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Friday, July 23, 2010

Ancient Egyptian Practices in Treating Dead People

Peoples’ understanding of death depends on their environment. Death is an event or condition that results in the termination of the biological functioning of a living organism (Belshaw, 2009). In many communities, death is mostly seen as the termination of human life. Many philosophical inquiries and religious traditions believe in afterlife or rebirth - life after death. It is believed, that upon death, the human soul goes to heaven. Many religions and communities alike see death as a taboo while other religions believe that death is the ultimate goal of human life (Braddock, 2000). For instance, some Islamic nations believe that death through Jihad is a one way ticket to the heavenly corridors. How an Individual’s Dead Body is Being Dealt with in Egypt

Ancient Egyptian’s funeral practices were based on their religious belief. They believed that death was only a temporary interruption. Eternal life could be guaranteed by preserving the dead body in the form of mummification, which could protect the “ka”, the “ba”, and the “akh” including the name and shadows. These were all key elements to ensure the quality of a dead person’s afterlife. However, the mummification in the New Kingdom was extremely complex and expensive. The best technique spent seventy days, and thus it was only available to people of the highest class. The specifics of performing the art of mummification entails different procedures. The first procedure involved dislodging the internal organs and storing them in separate Canopic jars of clay or stone. Next is to remove the brain from the nose and throwing the brain tissue away without restoring it back because they felt that the brain was useless. They then use natron to dehydrate the body. The last would be to wrap the dead body in strips of cloth from head to toe. The main objective of mummification was to slow down the rate of decay of the dead bodies. Ancient Egyptians believed that being mummified was the only way to have an afterlife. If the dead body was preserved, the dead would have a chance to live again in the Fields of Yalu and accompany the Sun on its daily ride. The Mummy was then placed in a brightly painted wooden coffin. The paintings on the center panel of the wooden coffin are mostly symbols of rebirth or that of Gods and Goddesses. The lid was painted with the dead person’s face, wig and elaborated collar. On the back of the coffin, a large white pillar was also painted as symbolic support for the mummy. Another coffin is usually placed next to the mummy and the coffin. The second one is somewhat similar to the first one but much simpler. Finally, the mummy and coffins were placed in a rectangular outermost coffin made primarily out of sycamore wood. The posts of the coffin are inscribed with religious texts. On the top of the coffin sits an alert jackal, probably a reference to Anubis, the jackal-headed god who was the patron of embalmers and protector of cemeteries. Besides that, mask was another important aspect of the ancient Egyptian burials.(Crystal,2000)

Modern Egyptians still maintain some of their ancient burial practices. However, under the influence of both Christianity and Islamic religions, new burial procedures are evident in modern Egypt. These practices were never practiced by the ancient pharaohs. Christian Egyptians performed mass before burying their dead ones. These new developments are attributed to the imitation and adoption of western culture by traditional Egyptians. This slow and gradual imitation and adoption of western culture placed the indigenous Egyptian culture in jeopardy.

The social learning theory can be used to study the developments in the manner with which modern day Egyptians relate to their dying and dead ones. This theory employs the studying of new behavior through observation or experience (Hale, 1993).Social learning theory is the theory that assumes the idea that people can learn new behavior through observation and imitation of the social factors that make up the environment. It utilizes the assumption that if we observe positive and desired outcomes in a behavior, we are more likely to develop, copy or imitate and adopt the behavior ourselves (Hale, 1993). This theory seeks to study the development of a behavior in an individual as a result of observing or imitating another person’s behavior or through firsthand experience.

Reference list
Belshaw, C. (2009). Annihilation: The Sense and Significance of Death, Dublin: Acumen Press.
Braddock, G. (2000). “Epicureanism, Death, and the Good Life,” Philosophical Inquiry, 22 (1-2).
Breasted, J. & Piccione, A. (2001). Ancient records of Egypt. University of Illinois Press.
Crystal, Eliie . (2000, Dec ). Egyptian afterlife ceremonies, sarcophagi, burial masks. Retrieved from http://www.crystalinks.com/egyptafterlife.html
Hale, R. (1993). The Application of Learning Theory to Serial Murder. American Journal of Criminal Justice. Vol 17 (2)

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