Ancient Egyptians believed in life after death. They thought that people had a spirit as well as a body, and that for the person to live in the next world, the spirit had to be reunited with the body. They therefore preserved the body of the dead person in the form of a mummy.
The Egyptians placed the mummy inside a coffin or case, and put a cover on top. By the time of the Middle Kingdom (c.2100-1550 BC), they used two coffins to give added protection from tomb robbers and animals. The coffins were decorated with writing, images of the gods, and sacred amulets, or lucky charms.
Book of the Dead
This is a series of prayers, written on papyrus, that were meant to help the dead person travel to the next world.
Making a mummy
The Egyptians first removed the organs, and dried out the body with natron. They filled the body with sawdust or dry leaves, then wrapped the body in bandages.
Ancient Egyptians developed a complex system of writing, called hieroglyphics, in which simple pictures represented objects. Some pictures also stood for letters. Ideas that were too complicated to be shown by one picture were written as groups of hieroglyphs.
Hieroglyphs and hieratic script
Hieroglyphs were slow to write, so the Egyptians used them mainly for sacred texts and tomb carvings. They used another, faster script, called hieratic, for business and literary texts. Later, they invented a third script, called demotic.
For hundreds of years, no one could read hieroglyphs. Then, in 1799, a stone slab called the Rosetta Stone was discovered. It contained the same text in hieroglyphs, demotic, and Greek. Scholars could read and understand Greek, so they could work out the meaning of the hieroglyphs.
For most Egyptians, life consisted of hard work in the fields, and on the great building projects. They ate mainly vegetables and bread, and drank beer. High officials and royal courtiers lived a much more leisurely life.
Ancient Egyptians built houses of sun-dried mud-bricks. They covered the walls with smooth plaster. Small, high windows let in the breeze, but kept out the sun. The house pictured above belonged to a royal official, and had a garden with fruit trees.
Most ancient Egyptians worked at producing their own food. Others were craft workers, making items for the home from wood, pottery, and metal. Their tools, such as saws and chisels, were very similar to the hand tools used by craftworkers today.