Ancient Egypt: Mummies

Recently, I made a visit to the Field Museum of Chicago, which is located on South Lake Shore Drive in downtown Chicago. Formerly named the Columbian Museum of Chicago, the Field Museum was founded on September 16th, 1893, and was created for the infamous World Fair that was to be held in Chicago. The official opening of the museum was held on June 2, 1894, originally in the location of the current Museum of Science and Industry.The year of 1915 was when the construction began for the current building that the museum resides in.

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Costing around 7 million dollars at the time, blueprint designs were created by Chicago architect, Pierce Anderson, who belonged to the Chicago architectural firm, Graham, Anderson, Probst & White. All archeological findings were transported from the former museum location to the current South Lake Shore Drive location in 1920. Once findings were transported, the official opening of the museum took place on the great date of May 2nd, 1921, and still a gaping attraction hub and nationally renown site of archeological findings today! (Administrator). When visiting, I was lucky enough to attend a special, limited time exhibit called Mummies, which focused on the ancient process of mummification, both in Egyptian and Peruvian cultures. For this course paper, I choose to focus on the Ancient Egyptian culture as it relates to their religious practices, Art and process of mummification.

The Ancient Egyptian culture thrived under a specific religious and traditional ideology for almost 3000 years, from roughly 3100-330 B.C.E. The religious traditions within Ancient Egyptian culture were based on polytheism, the belief of many Gods. The Ancient Egyptians of this time placed heavy importance on the land and were ruled by ‘Pharaohs,’ who were considered a god in human form. As referenced in The Humanistic Tradition, by Gloria K. Fiero who received her Ph. D, from Florida State university in interdisciplinary Humanities stated that Theocratic Socialism served as the Ancient Egyptians political system to guide their various spiritual beliefs and day-to-day life (Fiero 48). This quote demonstrates how the Political system of Ancient Egyptians fueled their spiritual guidelines they lived by.Egyptians used the art of Hieroglyphs, which was a form of two-dimensional art, inside of tombs. This art was not created for the intent to be seen outside these tomb walls, even though they do depict what the day-to-day life was and help us better understand what life was like in ancient Egypt. Fiero shows many examples of different forms of hieroglyphs that were painted inside burial tombs throughout the text in Chapter 2.

Fiero explains the method of how Ancient Egyptians were able to create the two-dimensional art. There are two specific rules that these artists followed, and Fiero describes them as ‘cannon:’ a set of rules or standards used to establish proportions. And ‘module:’ a unit of measurement used to determine proportion by the use of a clenched fist. (Fiero 62). These definitions of canon and module show how Ancient Egyptian artists we able to draw proportional Hieroglyphs inside tombs.The Field Museum showed remade hieroglyphs through carved stories that were brightly painted by modern-day artists who specialized in Ancient Egyptian Art, whichalso show a close representation of how these hieroglyphs would have looked like in Ancient Egypt. The Field Museum explained why Ancient Egyptians found it important that Hieroglyphs were to be painted inside the burial tomb. A specific example showed farmers cultivating the land for food. This was significant because Ancient Egyptians believed that even long after family members and priests stopped bringing donations such as food for the dead, that these Hieroglyphs such as these farmers cultivating crops would ensure that the deceased would not go hungry in the afterlife.The Cult of the Dead was the Ancient Egyptian group of people who partook in the belief and process of mummification”preparing the dead for the afterlife, and making sure the person has all of the necessary items and protective spells to ensure safe passage to the after life.

The Cult of the Dead along with the rest of the Egyptian culture placed great importance in the Osiris myth. The myth states that Osiris was the first son of gods Geb (earth) and Nut (Sky) (Mark). Osiris was created instantaneously as Geb and Nut created the Earth. But as the myth states, Osiris’s younger brother, Set, kills him not long after the earth was created, but brought back to life by his wife Isis who was his sister-wife. Information received from Joshua J. Mark, part-time professor of Philosophy at Marist College New York and free-lance writer. The Cult of The Dead honors the God of the Underworld, Osiris. As Fiero explains, The Osiris myth vividly describes the idea of resurrection that was central to the ancient Egyptian belief system (p. 46). This myth was seen as the backbone for early Egyptian religion and culture. Egyptian saw Osiris as the Judge of the dead and made the decision to allow those to pass on to the afterlife or not.Many of the Pharaohs were buried with ‘death masks’ after they were mummified. Fiero states Death masks or ‘reserves’ portrait heads of the pharaoh might be placed in the tomb to provide the king’s ka (life force or divine essence) with safe and familiar dwelling place (Fiero 51). These masks seemed to have served as an additional measure of protection to aid and guide the dead pharaohs into the after life and preserve their divine essence to be able to gain access to live their afterlife alongside the gods. The Field Museum had a brief description of these portrait masks that connect with what Fiero states in the text.

Saying that ancient Egyptians tried to make the mask as similar to the deceased face as possible so they would look similar in the afterlife. They had a mummy mask from the Ptolemaic Roman period that was similar to Fiero’s figure 2.13 (Fiero 52). of the cover Tutankhamen’s coffin cover with the portrait mask.The Ancient Egyptians communicated the importance of honoring Osiris and preparing for the afterlife through rituals, and are most historically famed for their processes of mummification. As the book mentions, The promise of life after death seems to have dominated at all level of Egyptian culture (Fiero 51). Ancient Egyptian’s practiced mummifcation in order to help the spirits live on in the afterlife. The Field Museum gave visualization of the burial scene. In order to demonstrate how The Cult of the Dead ensured a easy passing for the deceased into eternal after-life.The Book of the Dead, a collection of funerary prayers originating as far back as 4000 B.C.E., prepared each individual for final judgment (Fiero 53). These prayers were written on papyrus scrolls, serving as ‘confessions’ or ‘sins’ of the deceased Egyptian individual. These confessions were recited via ceremony ritual, and examples of these confessions include, I have not done iniquity; I have not robbed with violence; I havenot cursed the god; I have no increased my wealth, except with such things as are my own possessions (Fiero 53).

These translated confessions from a funerary papyrus from the book of the dead was seen very important and essential to ancient egyptians to ensure the dead pass on easily into the afterlife and not be rejected by Osiris.The Field Museum also explained the process of mummification and significance of Osiris. Osiris and his wife, Isis, are referenced in the Book of the Dead, as they are the Gods that officially ‘allow’ the deceased into the afterlife. Mummies were buried with pottery, jewelry, and other symbolic artifacts that were considered important to have with them in their after life.Horus was the falcon headed god and son of Osiris, his eyes were painted on the sides of the coffins, and these eyes are considered ‘magical.’ Their significance and placement on the coffin allow the deceased to ‘look out’ of their coffins, along with other various elaborate inscriptions and paintings carved on their coffin.

In addition to the physical artifacts, Horus’s eyes served as blessings that the deceased would carry with them through the afterlife.During my visit to The Field Museum, there was a visual representation of the process called The Embalmers Art. I found this 3-D display very interesting because it depicted an embalming workshop from about 1085 B.C. It demonstrated how meticulous and specific ancient Egyptians were in the process of early mummification. The workshop demonstrated all the steps. The first was to remove all internal organs, then the bodies were stuffed to maintain shape while drying. The second step was to let the body and organs dry separately in a chemical combination of baking soda and salts known as natron. This process of drying took about forty days. The third step was to oil and stuffthe body. I think these steps are significant because it shows how dedicated the Egyptians were to preserve the body after the spirit has left it. Along with respecting the dead to the highest degree since it took about one third of a year to complete the whole burial process. I found it interesting that the internal organs were wrapped separately from the body and placed in Canopic jars.

I found these canopic jars interesting because they had head of of Norus Osiris’s son. I think this is important because Norus is an extension of Osiris, the judge of the dead, and was probably believed that dedicating these organ jars to Norus the son of Osiris helped bless the organs of the dead equally to the mummy that was inside the coffin. The portrait masks were also very interesting due to the fact that they were designed to help resemble the facial features of the dead to preserve the mummies of pharaohs ‘life force’ into the next life. I think the art on pharoah’s masks were significant because they were decorated with elaborate forms or jewels and rocks such as turquois, lapis lazuli. I think these elaborate portrait masks were significant because they helped Osiris decipher this pharaoh mummy was not a commoner and open an exclusive passage so they could rule with the gods in the afterlife. Overall the process of mummification and all of the steps inbetween really shows that Ancient Egyptians turned a tragic even such as death into this special celebration where friends and family would get together and celebrate the dead. Ancient Egyptians did everything they could to help mirror what their life was like before they died in belief that it would be carried with them to the next life. Including protective masks, hieroglyphs, Book of the Dead inscriptions, valuables and many other things.

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