For a long time it was believed that the ancient Egyptians mummified the dead to preserve their bodies. But now scientists from the University of Manchester said that was not the case at all. A complex technique was used to ensure that the deceased went through a process of deification, according to Live science.

The researchers made their statement in preparation for the Golden Mummies of Egypt exhibition, which is due to open next year. The new understanding of the purpose of mummification contradicts existing ideas about this process.

According to scientists, the misunderstanding of mummification appeared in Victorian times, when researchers suggested that the Egyptians preserved the remains of their dead in a similar way to how they preserved fish. They came to this conclusion due to the fact that both processes use salt.

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But the salt mixture used by the Egyptians is different from the one used to store the catch. The key ingredient in mummification was natron, a natural mineral (a mixture of sodium carbonate, sodium bicarbonate, sodium chloride and sodium sulfate) that was found in abundance at the bottom of a lake near the Nile. In addition, natron was used in temple rituals, it was applied to the statues of the gods.

The researchers believe that in this case, the mineral was used for purification.

“Even the word for incense in ancient Egypt was “senetjer” and literally means “to make divine.” When you burn incense in a temple it is appropriate because it is the home of god and makes the space divine, but when you use incense on the body you make the body a divine being. You don’t necessarily keep it,” said Manchester Museum’s Egypt and Sudan curator Campbell Price.

The Egyptians believed that a person’s body should be useful to him in the afterlife. Therefore, Victorian archaeologists suggested that mummification must have preserved it. But Price points out that internal organs were removed from the body, making it empty.

“I think it actually has a slightly deeper meaning… and it’s basically about turning the body into a divine statue because the dead person has been transformed,” he noted.

Previously Scientists from the Warsaw Mummy Project have been able to reconstruct the appearance of a woman who lived in ancient Egypt about 2,000 years ago. Her mummified remains are known as the world’s first pregnant mummy. The woman’s appearance was recreated using a combination of 2D and 3D technologies.