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A CONTRIBUTION TO THE STUDY OF MUMMIFICATION IN EGYPT
WITH SPECIAL REFERENCE TO THE MEASURES ADOPTED DURING THE TIME OF THE XXI DYNASTY FOR MOULDING THE FORM OF THE BODY
G. ELLIOT SMITH
STUDY OF MUMMIFICATION IN EGYPT
WITH SPECIAL REFERENCE TO THE MEASURES
G. ELLIOT SMITH
When we consider how much of our information concerning the ancient Egyptians has been derived from the study of tombs, and recall the vast numbers of graves that have been opened within recent years it is very suprising to find that so little accurate knowledge has been gained concerning the treatment of the body itself, which is presumably the chief object in the tomb and the raison d'etre of all the furniture and pictorial art.
Nevertheless it is a fact that since Pettigrew, seventy two years ago, published his remarkable monograph, which is a very complete record of all the facts relating to Egyptian mummies ascertained or perhaps, considering the state of knowledge, ascertainable, at that time, not only has very little been added to our store of information on this subject, but most writers have forgotten or neglected the solid foundation of established facts. which he so laboriously gathered together. In making this statement I am not unmindful of the vast amount that has been written during the last seventy years upon the subject of mummies and the ancient practice of embalming: but it is no exaggeration to state that in almost every case modern writers who have given us a small scrap of new information have at the same
1 THOMAS JOSEPH PETTIGREW, F.R.S., A History of Egyptian Mummie Account of the Worship and Embalming of the Sacred Animals by the Egyptians; with Remarks on the funeral Ceremonies of Different Nations, etc. London, 1834.
time added far more that is inaccurate and misleading; so that the errors of observation and inference utterly obscure the few new facts.
We have no definite information as to the time when the practice of mummification was first attempted: nor is there much chance of ever being able to speak decisively on this subject. For it is only natural to suppose that the earliest attempts at the artificial preservation of the body would yield crude and imperfect results, which would be the least likely to persist and give us the information we need.
We can assert without any fear of reasonable contradiction that there is no evidence whatever to suggest the idea that the excellent state of preservation of many bodies buried during the earlier part of the Ancient Empire and in predynastic times is anything else than the result of the action of natural agencies unaided by art. Nor have we any certain evidence that any attempts were made at any period of the Ancient Empire to resist by artificial means the natural decay of the body. I am well aware that there is a well preserved body in the Cairo Museum said to be the "Momie du roi Mihtimsaouf - Métésonphis 1er, fils de Papi 1er découverte à Sakkarah dans sa pyramide (VI dynastie)"1; but no definite reasons have yet been given for regarding this body as a mummy or for excluding the possibility that it may not have been put in the pyramid at a much later time than that assigned to it. Until such information is forthcoming concerning this specimen and other supposed early mummies mentioned in the catalogue of the British Museum their value as evidence must be ignored.
With reference to the body (now in the Cairo Museum) found in a 5th dynasty coffin at Deshasheh by Professor Flinders Petrie,
1 G. MASPERO, "Guide du Visiteur au Musée du Caire," 1902, p. 397.