began using oils, emptied out the body cavity to speed drying, used a lot of salt, etc. to speed the preservation.

To see what they look like, google image egyptian mummies.

A lot of mummies are very well preserved; if you are in Cairo, they ahve a room full of the best examples. Tut’s mummy - currently an attraction in his mostly empty tomb chamber - is also not too badly preserved. Most major museums, like London’s British Museum, will have some too; occasionally unwrapped. OTOH, they are very dark as a result of the process.

Plus, many are suffering from poor handling. Toward the end of the New Kingdon, there was a warlord/high priest in the area of Luxor who turned grave robbing from a furtive endeavour into a wholesale mining industry. After digging up the graves and stripping the mummies of any jewelry or valuables, many were relabelled and buried in caches. Rough handling would cause arms and toes and such to break off. Some mummies had large holes in the body cavities where the internal organs were taken out, others had worse holes made to see if treasures were placed inside the body cavity. The ultimate cavity search?

I suppose they mummified animals to follow the deceased into the afterlife, and also for practice. My favourite was the little card in the Cairo museum that explains the small crocodile was mummified “by means of a turpentine enema”.

Any idea if there are animal mummies predating some of the old kings? Any extinct animal mummies?

I knew cats were mummified (thanks to countless children’s cartoons), but never really gave much thought to metazoa mummies.

Oh! That’s intriguing. I could see some sort of exotic wild cat being mummified or maybe some sort of desireable songbird. I’d love to hear such a mummy exists.

None of the mummified have complained yet.

There was a big variation in the quality of mummification. Most pharoahs bodies were carefully handled; after the processing, the bodies were wrapped in linen bandages and sealed in multiple coffins. For less important people, a cheaper process was used-most of these mummies are little more than skeletons.
The most amazing mummies were that of several Chinese royalty-these bodies were found in almost lifelike condition. I’ve never read what processes were used on these bodies.

I came expecting to hear about the success/failure rate.

Any word on that?

I haven’t read about any.

From what I read, the thought is:
Bodies buried au naturel in the desert sand were dessicated and generally intact, you basically get “grandpa jerky”. Maybe when the local critters dig up the body, they realize that this preservation looks like he’s just sleeping (almost) ready to wake up and waltz through the afterlife.

The egyptians then tried to duplicate this process with wrappings, and cover the graves with bigger structures to keep out the wild animals. Unfortunately, removing the basic “bury in hot sand” recipe makes the body decay. Wiki mentions that on the earliest mummies, the small areas that were wrapped decayed when the rst did not.

Presumably they took their food preservation technology, like salted meat, and applied it to bodies so they could dress the old folks and still preserve them; also found that emptying the large gooey body cavity and the brain mean the leftovers dried faster and were salted and oiled more evenly.

I suspect the mummified pets came about this time. You could experiment with drying out the family cat or the annoying pests in th neighbourhood, and it was less macabre to keep visiting those and see the results than to dig up grandma every 3 months to check on her afterlife-readiness.

Earliest deliberate mummification, according to Wiki, was about 3500BC; about 1000 years before the great pyramid, about 700 years before the unification of upper and lower Egypt and the start of the Dynasties of the Old Kingdom.

However, other than accidental finds in the desert, it seems a lot of what was there is long gone for one reason or another. The existing identified mummies tend to be New Kingdom, around 1300BC. We have no idea, for example, what treasures if any were inside the great pyramids… though if the solar boat is any indication, they would certainly appeal to archeologists; presumably they also appealed to grave robbers.

Not just the pharoahs were preserved. There are plenty of tombs of nobles surrounding the pyramids; plus, there are tombs along the hills over the mountains from Valley of the Kings, and everywhere there were nobles. Even some of the workers who built the Valley of the Kings tombs built their own crypts in their spare time - alothough, in the one instance I saw, this was a family crypt - meaning I guess the wife and sons went in at different times, so it did not get sealed like the tombs of the big shots. Still, the effort and decoration was amazing.

I know at least one female Chinese mummy was apparently floating in a mercury based liquid.

Hm, there were a number of mummies from Tarim, they got the buried in sand style of dehydration. Some of them are in amazing condition. [picture of a mummified guy in amazing condition]

[pictures of Lady Dai are sort of grody because her body is in good but sort of icky looking condition] Lady Daiis another one in amazing condition, they were able to autopsy her. They made an analysis of the liquid she was more or less floating in and it was very high in mercury. In classical China, mercury was a common component in their version of an immortality potion. One Chinese emperor actually was poisoned in his attempt to live forever.

Incan mummies were buried in some instances above the altitude where the cold dry air essentially freeze dried them. Ice Mummies was a Nova documentary about them and I believe this is a link to watch it online.

Peat bog mummies are another form, chemically made but by accident [though there is a discussion on if they knew that bogs could preserve bodies and some were deliberate.] Link has a right-in-your-face picture of Tollund man right when the page opens.

Damned if I can remember when or where I saw this (my memory tells me a PBS special) but I remember watching a show about people who donated their bodies to science, and one group was playing around with the Egyptian mummification process.

They took one guy and buried him in a pile of natron for three or four days after taking all his organs out - basically following the “Mummification for Dummies” papyri archeologists had found - and found that the natron pretty much finished the job for them. When they dug him out of the salts he looked, they said, almost exactly like the Egyptian mummies, just 3,000 years younger. So I don’t know how much of it actually is owing to the dry, hot conditions of the Egyptian desert; researchers seem to think it’s the salts.