The ancient Egyptians believed that those who had something to contribute would be welcomed to the afterlife by the god Osiris. To obtain access to the afterlife, the Egyptians enacted several highly ritualized customs including mummification, entombment with various "burial goods" and the saying of magic spells. By looking at the artifacts left behind by the Egyptians, archaeologists and egyptologists can tell a lot about their belief in the afterlife.
Preserving the body was an essential part of the Egyptian belief in the afterlife. The purpose behind mummification is to reunite the body with the soul. It was a complex process involving dehydrating the body and leaving the hair, muscles and bones to harden. The ancient Greek historian Herodotus wrote that the entire process took 70 days. The rediscovery of mummies in the 20th and 21st centuries has meant that scientists are able to X-ray and scan these ancient preserved bodies to ascertain how Egyptians lived and died.
The ancient Egyptians would entomb the mummies in their sarcophagi and pyramids with objects from their life – jewelry, household items and even mummified pets. Egyptologists Françoise Dunand and Roger Lichtenberg write that the Egyptians thought that burying the dead with their possessions would help ease the soul's transition into the afterlife. While mummification and burial with these goods was generally available to anyone who could afford it, the average Egyptian would not have thought he or she was entitled to an afterlife, as it was thought to be reserved for only the wealthy or those who had served an important purpose in life.
Ancient Egyptians wore amulets or charms to protect themselves against danger. Some amulets were also thought to give the wearer a certain strength or prowess. The dead were also dressed in traditional amulets in the shape of animals, plants or hieroglyphics. Magic spells written on tiny pieces of papyrus would often be fitted into the amulet. The spells helped ensure the body's safe reunification with the soul in the afterlife. A scarab amulet – in the shape of a beetle – has been one of the more important amulet artifacts discovered. Scarabs are associated with rebirth after death.
The Maintenance of Land
From around 1550 B.C., Egyptians began to regard manual labor as essential work in the afterlife. The dead were thought to have a responsibility for harvesting the "Field of Reeds." A shadowy figure called the "shabti" would carry out on the work on behalf of the deceased. Wealthy persons would hire a shabti to essentially do the fieldwork of their dead family members. These fields are considered artifacts because the work of the shabtis can still, in some respects, been seen today in parts of Egypt. Additionally, these field workers left behind pottery and other clay objects such as tools that can be seen in history museums around the world.
Jeremy Bradley works in the fields of educational consultancy and business administration. He holds a Master of Business Administration degree.