How to Mummify a Pharoah

by Adam Goodheart, Civilization Magazine

Old Pharaohs never died - they just took really long vacations. Ancient Egyptians believed that at death, a person’s spirit, or ka, was forcibly separated from the body. But it returned now and then for a visit, to snack on the food that had been left in the tomb. It was crucial that the body stay as lifelike as possible for eternity - that way the ka (whose life was hard enough already) would avoid reanimating the wrong corpse. So mummification became a fine art, especially where royalty was concerned. These days dead pharaohs are admittedly a bit hard to come by. So if you decide to practice on a friend or close relative, please make the loved one is fully deceased before you begin.

The early stages of the process can be a bit malodorous, so it’s recommended you move to a well-ventilated tent. (You’ll have trouble breathing anyway since tradition also prescribes you wear the jackal-head mask in honor of Anubis, god of the dead.) After cleansing the body, break the pharaoh’s nose by pushing a long iron hook up the nostrils. Left or right, you choose. Then use the hook to remove the contents of the skull. The brain can be discarded since the Egyptians attached no special significance to it.

Next, take a flint knife and make a long incision down the left side of the abdomen - actually, it’s best to have a friend do this, since the person who cuts open the body must them be pelted with stones to atone for the profanation. After you’ve stoned your friend, use a bronze knife to remove the pharaoh’s internal organs through the incision. Wash them in palm wine as a disinfectant and set them aside to inter later in separate alabaster jars. Leave the heart in place. Egyptians believed it was the seat of consciousness.

Once the abdominal cavity is empty, fill it with natron, a natural salt found in the delta of the west bank of the Nile. Heap more natron on until he is completely covered. According to ancient papyrus, he should be left for 42 days after which he will almost completely desiccated. Having removed the natron, anoint the head with frankincence and the body with Sacred oil. Pack the skull and abdomen with myrrh and other spices, and cover the incision with a sheet of gold.

For extra life-like effect, you can stuff the corpse’s skin with a compound of sawdust, butter and mud. Don’t overdo it though. Queen Henettowey, wife of Pinedjem I, was so overstuffed that when archeologists found her, her face had split open like an old sofa.

If you thought mummies wrapped in bedsheets were stuff of B-movies, think again: Even pharaohs were usually wound in strips cut from household linens. Pour molten pine resin over the body; in the course of centuries this will turn the flesh black, glassy and rock hard. While the resin’s still tacky, bandage each of the extremities separately; including fingers and toes. then brush another coat and repeat. (Go easy on the second coat of resin - Tutankhamen stuck to his coffin and had to be chipped out piece by piece.) Amulets can be placed between the layers of bandages; a scarab over the heart is the minimum. The last layers should secure the arms and legs to the body. Your mummy is now ready to be entombed in grand style.

A note on sarcophogi: careful name-tagging will prevent embarrassing mix-ups later on. A mummy long thought to be a 21st dynasty princess was recently x-rayed and found to be...a pet baboon.

Hide your mummy well - you’ve got more than just tomb-robbers to worry about. In renaissance Europe, powdered mummy was eaten as a remedy for everything from ulcers to epilepsy (though 17th century writers did complain of a "stink in the mouth.") Later, English manufacturers ground up mummies to use as fertilizer, and one entrepreneur from Maine made wrapping paper from mummy bandages.