Ancient Egyptians were likely to lose some of their front teeth before they could become mummies, says a new research debated at the International Congress of Egyptologists in Florence.
Taking place after excerebration (brain removal) and evisceration (body organ removal) and before final wrapping, the procedure would force open the mouths of the deceased with a knife and iron chisel, breaking and dislocating teeth in the process.
The procedure appears to be in contrast to the delicate and thoughtful steps taken during the mummification process.
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The "opening of the mouth" was so far known to Egyptologists as a central yet innocuous ritual in mummification, aimed at restoring the deceased's senses for the afterlife.
The symbolic animation of the finished mummy was achieved through a series of ritual actions that involved the repeated touching of the mouth and eyes with various specialized implements.
"These actions were accompanied by recitation of specific formulae and incantations in order to enable the deceased to breathe, eat, drink, hear, and see, and ultimately survive the afterlife," said Mariam Ayad, associate professor of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo.
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Ayad presented a study on the opening of the mouth ritual as seen in scenes from ancient Egyptian mortuary monuments.
But according to mummy expert Frank Rühli, director of the Institute of Evolutionary Medicine at the University of Zurich, parts of the ceremony actually correspond to a physical and sometime probably rather brutal opening of the deceased's mouth.
"Fractures and avulsions of front teeth, which were up to now not sufficiently taken into consideration, are the first evidence for a real physical opening of the mouth procedure during mummification," Rühli told Discovery News.
Ancient Egyptians Forced Open Mouths During Mummification: Page 2