The Mummy

Objects As History Week 5


I made the horrible decision of watching the ‘Dark Horse’ music video by Katy Perry way too many times when I was younger. Now every single time I think of Egypt, the song starts playing in my head. Like right now. But how the song shows Egypt, and probably how we all perceive it in our heads, is not how it looked several years ago. Egypt was said to have started as a lush savannah. It then went down to Egypt and it’s most well-known river, the Nile. The Nile was considered godly by the Egyptians. The location of Egypt made it a crossroads in the centre of the world, leading to its wealth and prosperity.

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Painting of Ancient Egypt

After a civilisation has settled down and their basic needs are met, the first thing they would probably do is start living their life. Thus caste systems in this era were based on occupation, and not birth.

  • The Egyptians believed that the beginning of time was linear. It was almost like they had their version of the Big Bang. This linear period is where all the Gods, the mythologies, legends and anecdotes are placed. Once this linear period “ends”, then begins the cyclical part of Time, which Egyptians believed that they as humans were living in. The reasoning for this was simple, it was simply based on what they saw in the sky. The diurnal routine of day and night made them conclude that they were living in a cycle. Thus natural phenomena are used to base their theories. So when the time of heavenly creatures ends, the time of humans begins.
  • This is similar to the timeline followed by the Greek, wherein they assumed that time was divided into 4 ages of man- The Golden Age consisting of the Titans, The Silver Age with all the Olympians, the Bronze Age with demigods like Hercules and other legends. And lastly, the Iron Age, which they thought to be for a man.
  • We discussed the legend of Osiris. He had a consort by the name of Isis. Osiris’ brother is named Set(represented by the snake). The two were antitheses of each other.
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Osiris and Isis
  • The concept of good and bad represented in these two gods came from the Persians, who started it with Ahriman(Angra Mainyu) and Ormuzd(Ahura Mazda). Ormuzd is the embodiment of good, while Ahriman was the embodiment of evil. This concept was picked by a lot of religions, including Egypt. Set was jealous of Osiris, and in this fit of envy, he cuts up Osiris into 44 pieces and spreads them all across Egypt.
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Ormuzd and Ahriman
  • A unit of administration in Egypt was called a Nome. Every Nome/District had a piece of Osiris placed in it. Isis, along with another goddess, transformed into a bird. She travels all over Egypt and collects all the pieces. They call upon every god to help them. All the body parts are stitched together, and Osiris becomes the first mummy. The son of Osiris and Isis is called Horace. After this, Osiris becomes the god of Death.
  • Thus any king elected in Egypt is believed to follow Osiris’ path, and be his descendant. Pharaoh, literally meaning god-king, was a concept made by the people to cement this theory of a king going to the afterlife.
Osiris,Isis and Horus
  • The Egyptians followed the concept of Maat or order. They gave the term a lot of importance. Because of the way they were raised and the legends that they had heard, it was not even part of their system to go against the Pharaoh.
  • Egypt was never a continuous kingdom, it was divided into Upper and Lower Egypt. Lower Egyptians were generally darker due to the geography. Upper Egyptians would believe that Osiris was lighter-skinned,and followed him. The Lower Egyptians followed Set.
  • As mentioned,The Nile River was so fertile that people would pray that it didn’t flood every year. They’d put reeds in the soil of the river to check the water level, and predict whether it would flood. Egypt’s prosperity was also a result of its mining industry.
  • The next development of Egypt was from a war-band to a proper standing army. The civilisation expanded, plundered the places they attacked. As Egypt grew in size, the pharaoh decided that there was no point having upper and lower parts of Egypt. This led to the unification of Egypt.
  • The Egyptians now had access to glass. They also created plank boats, which were much sturdier than the previous kind of boats. The Egyptian faience was one relic that showed their glass moulding and blowing skills. The faience was greenish-blue in colour, made by a process called Sintering. Sintering involved applying pressure and heat to form a compact mass without any liquefaction.
  • Egypt and India had a trade relationship. Spices like pepper,salt, chilli were traded with Egypt, which would then be sent to Rome. This proved to be hefty for Rome and Egypt, and it was getting troublesome to keep paying India. Back then, salt and pepper had become a status symbol kept on the dining tables in Rome, just so people could show that they could afford it.
  • Faience had aesthetic value that both the poor and the rich liked. The common people had smaller idols and relics, while the wealthy probably had entire statues made of Faience.
  • Egypt has three time periods, the Old (2100-2200), Middle ( 2055-1650), New (1550-1069) and Late(332-)
  • The gaps in the timeline are usually a shift in power, and due to political instability, there were no records. But between the Middle and the New period, in 50 years, all the civilizations of the fertile crescent suddenly vanished. It was almost as if they vanished overnight. This period is called the Late Bronze Age Collapse. It has no evidences.
  • We have only assumptions, and ways to fill in the blanks. The problem is the short 50 year period. A natural calamity would take much longer, and only affects certain parts of land at a time. It does not account for entire civilizations getting wiped out. For example, the destruction caused by Vesuvius at Pompeii still has some proof and has skeletons frozen in time. These stayed intact thanks to the lava encapsulating their bodies and turning into an exoskeleton. Similar to this, every civilisation destroyed by natural calamity will still have some records, sites, etc.
  • People from the Bronze Age fought with forearm-length swards. These soldiers on foot found it difficult to fight with someone on a chariot, which can run them down. The Egyptian and Babylonian chariots were scythed, and the introduction of iron in weaponry, specifically spears were a game changer to beat the chariot wheels.
Scythed Chariot
  • We have no clue who held the spears in the fight, but the ones with the chariots were civilizations of the Fertile Crescent. This group of iron clad individuals are called ‘Sea Peoples’. Nobody knows their descent. A theory says that they were probably Indo-Europeans. They didn’t trade with people of the fertile crescent.They decided to invade them since it didn’t make sense to settle in the crescent,away from the green pastures of Central Asia. This was also the period when desertification of Egypt began. This period witnessed Crustacean Strandings or whales washing up to the shore. If whales keep visiting a spot and desertification begins due to change in climate, the whales are washed up to the shore and die. This is why whale skeletons were found in the Sahara.

Sea Peoples
  • The palace economy that existed in the crescent defunct overnight and even religious ideas changed.
Whale skeleton in Egyptian Desert
  • We also discussed different hand gestures that we used today and how they have evolved across ages. The peace sign and the rock-and-roll sign hold their significance in ancient Greece and Rome. Even the thumbs up and down sign has ancient roots.
  • We then discussed the most signature process about Egypt, Mummification.
  • When a Pharaoh dies, he is just understood to break away from the cyclical form of time and join the gods in the afterlife. Mummification was like sending farewell to the King. Thus came about the concept of Pyramids. It was supposed to be his final home, his final resting place. The ones we know of are in Giza, but there were pyramids all over Egypt.
Pyramids of Giza
  • The pyramids were built using slave economy. Some people would sell themselves into slavery since it was a good form of employment.The slaves were made to commit suicide after building these pyramids.
  • There were traps set in the pyramids, like a room of snakes, false doors and chambers, etc.
Cross section of a Pyramid
  • The canopic jars used for the process represented all the Egyptian gods that helped the mummification of Osiris. The mummies had their organs removed, the main organs in the middle of the body were extracted from a cut in the torso. The brain was extracted using a hook through the nose since no cuts could be made to the face. The body was stitched back up and then wrapped tightly with linen. The pyramid was then sealed and never opened.
Removal of the brain
Canopic Jars
  • In the 1920s the pyramids were opened by Lord Carnarvon and Howard Carter. The story said they died due to “the curse of King Tut” but it was really because of a fever. The pyramid, after being enclosed for so many years, had developed its ecosystem, creating mosquitoes which hadn’t been exposed to humans or the outside world for several years. This mosquito became potent enough to be a lot more dangerous than the average mosquito. Using the same logic, the main sarcophagus chamber of the King is always kept closed, because opening the chamber meant diseases, contamination, and the crumbling of the mummy in under 2 minutes.
Lord Carnarvon and Howard Carter

“…as my eyes grew accustomed to the light, details of the room within emerged slowly from the mist, strange animals, statues, and gold – everywhere the glint of gold. For the moment – an eternity it must have seemed to the others standing by – I was struck dumb with amazement, and when Lord Carnarvon, unable to stand the suspense any longer, inquired anxiously, ‘Can you see anything?’ it was all I could do to get out the words, ‘Yes, wonderful things.”

― Howard Carter,The Tomb of Tutankhamen

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