How Mummies Work

Egyptian Mummification: Embalming

At the Per-Nefer, they laid the body out on a wooden table and prepared to remove the brain. To get into the cranium, the embalmers had to hammer a chisel through the bone of the nose. Then they inserted a long, iron hook into the skull and slowly pulled out the brain matter. Once they had removed most of the brain with the hook, they used a long spoon to scoop out any remaining bits. Finally, they rinsed the skull with water. Surprisingly, the brain was one of the few organs the Egyptians did not try to preserve. They weren't sure what it was for, but they assumed you wouldn't need it in the next world.

After they had removed the brain, the embalmers took a special blade made from obsidian (a sacred stone) and made a small incision along the left side of the body. They carefully removed the abdominal organs through this slit, setting each one aside (with the exception of the kidneys, which the Egyptians did not hold as important). After removing these organs, the embalmers cut open the diaphragm to remove the lungs. The Egyptians believed that the heart was the core of a person, the seat of emotion and the mind, so they almost always left it in the body. The other organs were washed, coated with resin, wrapped in linen strips and stored in decorative pottery. These vessels, which Egyptologists dubbed canopic jars, protected the organs for passage to the next world.


Once they removed the organs, the embalmers rinsed the empty chest cavity with palm wine, in order to purify it. Then, to maintain the body's lifelike form, they filled the cavity with incense and other material. This kept the skin from shrinking down inside the cavity when the body was dried out. In the next section, we'll look at this drying procedure and see how the body was finally prepared for the next world.