Some scientists claim that the Egyptians did not use mummification at all to preserve the body.
They may have wanted to turn the royal remains into divine statues – they said the conservation was an advantage.
The Victorians may have overly focused on conservation due to their own views.
Experts say mummification was never intended to preserve ancient Egyptian bodies after death, in sharp contrast to popular understanding of the practice.
A growing number of archaeologists argue that the preserving effect of mummification was likely accidental, and blame early modern Egyptologists for propagating a misconception based on little evidence.
Instead, the theory goes, mummification was intended to alter bodies in a way that was not based on the popular theory that bodies would be reanimated in the afterlife.
Instead, experts said, the Egyptians intended to turn their pharaohs into statues, works of art with religious significance.
Egyptologists who support this view claim that Victorian mummy researchers were the first to conclude that their purpose was protection, because of their own gruesome fascination with the afterlife.
This approach implied that the Egyptians believed that kings and queens were living gods, and turning their bodies into statues after death was a way to restore them to their rightful form.
According to Egyptologists, the golden masks found in the sarcophagi of members of the royal family would then be idealized, divine versions of the dead, rather than realistic portraits.
“It’s a subtle distinction, but an important one,” said Campbell Price, curator at the Manchester Museum in the UK.
“The idea that the spirit returns to the body or somehow revives the body is not as clearly articulated as you might imagine,” Price told Insider in an interview.
The Manchester Museum will explore this approach in its upcoming exhibition ‘Egypt’s Golden Mummies’, which opens in February. Price wrote a companion book.
One argument in support of this theory is that the mummies of some prominent ruling classes don’t seem to care much about protection.
For example, King Tutankhamun’s body was found glued to the bottom of his coffin.
“It’s almost like reading contemporary accounts, the mummification was botched, the ancient Egyptians didn’t know what they were doing and therefore it wasn’t well preserved,” Price said.
According to an alternative theory, “creating a realistic, recognizable image was never actually the intention,” said Price.
The ancient Egyptians considered statues to be divine.
“It seems that there is a world of the living and people who go about their daily lives. There is also a world of paintings and representations, statues, bas-reliefs and paintings. It’s not just an idealized version of Egypt – it’s an image of the gods, a kind of world of statues,” Price said.
Archaeological records suggest that the ancient Egyptians anointed statues of gods with oils and perfumes. Sometimes they also wrapped them in cloth, so it could be that the bandages were supposed to impart some divinity.
By placing the organs in canopic urns – jars adorned with the heads of gods – during the embalming process, the Egyptians may have wanted to infuse them with the divine spirit of the deceased royalty, Price said, rather than keeping them on hand for the afterlife.
However, not everyone agrees that the preservation aspect of mummification should be discarded.
“The physical behavior of the body was extremely important. There’s no doubt about it,” Stephen Buckley, an archaeologist and analytical chemist at the University of York, told Insider.
Some mummies actually look like statues, such as Tutankhamun, Amenhotep III and Akhenaten.
But others, Buckley said, like Thutmose III, Thutmose IV, Amenhotep II and Queen Tiye, were mummified to look more “dream-like,” suggesting closer care for the physical body inside.
The paintings contained some imperfections, “perhaps so that the soul could recognize itself and so have a ‘home’ to periodically return to,” he said.
Buckley acknowledged that mummification is not just about preservation, but said that to disregard it entirely would be “missing the point.”
But if Price is right, then why were we so wrong?
This may come down to the Victorian era and their idea of life after death.
“A lot of what we say when we describe ancient Egypt is less about what actually happened in ancient Egypt and more about the assumptions of Victorian white, cisgender, upper-middle-class bearded men,” Price said.
“As is often the case, these interpretations got stuck and were repeated, repeated and repeated,” Price said.
“I think there are a lot of ill-conceived things to do.”
Read the original article in Business Insider