Acclaimed Egyptologist and AUC Press author Salima Ikram gave a lively illustrated talk on mummification in ancient Egypt at Cairo’s American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE) on the eve of Halloween. Addressing a costumed audience, including a group of captivated youngsters seated in the front row, Ikram, who wrote Death and Burial in Ancient Egypt (AUC Press, pbk 2015), described in colorful detail how ancient Egyptians mummified humans and animals, following distinct rituals of mummification—from the embalmment ceremony and the methodical removal of the organs, to the drying out of the body and in the end the wrapping.
“The mummy is an artificially prepared body that is preserved for a much longer time than if it had just been returned to the earth,” said Ikram. She reminded the audience that the heart however was not removed, so that when a person entered the Hall of Judgment after death, their heart was weighed against the feather of Ma’at to determine whether they had lived a good life and deserved to join the blessed dead.
“Anubis, the jackal-headed god of the Egyptian afterlife, was considered the protector of the dead, and was often depicted attending to the mummified dead,” explained Ikram, at times covering her face with a handmade papier-mâché head of the canine god, to the excitement of the audience.
“Ancient Egyptians mummified human beings and in fact Egypt is very famous for its human mummies but people are less aware of the fact that the ancient Egyptians mummified animals,” said Ikram.
By studying animal mummies she added, Egyptologists can learn about the climate, the environment, the different species that existed in ancient Egypt, veterinary practices, and the religious and cultural beliefs at the time.
The lecture was followed by a Q&A session, a mummification contest for the kids, and some trick-or-treating around the ARCE offices.
Salima Ikram is the author, editor, and co-editor of several books published by AUC Press, including more recently Fun Things to Do with Dead Animals: Egyptology, Ruins, My Life, which she co-authored with Eden Unger Bowditch (AUC Press, 2019).