The back story
When the mummies were first discovered, the only way to investigate the body within was to open the coffin, cut through the sealed cartonnage case of layered linen soaked in glue or plaster, and unwind the linen wraps. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, leading up to the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922, mummy unwrappings were popular spectacles and attracted large audiences. Such heavy-handed investigation fed the public’s morbid curiosity, but it also led to the destruction of many delicate mummies. Thankfully, it’s a thing of the past.
For this new exhibition, the British Museum uses CT scans to unwrap a mummies non-intrusively . The eight mummies come from a period of over 4000 years, and include: a toddler in a splendid gold coffin; a chantress from the temple of Karnuk, beautifully adorned in death with amulets; Nesperennub, a priest discovered at Luxor in the 1890s; and a nameless young man mummified by the hot, dry Egyptian conditions in the position in which he died. The scans reveal undigested food still lying in stomachs, evidence of childhood illnesses and dental cavities that would have plagued them while they lived, and allow us to see faces that have been concealed for millennia. They also tell us about the process of embalming. The human errors made visible by the scans – a broken part of the tool used to extract the brain from one mummies skull, and a dish of resin left to stick to the head of another – are particularly intriguing, as they evoke the presence of the embalmers at work.
Ancient lives, new discoveries is enthralling, and delightfully morbid. New technology combines with millennia-old humans remains to tell fascinating stories. Could we be on the brink of a new wave of mummymania?
|What||Ancient lives, New discoveries, British Museum|
|Where||British Museum, Great Russell St, London, WC1B 3DG | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Holborn (underground)|
22 May 14 – 30 Nov 14, 10:00 AM – 5:30 PM
|Price||£10 (£8 concessions)|
|Website||Click here for more information and to book via the British Museum|