Mummifying the head


When a body was mummified the internal organs were usually preserved in some way. This was not true of the brain which was often just discarded. This was usually done by inserting a hook up the nose and using it to slice up and remove the brain tissue, with the cavity then being washed out. The reason for this treatment of the brain was that the Ancient Egyptians believed that it was the Heart which was where the 'soul' lived.

This skull, from the British Museum, shows the nasal cavity with the central bone broken out to allow the removal of the brain.

 

Many of the mummies which have been examined show damage to the skull in the region of the nose proving that this was the method used. The mummy of Ramesses II had peppercorns inserted into the nasal cavity in an attempt to retain his distinctive hooked nose.

The brain was not always removed, perhaps because full mummification would have been quite an expensive process, out of the reach of many ordinary people. In some cases the brain was left inside the skull, where it then dried and shrunk. This could produce a rather novel rattle.

It was important that when the spirit, or Ba of the dead person returned, the body could be recognised. This was the reason for the elaborate masks placed over the head of the mummy. Further information on Mummy Masks can be found in the 'Faces of the dead' Section.

It was also believed that if the body was destroyed the spirit could not live on, and for this reason burials often included a reserve head or a statue that the spirit could inhabit should the anything happen to the mummy. It is possible that many of the mummys presently 'missing' could have been destroyed in antiquity deny their spirits this eternal life.