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Mummies at Midnight! ‘All About Mummies’ with Varsity Tutors and Dr. Colleen Darnell

What better way to spend a Monday night the week before Halloween than learning about Mummies? That’s exactly what this sleep-deprived editor decided to do last night. I stayed up until midnight UK time and tuned in to the free online Varsity Tutors class ‘All About Mummies’, featuring renowned Egyptologist, Dr. Colleen Darnell.

The Ancient Agenda

The session began at 7pm EST. The 45-minute class was split into an ‘Ancient Agenda’ of 4 sections:
  • Mummy Myths and Matters
  • Mummy Mechanics
  • The Meaning of Mummies
  • What Mummies Teach Us

The first section, Mummy Myths, had Dr. Darnell doing a little myth-busting by asking us some questions about what we knew about mummies. Questions such as, ‘Were mummies intended to protect tombs, deter grave robbers and haunt people?’, ‘Were pharaohs the only people mummified?’, or 'Were only humans mummified?' etc… Once we all had a chance to select our answers in a chat sidebar, we were given the correct answer and a brief explanation.

The Mummy of Wah ©The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund and Edward S. Harkness Gift, 1940.

The second section, Mummy Mechanics, dealt with how a body was prepared for mummification. We looked at the mummification of a man by the name of Wah, an estate manager who lived over 4,000 years ago. When he died, his body was packed in salt (natron) until it dried out, then, he was wrapped in sheets – these could be linen but poorer people used whatever materials they had on hand because mummification was an expensive process. In Wah’s case, his mummy was wrapped in over 1,000 feet of linen! Then, the mummy had objects placed around him and on him, such as a funerary mask, and protective amulets, and, in some cases, little figurines known as shabtis that did work for the god Osiris on your behalf so that you didn’t have to –  thus allowing you to enjoy the afterlife. The wealthier you were, the more of these mini eternal workers you had. Apparently, pharaoh Tutankhamen had 400 shabtis buried with his mummy! The final step was the elaborate ‘Opening of the Mouth’ ceremony that allowed the deceased to function in the afterlife. This ensured the mummy could speak and eat.

The third section, the Meaning of Mummies, was about why the ancient Egyptians mummified bodies. This section, along with the preceding one about the mummification procedure, was, for me, the most fascinating and eye-opening segment. The ancient Egyptians believed that each person’s soul was carried on the same journey as the sun god Re. Every day, Re traveled and then visited his mummy, Osiris, by night after the sun set. Ancient Egyptian’s souls were similarly reunited with their mummies every night. This daily coming together ritual of Re and Osiris gave the sun the power to rise every morning. It’s a beautiful story and mythology.<

Last but not least, Dr. Darnell talked about what mummies can tell us about the ancient Egyptians. Mummies give us so many clues about their culture, religious beliefs and practices, their diets and general well-being, and what they valued in life. So much can be gleaned from their remains and from the objects and writings the ancient Egyptians interred with their dead. The class ended with a brief Q&A.

Statuette of Wah, ca. 1981–1975 B.C. Middle Kingdom ©The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund and Edward S. Harkness Gift, 1940.

Conclusion
The class was geared towards those interested in ancient Egypt who have little to no prior knowledge of the topic of Mummies. Varsity Tutors, a tutoring and online learning company, added a nice touch by including an interactive component where attendees were asked easy true/false or multiple-choice questions throughout the talk and could reply via the chat or online polling function. The quiz aspect added some fun to the session for those who were looking for a little more than just a typical one-way lecture. For more free online seminars, check out Varsity Tutors online Star Courses

Dr. Darnell is a great speaker and makes learning about ancient Egypt fun. I’ve been taking Dr. Darnell’s ‘How to Read Hieroglyphs’ and ‘Magic in Ancient Egypt’ courses, and have really enjoyed them, so when this opportunity presented itself, I could hardly refuse. In November, Dr, Darnell will be announcing a two-hour seminar "Dawn of Egypt" about the reign of Narmer and the origins of pharaonic Egypt. If you’re interested in joining her next session of ‘How to Read Hieroglyphs’ she will be running a new online class in early 2022, and she will also host a deciphering Egyptian art class at some point in the future. For more information on those upcoming sessions - please follow her Instagram accounts: @vintageegyptologist and @howtoreadhieroglyphs, or contact her at: colleen@colleendarnell.com

If you want to read more about ancient Egypt, pick up a copy of our latest issue on the Middle Kingdom, which features an article by Dr. Darnell on the ancient Egyptian literary classic, ‘The Story of Sinuhe’.

If you want to keep up to date on all things ancient Egyptian, and the ancient world in general, subscribe to our magazine!
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