Skip to main content.

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
Website Search Box
Winged heart scarab, c. 400-200 BC
Egyptian mummy and coffin, 150 BC - 50 AD Egyptian mummy and coffin
150 BC - 50 AD

People have long been fascinated by ancient Egyptians and their beliefs about eternal life after death. Eternal Life after Death in Ancient Egypt presents stories that focus on Egyptian burial ritual, how it reflects Egyptian cosmology, and the insights that mummies, burial ritual, and cosmology provide about life in ancient Egypt. Understand how burial practices and associated religious beliefs serve as windows into common human concerns about life after death. Explore the ways in which mummies, tombs, and Egyptian mythology open new windows into the lives of ancient Egyptians as they navigated through the world of the living to achieve eternal life after death.

Objects provide a window into not only burial practice but the lives of the people they accompany and their place within a broader society. How does the science done on mummies provide us with insights into burial practice, health, disease, and demography? How does deciphering the beautiful scenes painted on burial coffins help us better understand Egyptian belief systems about the afterlife and provide special knowledge into the life of the individual buried in the coffin? Learn about the science and research that archaeologists and physical anthropologists do to understand what is left behind in the tomb.

Showing Now at the Sneak Preview


Explore objects typically found in tombs from ca 3500 BC to AD 50, complete with a mummy and its coffin (ca. 150 BC-50 AD). Grave goods like those shown were intended to provide the deceased with the spiritual and physical support needed for smooth passage to eternity.

Faience necklace, 332-30 BC
Faience necklace
332-30 BC

In 1886, a mummy was donated to the Museum by Samuel Sullivan Cox, a congressman from Ohio, and later New York. Shown along with its coffin, this male mummy dates to the Ptolemaic period (the period of Egyptian history that began with Alexander the Great’s conquest of Egypt and ends with the death of Cleopatra). The mummy is decorated with a richly painted gilt mask and papier maché cartonnage on his body bearing various symbols that linked the deceased man with the god Osiris. The various symbols link the deceased man with Osiris and his resurrection and elevation to king of the world of the dead.


Man's coffin mask, 760-550 BC (probable) Man's coffin mask
760-550 BC

Fayum portrait, 50-200 AD Fayum portrait
50-200 AD

A display of mummy masks through time traces the changing style of coffin decoration and brings the visitor “face-to-face” with the living people behind the mummies.

The oldest mask comes from the time of Amenhotep III (ca. 1388-1212 BC) and the most recent mask is painted in a Greek style, dating to about 50-200 AD.

Canopic jar (664 - 525 BC) featuring jackel Daumutef, gaurdian of the stomach
Canopic jar (664 - 525 BC) featuring jackel Daumutef,
gaurdian of the stomach


Go through a step-by-step guide through the mummification process. It includes a male mummy dating to about 2,200 years ago. Scientific study indicates that he ate little meat, and his lungs contain soot, probably inhaled while tending fires. Also, some internal organs remain intact, so the mummy did not receive the deluxe embalming given elite Egyptians.

Coming on November 17, 2011

Mummy Science

Experience the forensic study of mummies and why the science provides understanding on burial practice, health, and demography in ancient Egypt.

Animal Mummies

Animals were mummified too, which can be investigated through their link with Egyptian belief systems. Learn how all Egyptians (rich and poor) used these mummies in trying to structure their after-life experience.

Tentkhonsu’s Coffin

Encounter the intricately decorated coffin that helps tell the story of a woman named Tentkhonsu, a member of a group of noble women, loosely described as a ‘musical harem of the god’, who participated in temple services and festivals, singing the praises of the gods.

Preparing for External Life

Discover the ways in which living Egyptians tried to assure that they and their families would have eternal life after death.

The Gods and Eternal Life

Explore the important roles of two prominent gods, Osiris and Re, in how they help the dead achieve enduring life and keep the natural order of the world of the living.

Insects in Ancient Egypt

The role of insects such as scarab beetles, scorpions, flies, bees, and locusts was significant to Egyptian life and death.

[ TOP ]

Sign up for the latest news!