Pyramids of GizaWhen Aristotle and Socrates walked the earth, the pyramids of Giza in Egypt were already ancient.

That thought kept going through my head as I stared in awe at the Sphinx guarding the pyramids, as it has for thousands of years. These magnificent structures, our guide explained, were something of a fad that came and went in Egypt’s history. They served as both status symbol and monument. They also served as a staging area for the transition from this Life to the Afterlife.

Pyramids — A Passing Fancy

Sphinx Standing Guard Over Pyramid

Pyramids went out of style when pharos realized that grave-robbers would plunder anything they built. Most of the tombs inside the pyramids were empty by the time modern excavators found them. Egyptian museums house anything they find today.

The Egyptian Museum in Cairo has two Mummy Rooms in which are displayed mummies of Pharos, Queens, and their subjects. Mummification involved removing all internal organs, except the heart; draining the body of all fluids; and filling it with a combination of lotus and papyrus oil. The result, after several millennia, is that the skeleton and the skin remain intact. Teeth, hair, and finger/toe nails survive, as well, and jars found near the mummies contain the removed organs.

Mummy’s Secret Stories Told

Modern science has developed techniques to determine specific things about the person who became a mummy, and placards in the museum explain that this one died of a debilitating disease, this one was murdered, and this one was obese. To the naked eye, however, none of that is visible.

The purpose of mummification was to prepare the body for resurrection by the gods of the underworld. The treasures, artwork, and offerings of food that were buried with the mummy were meant to help it start a new life in the underworld.

The Immortality of Mummies

Looking at the collection of mummies in the Egyptian Museum, however, one can see clearly that the afterlife for these ancient humans was nothing like what they expected. Wherever their life-essence may have wound up, their physical bodies did not go with them. Instead, they remained buried for thousands of years, only to be put on exhibition to teach us what life was like so very long ago.

Mummy at Egyptian MuseumComing face to face with these ancient “teachers” produced a mix of gratitude to the people involved in making sure this much survived, and curiosity about whether they would have worked so hard to preserve the body if they had known where it would wind up.

(All photographs courtesy of Lisa Sonne.)