Thousands of years of mummies

The Detmold Child, Peruvian mummy, 4504-4457 B.C.“Mummies of the World,” the largest exhibit of mummies ever assembled, premieres today at the California Science Center in Los Angeles. A hundred and fifty rarely-seen human and animal mummies and associated artifacts from Peru, Chile, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Switzerland and Egypt, and ranging in date from 6,000 B.C. to the 18th century, will tour the United States for the next 3 years. It’s not just an extraordinarily large and eclectic collection of mummies, but a hands-on, interactive display of the scientific tools used to study mummies today in a non-invasive, respectful manner.

“It’s a matter of understanding the big wide world of mummification and how it works,” said Heather Gill-Frerking, director of science and education for the exhibition. “People will see things that they’ve never encountered before.” [...]

Each mummy, the scientists say, has a story. And with the advent of new technology, such as CT scans and DNA analysis, these histories can be revealed without harm. CT scans in particular are considered the gold standard in mummy research, providing remarkable three-dimensional records that allow researchers to see details such as heart defects, tumors and evidence of respiratory infections like tuberculosis.

“We can essentially do a virtual unwrapping of the mummy,” said Gill-Frerking, also scientific research curator of the German Mummy Project. Unlike Victorian “unwrapping parties,” this procedure provides valuable information about the mummies’ insides without damaging them.

Other scientific tools covered are DNA analysis, X-Rays and radiocarbon dating. There are touch screen kiosks explaining all these methods of studying mummies, a high-powered microscope you can look through to examine a mummy’s tooth, and samples of what mummies feel like. They don’t use actual mummy skin, though; it’s a reproduction. Their very careful to ensure the mummies are treated with consideration and respect. In fact, the descendants of one of the mummies (Baron von Holz, an 17th century nobleman found in the castle crypt who is thought to have died in the Thirty’s Year War) were actively involved in the study and display of their ancestor.

The exhibit also explores the different ways corpses become mummified. The classic movie-style Egyptian wrapped mummy is represented, of course, but so are natural mummies created in well-ventilated, dry environments or in counter-intuitively mushy ones like peat bogs.

Mummies of the World will be at the California Science Center from today through November 28th. After that, it tours for 3 more years, but I can’t find a schedule. I’ll keep looking.

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4 Comments »

Comment by H Niyazi
2010-07-02 00:42:20

Mummification is a fascinating topic!

Painters among us may be familiar with a color called ‘mummy brown’ You can still get this in synthetic form, but the original variant of this paint constituted some mummified remains, quite often of mummified Cats, stolen from Egypt!

H Niyazi
threepipeproblem.blogspot.com

Comment by livius drusus
2010-07-08 13:07:48

I’ve heard about that paint, but I didn’t realize it was still called “mummy brown” today even when it’s not made from mummies anymore.

 
 
Comment by Holly
2010-07-02 09:45:56

Seing Cleopatra in PA was a hit, and now I don’t even have to travel to see this! DS is going to flip!

I don’t know if you have an article on it, but the Bower’s Museum has mummies from China on display right now. They have a fantastic deal for teachers (including homeschoolers). The combination of the 2 exhibits would be phenomenal.

Comment by livius drusus
2010-07-08 13:06:29

That is such a great idea. You mean the Silk Road exhibit at the Bowers, right? It’s only on display until the end of the month. The California Science Center and the Bowers should put their heads together to expand mummy education in the weeks they have left.

 
 
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