Who were the first people to make mummies?

The ancient Egyptians believed in life after death. They thought of the soul as a bird with a human face that could fly around by day but must return to the tomb at night for fear of evil spirits. The body was therefore preserved so that the soul could recognize it and know which tomb to enter. This is where the word "mummy" comes from. It is Arabic and means a body preserved by wax or tar.

Most mummies were not made using wax or tar. The body was treated with salts. Salts, put inside the body, together with the dryness of the desert air, took out the moisture. When the body had been dried out, it was bathed, rubbed with resin from pine trees, and wrapped in hundreds of meters of linen.

Before about 3000 b.c. the Egyptians buried their dead in a curled-up posi­tion in the hot sand of the desert. The sand preserved the bodies. Later, important persons were buried in tombs cut from rock and in magnificent pyra­mids. But the pyramids and rock tombs were not so dry as the desert sand. This made it necessary to develop the art of mummification.

About 1500 b.c., mummies were given a plaster covering, shaped like a body and elaborately painted. Soon the coffins took the same shape and were decorated. Beards were added to some of the mummy cases. The beard in an­cient Egypt was the sign of a god or king. Adding a beard showed that the dead man expected to live in the very high company in the afterworld.

The Egyptians also believed that certain animals were sacred. These animals were also mummified and buried in animal cemeteries.