The Quest for Immortality

A recent exhibition at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science provided a fascinating glimpse into ancient Egyptian beliefs about the afterlife.

The exhibit revealed treasures - from from the period of the New Kingdom (1550-1069 B.C.) through the Late Period (664-332 B.C.) - that date back 3,000 years ago. It represented the largest collection of sacred Egyptian artifacts ever displayed in North America.

The exhibit included: massive stone carvings, intricately painted sarcophagi and coffins, gold death masks, exquisite jewelry, stunning reliefs, and artwork from Egypt's golden age, many items of which have never before been displayed outside of Egypt.

Ancient Egyptian Beliefs About
the Afterlife

Because of the legend of Osiris, the Egyptian god of Death and the Afterworld, Egyptians believed they would be transformed and live in the afterlife. According to myth, Osiris was killed by his brother, Seth, the god of strength, war and storms. Osiris was brought back to life by his wife and sister, Isis, the goddess of fertility. He was then embalmed by the jackal-headed god, Anubis and remained in the underworld to judge the souls of the dead.

Ancient Egyptians believed the body must be preserved intact in order for the spirit to gain immortality. To achieve this, they developed elaborate mummification processes that allowed bodies of the dead to survive for thousands of years.

Egyptian tombs became the eternal home for the spirits, which they believed dwelt in the west, where the sun set. The tombs of Egyptian royalty were filled with treasures and nourishment, so the deceased could enjoy eternity in style.

Ancient Egyptians believed the soul of the dead accompanied the sun god Re (or Ra) on his eternal journey through the Upper Waters (the heavens) around the world. Therefore, a boat or a model of a boat, which they believed would magically transform into a solar boat, was buried in every pharaoh's tomb. The solar boat carried Re and the deceased pharaoh through the 12 hours of night. At dawn, the sun god would be reborn—and the pharaoh’s spirit along with it.

The discovery of the Rosetta Stone in 1799, near the town of Rosetta (now called Rashid) located in the Nile Delta about 40 miles northeast of Alexandria, allowed scholars the opportunity to understand Egyptian writing. The French linguist and Egyptologist Jean Francois Champollion (1790-1832) was the one who finally decoded hieroglyphics in the 1820's.


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