Cultures & Traditions

Mummy and Cartonnage

The ancient Egyptians believed that favored people would live physically after death in a western land ruled by the God of the Dead, Osiris, and the preservation of the body was essential for this life eternal. To achieve physical immortality, the dead person's body was carefully embalmed, wrapped, and buried with a variety of tomb objects. All these ensured that the dead person would survive as in life.

To mummify bodies of the deceased, Egyptians first removed the brain and viscera of the body and preserved them in vessels called canopic jars. They then dried the body with a naturally occurring salt compound known as natron to dehydrate the body, added artificial eyes, applied oils to the skin to restore its suppleness, and wrapped the corpse in linen bandages or papyrus tightly pressed and glued together called cartonnage. Inside of these linen bandages, they wrapped magical protective amulets to ward off anyone attempting to harm to the body. The most important amulets were heart scarabs (gems in the shape of beetles). Spells written on them ensured that the heart would be returned to its owner if lost.

Mummified bodies were then placed in coffins and entombed. Masks such as the Dallas Museum of Art's Mummy mask (1996.63) covered the faces of the wealthy. The coffins frequently bore realistic, lifelike faces like that of the Coffin of Horankh (1994.184).

Adapted from

  • DMA unpublished material, Label text [20.2002.1.a-c].

Related Multimedia

gallery talk; speaker is professor at Richland College
Dr. Bromberg, Anne R. discusses the concept of death and burials in Egypt and other cultures; in conjunction with King Tutankhamun exhibition; shown on DMA.tv