Ancient Egyptian civilization had a belief system that included rebirth after death, and this became the driving force behind their funeral practices. To ancient Egyptians, death was merely an interruption of life, and that eternal life would be guaranteed by preservation of bodily form through mummification, the endowment of effigies, and written commemoration of the deceased.

The Ka, the Akh, and the Ba—the three aspects of the soul—of each human life had to be sustained and protected from harm, to ensure the departed could enjoy the afterlife.

Most normal, working-class ancient Egyptians were simply buried in the desert. Their relatives wrapped their bodies in simple cloth and buried them with everyday objects and food for use in the afterlife. Those with more wealth could afford nicer burials. Graves of skilled workers and craftsmen have been found containing bread, fruit, amulets, and even furniture for the afterlife, as well as the mummified body.

Prior to the rise of the Old Kingdom, wealthy Egyptians began to bury their dead in stone tombs making use of simple mummification, which involved taking out the internal organs, wrapping the body in linen, and entombing it in a rectangular stone sarcophagus. Coffins made of wood were also often used.

Ancient Egyptian burial

Canopic jars

The ancient Egyptians had perfected mummification (the process of drying out and preparing the body for preservation) by the dawn of the New Kingdom. The most sophisticated technique involved removing internal organs, removing the brain through the nose, and dehydrating the body in a mixture of salts. After this process, the body was wrapped in linen with protective amulets inserted between layers.

The removed internal organs were treated and placed in clay or stone jars. These canopic jars were then closed using stoppers crafted in the shape of human, jackal, baboon, and falcon heads, which symbolized the four protective spirits (the Four Sons of Horus).

 

The heart was removed and weighed to determine morality. Personal belongings were placed in the tomb to assist the dead with their journey to the afterlife.

Wealthy Egyptians were also buried with luxury items such as jewelry and perfumes, but every burial, irrespective of social status, incorporated goods for the departed. Egyptians believed that mummification was the only way for the deceased to exist in the afterlife; to go together with the sun on its daily ride and live forever in the Fields of Yalu.

For the wealthy or royal families, mummification was part of their preparation for the afterlife, and during the Old Kingdom, the building of pyramids started to emerge for the royalty. By the time of the New Kingdom, the remains of pharaohs and others of high rank were placed in lavish tombs cut from rock. The tombs were packed with personal items that were believed to be useful for the deceased in the afterlife.