HOT TOPIC: Mummies
Volume 1, Issue 9 - October 31, 2004
"This Halloween weekend I wanted to showcase a topic that was both seasonal and educational: mummies. Long fodder for Hollywood fright films and tales of curses, mummies are actually a fascinating study in the sciences and social studies; a look into the human condition both physically and existentially. Regardless of what state you live in, at some point your Social Studies standards require you to immerse your students in a study of ancient Egypt. A look at the burial process in this influential Mediterranean culture allows students and teachers to gain greater insight into the life (and death) of these people.
Egyptians believed that a person's soul had many parts, and that all people and the parts of their souls were sculpted from clay by the ram-headed god named Khnum. One of these parts was called the Ka. The ka was a person's double, sort of an invisible twin, which supposedly lived in the body until death. It was necessary to prevent the dead body from decaying because the ka still needed it!
Another part of the soul was called the Ba. The Ba was usually shown as a bird with a human head that looked like that of the dead person. Unlike the ka, which stayed in the tomb with the mummy, the Ba was able to leave. It could fly out of the tomb, magically passing through walls of solid rock. But it always returned to the mummy at night. Like the ka, it could only live forever if it was able to find and recognize the body to which it belonged. And this wouldn't be possible if the body decomposed! This is why the Egyptians wanted to preserve the dead in as life-like a state as possible. Mummification was the guarantee of eternal life.
Early attempts at mummification were not successful because the coffin, bandages, and resin locked the moisture inside the corpse, making it rot from within. Eventually the Egyptians got it right. The entire process of mummification took 70 days to complete, with the chief embalmer wearing a jackal mask to represent Anubis, the god of mummification. No wonder why so much mystery has grown around this process over time! This week’s sites are meant to help bring the mysteries out into the light and assist your students in appreciating this reverent ritual for the dead, not only in Egypt but in cultures around the world. Enjoy!
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