Everyone knows what a mummy is. We’ve all seen them in museums or seen photographs of them in newspapers and magazines. A mummy is a dead body, preserved to last through eternity. The most famous mummies come from Egypt; they are the bodies of the Pharaohs, the ancient kings of Egypt.
The tombs of the Pharaohs were long the prey of grave robbers. In their greed for the treasures buried with the Pharaohs, thieves unwrapped each layer of cloth that had been wound around the bodies and took each jewel that had been placed inside. Although this unwrapping deprived the Pharaohs’ bodies of some of the protection of the embalming process, they were still protected from decay.
The ancient Egyptians’ embalming method involved removing the brain and entrails and then drying the body by placing it in natron (hydrated sodium carbonate, obtained from salt lakes near the Nile delta) for 40 to 70 days. Spices were then put in the abdominal cavity and the entire body was covered with layers of pine resin to protect it from bacteria. Linen bandages three to four inches wide and 700–1000 yards long were wrapped around the corpse, and it was put into a wooden case and then, sometimes, in a sarcophagus.a The embalming process was a very effective means of preservation—if the body remained undisturbed.