Curators at the National Museums Scotland have discovered a unique ancient mummy shroud folded up in brown postal paper in storage. Senior curator of Ancient Mediterranean collections Dr. Margaret Maitland found the shroud during the course of a thorough examination of the museum’s Egyptian collections in anticipation of a new permanent ancient Egyptian gallery opening over the next two years. At first, she didn’t even know it was a shroud. The only information on the parcel was a note written by a curator in the 1940s and sealed in a World War II service envelope identifying the contents as having come from an ancient tomb in Egypt.
The textile inside the paper wrap was too dry and brittle to be unfolded and examined right off the bat. First conservators had to gently humidify the fabric to soften it enough so it could be unfolded without damage. The humidification and unfolding was so painstakingly done it took close to 24 hours. The results were more than worth the wait.
Conservators found the textile was a full-length linen shroud painted with the image of the deceased as the god Osiris. A full-length painted shroud from Roman Egypt is an extremely rare artifact. Only a handful of comparable finds are known, and this one is unique because it comes with extensive background information. Hieroglyphics painted on the shroud identified the deceased as Aaemka, the son of the high official Montsuef and his wife Tanuat. Montsuef and Tanuat are known to have died in 9 B.C., which makes it possible to date this shroud with exceptional precision.
Dr. Margaret Maitland:
“To discover an object of this importance in our collections, and in such good condition, is a curator’s dream. Before we were able to unfold the textile, tantalising glimpses of colourful painted details suggested that it might be a mummy shroud, but none of us could have imagined the remarkable figure that would greet us when we were finally able to unroll it. The shroud is a very rare object in superb condition and is executed in a highly unusual artistic style, suggestive of Roman period Egyptian art, yet still very distinctive.”
The shroud was discovered in a tomb originally built around 1290 B.C. in Thebes. Its first residents were a chief of police and his wife, but the tomb was repeatedly looted and reused by later officials. Montsuef, Tanuat and Aemka appear to have been the last to make use of it before the tomb was sealed in the early 1st century A.D. It was excavated in the 19th century, and artifacts from the tomb wound up in the collection of the National Museums Scotland. Montsuef and Tanuat’s relics went on display. Aaemka’s, for some reason, went into storage and was forgotten.
Now the son has been reunited with his parents, and the shroud is on display for the first time since its discovery in The Tomb: Ancient Egyptian Burial, which opened on March 31st and closes September 3rd, 2017. The wooden box of Amenhotep II with its recently rediscovered fragments is also part of the exhibition, as are a great many exceptional funerary artifacts from Egyptian tombs. The exhibition is something of a capsule collection, a glimpse into the deep bench of the National Museums Scotland’s Egyptian collection before it finally gets a permanent gallery of its own.