When it comes to the ancient Egyptians, the idea of the afterlife was extremely important to them. “Ancient Egyptians believed that an essential part of every human personality is its life force, or soul, called the Ka, which lived on after the death of the body, forever engaged in activities it had enjoyed in its former existence.” Stokstad, Pg. 53). Their strong belief in the Ka (or soul) was one of the main factors as to why funerary practices and providing for the dead was so essential to them. “Death was to be feared only by those who lived in such a way as to disrupt harmony. Upright souls could be confident that their spirits would live on eternally.” (Stokstad, Pg. 50). There were many ways that the ancient Egyptians prepared their dead for the afterlife, some of the most important examples are mummification, the building of tombs and pyramids, and the different types of artwork that were produced. The many steps the Egyptians took to ensure the Ka would forever live and flourish in the afterlife is proof of how important funerary practices were to them and their societies. When it came to the Ka and ancient Egyptian funerary practices, every possible measure was taken to make sure that the dead, especially pharaohs and kings, were provided for and that they had a decent and plentiful afterlife.
Mummification was one of the most important aspects when it came to ancient Egyptian funerary practices and ceremonies, preserving the Ka (or the soul) was one of the most important steps to ensure that the Ka could live eternally in the afterlife. “With the invention of mummification a more complete funerary ritual arose, based on the hope that such ceremonies as it imposed would ensure the corpse against corruption, preserve it forever, and introduce it to a beatified existence among the gods.” (Brown, Pg. 125 & 126). There were a few different ways that ancient Egyptians preserved and mummified the dead, “before the Old Kingdom, bodies buried in desert pits were naturally preserved by desiccation. The arid, desert conditions continued to be a boon throughout the history of ancient Egypt for the burials of the poor, who could not afford the elaborate burial preparations available to the elite.” As for wealthier Egyptians “buried their dead in stone tombs and, as a result, they made use of artificial mummification, which involved removing the internal organs, wrapping the body in linen, and burying it in a rectangular stone sarcophagus or wooden coffin.” Wealthy Egyptians were buried with a lot more luxury items, but regardless of social status, all burials included goods for the deceased. The ancient Egyptians perfected the art of mummification by the New Kingdom; “the best technique took 70 days and involved removing the internal organs, removing the brain through the nose, and desiccating the body in a mixture of salts. The body was then wrapped in linen with protective amulets inserted between layers and placed in a decorated anthropoid coffin. Mummies of the Late Period were also placed in painted cartonnage mummy cases.” Mummification was a crucial element to guarantee that the Ka moved on to the afterlife and had a vessel to live in for all eternity; mummification was a crucial aspect when it came to ancient Egyptian funerary practices.
The building of tombs and pyramids was also and important aspect of funerary practices and providing for the Ka. Tombs and pyramids were used as burials for many wealthier or royal Egyptians. Before the pyramids, “tombs were carved into bedrock and topped by flat-roofed structures called mastabas. Mounds of dirt, in turn, sometimes topped the structures.” Tombs were a lot more simple and smaller than pyramids and “Those who could afford it, may have preferred a more substantial tomb, built underground of mud brick or even of stone. These were typically simple structures containing one or two small rooms, sometimes with a staircase for easy access.” Egyptians would excavate a shallow grave and would place rocks on top of the ground after the burial to protect the corpse from scavenging jackals.” There were often many statues placed in tombs and pyramids for the purpose of being a back up vessel in case the mummified body decayed and was no longer a proper vessel for the Ka. There were many other goods that were placed in tombs as well, “Writing materials were often supplied along with clothing, wigs, and hairdressing supplies and assorted tools, depending on the occupation of the deceased.” Food was also one of the things that was provided as a regular offering for the deceased. Egyptians wanted to make sure that the deceased always had plenty of food and were comfortably taken care of in the after life, one of the ways the Egyptians made sure there would be a plentiful supply of food was to having paintings in tombs that depicted food. “The Egyptians painted idealized scenes from daily life on the walls of their tombs: scenes of agricultural work such as harvesting crops, tending cattle and fishing, scenes of artisans at their work, including gold workers and boat-builders and domestic scenes of banquets with musicians, dancers and guests. The scenes in the tomb represented the hoped for after-life, in which there were fertile fields and harmony and happiness at home; representing it in the tomb was thought to ensure an ideal existence in the next world.” One thing ancient Egyptians did for the deceased placed in tombs was to “read text from the ‘Book of the Dead’ and the ritual of “opening the mouth” was performed before the tomb was sealed.” The Book of the Dead was an ancient Egyptian funerary texts that were read as part of a ritual when burying the dead. The building of tombs and pyramids was an extremely important part of funerary practices and was a way to provide the Ka with a vessel, food and other goods that the soul might need in the afterlife.
The majority of surviving artwork made by the ancient Egyptians had to do with funerary practices and was often times a means for providing for the Ka or soul of the deceased in the afterlife. When it came to lower class, poorer citizens and funerary art, “they used common forms of funerary art including shabti figurines (to perform any labor that might be required of the dead person in the afterlife), models of the scarab beetle and books of the dead which they believed would protect them in the afterlife.” During the Egyptian Middle Kingdom, “miniature wooden or clay models depicting scenes from everyday life became popular additions to the tomb. In an attempt to duplicate the activities of the living in the afterlife, these models show laborers, houses, boats, and even military formations, which are scale representations of the ideal ancient Egyptian afterlife.” Coffins and sarcophaguses were also full of carvings, paintings and text which was related to the deceased that the coffin or sarcophagus was made for. One of the most important and most recognized type of funerary art was the funerary mask, “The most important process of the funeral ceremony in ancient Egypt was the mummification of the body, which, after prayers and consecration, was put into a sarcophagus enameled and decorated with gold and gems. A special element of the rite was a sculpted mask, put on the face of the deceased. This mask was believed to strengthen the spirit of the mummy and guard the soul from evil spirits on its way to the afterworld.” Some funerary masks were made with the most valuable of materials like gold and gems, but most masks were not made of solid gold. The best-known funerary mask is that of Tutankhamen, which is now in the Egyptian Antiquities Museum in Cairo, it is made of gold and gems and was made to convey the features of the ancient ruler. Art was an important process of funerary practices, like a lot of things, art was used as a way to provide for the Ka and ensure that the deceased were well cared for in the afterlife.
The ancient Egyptians made funerary practices and rituals a part of their everyday lives, they often times went out of their way to provide for the deceased and make certain that the Ka or soul of the deceased would be able to live on for all eternity in the afterlife. The belief of the afterlife was extremely important to the ancient Egyptians and they centered their lives on this belief. When it comes to funerary practices, three of the most important things they did to provide for the deceased’s Ka was mummification, the building of tombs and pyramids, and the different types of artwork that were made for the dead. The reasons why they did so much for the deceased is because they genuinely cared about the Ka and wanted to be as certain as possible that the Ka had the many things they needed for the life that came after death, the afterlife.
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