Mummy, the body of a dead person or animal that has been preserved indefinitely, especially by embalming methods. The term is also used for a body that has been naturally preserved by dry heat, dry cold, or mineral drying agents. Some mummies are preserved by a combination of embalming methods and natural means. Mummification by embalming is usually done in the belief that the body is occupied by the soul after death. Natural mummification may be deliberate or accidental. The art of mummification reached its highest level in ancient Egypt, where the process was aided by the dry, warm climate. Bitumen, a type of asphalt, was once mistakenly thought to be the preservative used by Egyptian embalmers; the word mummyprobably comes from an Arabic word meaning bitumen. Mummification was also practiced by the ancient Ethiopians, the ancient Guanches of the Canary Islands. Incas in the Andes Mountains and, until recently, by some primitive peoples of Africa, the islands of the South Pacific, and the Aleutian Islands. Naturally preserved mummies have been found in Egypt, North America, Central America, and South America. Many Peruvian mummies may have been artificially dried before burial.

The art of mummificationThe art of mummification reached its highest level in ancient Egypt.

The world's oldest known mummies made with a deliberate effort to preserve the body were created in Chile as early as 5600 B.C. These mummies were preserved with a variety of techniques, including artificial drying, embalming, and the application of an outer layer of clay. Egyptian mummification began as early as 4000 B.C. It reached its peak between the 16th and 10th centuries B.C. The most elaborate, expensive forms of mummification were limited to influential persons and animals considered to be sacred. Royal mummies that have remained preserved over the centuries include those of Thutmose III, Amenhotep II, Tutankhamen, Seti I, and Ramses II.