Ancient Egyptian mummy underwent ritual healing for the afterlife
An analysis on a 1,700-year-old Egyptian mummy has revealed two plaques placed over her body – one on her sternum, the other on her abdomen. Researchers believe the plaques were intended as a type of ritual healing following the embalming process, in order to be healthy and strong in the afterlife.
The mummy is of a woman aged between 30 and 50, who lived in the 3 rd or 4 th century AD when Egypt was under Roman rule. By this time, traditional customs such as mummification had started to die out; but not for this lady, who was obviously adamant that she would be prepared appropriately for the afterlife.
Researchers have been careful to leave the wrappings in place but hi-tech scans have revealed many details about her. Images show that embalmers had removed her inner organs, including her heart, but had left her brain in place. Spices and lichen had been placed over her head and body, and two thin plaques, similar to cartonnage (a plastered material used to make funerary masks), were placed on her skin above her sternum and abdomen.
A facial reconstruction of the mummy done by forensic artist Victoria Lywood. Photo source.
The positioning of the plaques is perplexing as they were placed over areas that had not been cut open – previous findings have revealed plaques placed over areas of incision. However, researchers believe the plaque on the sternum may have acted as a type of replacement for the heart, while the plaque on the abdomen may have been placed there as a type of ritual healing for the incision made in the woman’s perineum to remove her inner organs, or as a replacement for the organs removed from her abdomen. The researchers believe that this may have been done to give her a more “favourable afterlife”.
The absence of the heart is also a point of mystery for Egyptologists and scholars. It is well known that the heart played an important role in ancient Egyptian religion. The ancient Egyptians believed that, after death, one’s heart and good deeds would be weighed against the measure of truth. If their heart weighed the same or less they could obtain eternal life, but if it weighed more they were destroyed.
Studies of Egyptian mummies have revealed that most of the time the heart is left in place, but on some occasions it is removed. "We don't really know what's happening to the hearts that are removed," said Andrew Wade, a professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada. “During some time periods, the hearts may have been put in canopic jars, a type of jar used to hold internal organs, though tissue analysis is needed to confirm this idea,” Wade said.
It is believed that the mummy’s final resting place was near Luxor. However, being a victim of antiquity dealers who purchased her in the 19 th century, it is hard to say for certain. She is now housed at the Redpath Museum at McGill University in Montreal.
Featured image: This 1,700-year-old mummy which is now kept at the Redpath Museum at McGill University in Montreal. Credit: Photo courtesy Nicolas Morin