History Extra logo
The official website for BBC History Magazine and BBC History Revealed

Why was mummification used in Ancient Egypt, and why did they leave the heart in the body?

The Egyptians believed that it was possible to live again after death, but this could only happen if the body was preserved in a lifelike form that the spirits known as the ba (personality) and the ka (life-force) could recognise...

A painting in the tomb of Inherkha – a priest wearing the mask of Horus is performing the opening of the mouth ritual. The purpose was to restore to the deceased the use of the senses, thus restoring life in the next world. Ancient Egyptian 20th dynasty c1186-1070 BC. (Photo by Werner Forman/Universal Images Group/Getty Images)
Published: August 16, 2018 at 10:00 am
Try 6 issues for only £9.99 when you subscribe to BBC History Magazine or BBC History Revealed

... The body could then act as a bridge between the spirits of the deceased and the offerings provided by the living.


Artificial mummification was a practical response to this desire to preserve the corpse for all eternity. Although the Egyptians are not the only people to have attempted the artificial preservation of the corpse, they are the only people to have held this specific religious belief.

The heart, rather than the brain, was regarded as the organ of reasoning. As such it would be required in the afterlife, when it would testify to the goodness of the deceased. It was therefore left in place within the body and, if accidentally removed, immediately sewn back.

Dr Joyce Tyldesley is a senior lecturer in the Faculty of Life Sciences at the University of Manchester, where she writes and teaches a number of Egyptology courses.


For more burning historical Q&As on the Tudors, ancient Rome, the First World War and ancient Egypt, click here.

This question was answered in September 2014


Sponsored content