Term used to refer to the dead body of a person or animal, treated in such a way that it does not decay. The term comes from Arabic, where the word 'mumiya' means bitumen or asphalt. It used to be thought that the dark colour of the mummies was a result of the use of bitumen during the mummification process. The Egyptians themselves called a mummy a 'sah'. Egyptian texts do not say much about the mummification process; on the other hand, several classical authors (Herodotus, Diodorus Siculus and fragments of Plutarch) have described the process in detail. Herodotus tells us that the relatives were shown wooden models of mummies from which they could choose. Then there were three differently priced treatment methods. The most expensive method involved the brains being removed through the nose with an iron hook, with the remains then being rinsed out. Next, the internal organs were removed from the body through an incision, the cavity was cleansed, the opening closed and the body covered for 70 days with natron; after that time the body was washed and wrapped. The less expensive method involved cedar oil being injected into the body through the anus; the body was then mummified and finally the oil was removed, bearing with it the liquefied internal organs. There was no further treatment. The cheapest method involved removal of the internal organs by a similar method and then mummification of the body.
Although mummification methods changed over the course of the centuries, the following is a description of an 'average' method for human mummies; we know much less about the mummification methods of animals, although there is a Demotic papyrus describing the ritual of embalming an Apis bull. After death the body was brought to a tent, called the Place of Purification or the Good House, where it was washed. It was then mummified, which involved the internal organs being removed through an incision in the lower abdomen but leaving the heart in place. The organs were treated separately and then placed into canopic jars or returned to the body, under the protection of the Sons of Horus. Next, a layer of dry natron was placed over (and often in) the body, which dried out the body fluids. After a few weeks (it is assumed roughly 35 days) the natron was removed and the body filled with linen, natron and various fragrant herbs; this packing restored the natural shape of the body to some extent. Cosmetics were also used to make the body look as natural as possible again. Finally, the body was coated with a resinous substance and wrapped; amulets were placed between the bandages and sometimes even a copy of the Book of the Dead. A mummy mask was then placed over the head, the mummy was placed into a sarcophagus and rituals were carried out over it, for example the Opening of the Mouth ritual. All kinds of rituals were also carried out during the mummification process itself, as related in two papyri dating from the 1st century AD which describe the ritual aspects of the embalming process. Altogether, the process lasted 70 days, the same length of time that the star Sirius (the Egyptian goddess Sothis) was invisible. The two events were considered to be connected. The aim of the whole process was the preservation of the body which was needed in the hereafter (regarded as a continuation of life on earth). It was also necessary for the 'ka' of the deceased to be able to recognize the body and return to it.