My mom and I went are fresh home from a trip to the desert. We ventured to the land of the Pharaohs on a quest to unravel the mysteries of Ancient Egypt, discover the keys to the underworld, and bring home the sacred knowledge of mummies ‘n’ shit, so we could bring it back to home to you ghouls.
The mystical desert did not, unfortunately, tell me why the scientists keep opening all the damn mummies. (For real? WHY?)
And…I have to come clean. Monster mom and I didn’t actually go the desert. (Dude. Why risk getting cursed by a real mummy? NOPE!) We stayed close to home and took a selfie on a fake camel instead. And then I did some quick, bad photoshop in the car on the way home, because I thought it was funny.
We actually took this pic outside the new traveling King Tut’s tomb exhibit.
If you didn’t know, this year is the 100th anniversary of the excavation of King Tut’s tomb, an event that sent the world into an all-things-Egypt mania, and spurred the creation of the Boris Karloff “Mummy” movie that we all know and love today.
You all know I can’t resist a good mummy, so when I found out that the local Center for Science and Industry was hosting a new interactive King Tut’s tomb exhibit, I was all over it. This one was extra special, because we got to walk through life size replicas of the tomb, and all of the rooms leading to it. And they were arranged, with artifacts in place, the same way they were the day British explorer Howard Carter opened the tomb. Which was super duper interesting. King Tut’s stuff is super famous. But it’s a whole other experience to see how that stuff was arranged at the time of his actual death, and to dig deeper into the why. It’s fascinating to see all that fancy gold art the way the actual Egyptians intended it to be, and even more interesting to think about it in the context of Egyptian beliefs about life, death, and the afterlife.
I learned all kinds of things I hadn’t before. Like, the famous gold coffin we all associate with King Tut was housed inside two other larger coffins, all fantastically decorated. (One inside another, like Russian nesting dolls.) Each one was covered in gold and carved with all kinds of magical inscriptions.
The three coffins were then placed inside a series of big, elaborate boxes, each one bigger than the last. Long story short, each box served as a palace “room” in the afterlife, so Tut and his afterlife pals could still have parties and take care of official business on the other side. Apparently, this whole box inside box, coffin inside coffin, et al, set up was so big there was hardly any wiggle room inside his actual tomb. Carter and his workers could barely get in to get the stuff out. The actual burial room was only a little bit bigger than the outer box.
Here are some pics of the smaller ones…
Yeah. Those are some big, hard…boxes. Ahem. Which made for hard working conditions for the living archeology team. But hey. All this stuff wasn’t intended for the living. It was supposed to be undisturbed. But it wasn’t. Which is why we have mummy curses in the first place, right?
Still, this mummophile learned all kinds of interesting tidbits at this exhibit. Like, Egyptians were obsessed with “completeness” in the afterlife. Like, if you lost an arm while you were alive, they buried you with a fake replacement arm, because you had to be “whole” to make it in the afterlife. No missing bits allowed. Which may explain the set of carefully made gold toe and finger caps–modeled after Tut’s real fingers and toes–found on Tut’s mummy. They couldn’t risk one of the real ones falling off, because no god wanted to let a limping nine-toed Pharoah through the afterlife gates. Hellz, no!
Apparently, the afterlife was a perilous journey. Like, Tomb Raider and video game puzzle level perilous. You had to recite all kinds of magic spells perfectly, at a series of gates guarded by knife-weilding animal demons, and they tried to trip you up so you’d make a mistake. I mean. That’s literally why all of this burial stuff is covered in writing and art. They were the spells and protection you needed to run the afterlife gauntlet. The insides of the coffins contained diagrams and maps, designed to show you which way to go!
It was not easy. Which is why the King –and even some wealthy non-royal people–spent a lot of time and money making absolutely breathtakingly beautiful pieces of art that were made to be immediately buried deep in the desert. Coffins and tombs were guidebooks designed to transform your dead loved one from dead guy into eternal living spirit. Screw up and who knew where they’d end up.
You needed everything in the afterlife, too, including your designer duds. You had to look good for the gods, people. The Egyptian Afterlife is not Wal-Mart–no pajama pants and flip flops allowed. No way. It was more like a never-ending black tie cocktail party with the big bosses. And you had to bring your own food, party games, and internal organs, which lucky for you, were stored in a series of handy jars in the next room.
Part of me is happy about this “You can take it with you” attitude toward the afterlife. Because that’s why we have so much awesome Egyptian art to look at. (Even though it was a total waste to bury all this gold. But more on that later.) Like daybeds that look like cows plated with real gold. Pairs of solid gold sandals. A very fancy version of the game Senet. And that this statue of cobra, who looks like he’s totally over it and is having a bad day. Seriously. This is one grumpy looking magical snake.
Still, I definitely left with more questions than I went with.
Like, I still didn’t solve the mystery of Noodles, Kevin’s mummy roommate. Seriously, how did a three thousand year old Egyptian ended up living in a split level ranch house in Parma, Ohio, with a talking cockroach, and a very buff very thirsty broke red demon? I don’t know.
But I DID learn some cool things about mummies that will hopefully ONE DAY help us solve the mystery of Noodles.
Like, in ancient Egypt, the soul had two parts. The Ka, and the Ba. The Ba was more like what we modern humans consider a soul, which leaves the body when a person dies and flies off to do awesome things somewhere else. It has your personality in it. What we think of as “you.” The Ka is the person’s life force. It’s what animates your body and makes it move around.
I noticed there were a lot of eyes painted on the coffins. Those allowed the Ka to see out and look around. (They are known as the wadjet eye.) Also, if you see a tiny door painted on an Egyptian coffin, those are so the Ka can get out of the coffin. Fake doors placed on the west wall of a tomb led to the afterlife. The Ka could peek out and step through and cross over. But what if they didn’t? Hmmm….Maybe we’re onto something with Noodles here. Maybe.
(Here’s an interesting article about all this here: https://arce.org/resource/development-egyptian-coffin/)
While Mom and I were looking at all the goodies that came out of King Tutankhamun’s tomb–even though all of these were copies, made by working artists in Egypt. All the real stuff is actually back in Egypt, and being prepped to go on display in their ancestral home–I was hit by a lot of thoughts and feels. Namely. Dude. Have you seen the coffin? Well, coffins. Each one was a glorious, beautiful work of art covered in gold. Real gold. Which then led me down the rabbit hole of “Leave it to rich people to flaunt their wealth by burying this much gold in the desert forever!” I wonder how people felt about this back then?
But then, I found this really interesting podcast that put that very thing in perspective. The October 1, 2020 episode of Lifemancy: Ancient Egypt: The Coffin with Kara Cooney, Ph.D. Skip to the interview, because it is fascinating. TL/DR: Coffins were magical “technology” meant for soul transformation, and were designed to be reused!
Plus, while walking around looking at all this stuff, it became clear that ancient people weren’t all that different than modern humans. The Phaoroah’s were the 1%. In modern times, billionaires make dick-shaped rockets and fly to space. In 2000 BCE, they buried gold in the desert to remind people they didn’t need it.
People. We never change, do we?
Before I go, here are some fun mummy links!
- I ran across a fun hieroglyph name generator, courtesy of the Penn Museum. Here: (https://www.penn.museum/cgi/hieroglyphsreal.php)
- Here’s a slideshow of photos of the items found in King Tut’s tomb.
And that’s it! Your Ghoul on the Go is signing out. But don’t worry. I will leave you with Steve Martin’s “King Tut.” It’s totally, 100 percent historically accurate. Totally. Ahem.