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Ancient Egyptian practice of mummification now available

Modern version of ancient Egyptian practice of mummification now available

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A company based in Utah, who has been mummifying beloved pets for the last three decades, are offering people a modern-day version of the ancient Egyptian practice of mummification , at a cost of around $65,000.  So far, over 1,500 people have applied to go through the Egyptian burial rite when they die.

The US-based company, called Summum, is the only mummification company in the world.  However, they are not exactly your typical scientific establishment.  Summum was set up in 1975 by Claude Nowell, who later changed his name to Summum Bonum Amon Ra. The service is available for spiritual reasons.  Summum is a religion and philosophy that began as a result of Claude Nowell's claimed encounter with beings he described as "Summa Individuals". According to Nowell, these beings presented him with concepts regarding the nature of creation. As a result of his experience, he founded Summum in order to share the "gift" he received with others. Summum is now taking registrations from people who wish to undergo the ancient practice of mummification.

The need to preserve the body after death was central to ancient Egyptian religious beliefs. They believed that by preserving the bodies of the pharaohs, these wealthy members of society would stand the best possible chance of living in the eternal world. In order to reach the afterlife, the deceased person would have to repossess his or her body and Egyptians believed that the only way to do this was if the body was recognisable.

The earliest ancient Egyptians buried their dead in small pits in the desert. The heat and dryness of the sand dehydrated the bodies quickly, creating lifelike and natural 'mummies'. Later, the ancient Egyptians began burying their dead in coffins to protect them from wild animals in the desert. However, they realised that bodies placed in coffins decayed when they were not exposed to the hot, dry sand of the desert.  Over many centuries, the ancient Egyptians developed a method of preserving bodies so they would remain lifelike. The process included embalming the bodies and wrapping them in strips of linen.

Mummification was a complicated preservation technique that took up to 70 days to complete. To prevent the body from quickly decaying, many of the internal organs were removed. The lungs, stomach, liver and intestines were each put in a canopic jar with a different shaped head as the lid, each representing one of four Egyptian gods.  The body was then preserved with natron, a naturally occurring mixture of sodium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate. Packages of natron were placed inside the body, which was then wrapped in natron-soaked linen. After the natron had absorbed the body fluids it was removed, the body was washed and the body cavity packed with wads of linen soaked in resin. It was then wrapped in up to 20 layers of linen before being placed in a wooden, often elaborately painted, coffin for burial.

Summum combines traditional techniques with modern-day materials. In ancient times, it was believed that the best way to preserve the body was through dehydration. However, Summum does the opposite - they believe that hydrating the body fully is the best way to preserve it and will enable the body to look exactly like the day they died, even thousands of years later.

The modern-day process takes 120 days. Organs are removed and cleansed and the body is submerged for 70 days in a tank of preservation solution made up of chemicals. The organs are then reinserted and the body is preserved in plastic resin. It is covered with lanolin and wax, followed by layers of cotton gauze and a fibre glass finish. The body is then encased in a steel or bronze casket. The casket is then enshrined within a mummy sanctuary or buried in a local cemetery.

The Summum brochure reads: “Mummification is thorough and detailed, but well worth the effort, for the results represent the ultimate personal transformation.”

Featured image: Mummies created by Summum. Photo credit: Summum

By April Holloway

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