“Egyptian mummies: Exploring ancient lives” is the North American premiere of an exhibition created by the British Museum. Using digital image projections, explanatory videos and over two-hundred objects from ancient Egypt, it “reconstructs the lives of six people who lived along the Nile”. It tells the story of each of those individuals, their beliefs and the diseases they suffered from.
The original British Museum exposition (opened to the public from May to November 2014) was showcasing eight mummies, one-tenth of their Egyptian mummies’ collection. However, for its international tour the exhibition was limited to six mummies. It first opened at the The Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, Australia (from December 2016 to Avril 2017) before moving to Hong Kong in 2017, then Taipei, Taiwan (from November 2017 to February 2018) and it is now at the Museum of Fine Arts in Montreal from September 2019 to March 2020. The next stop will be in Toronto at the Royal Ontario Museum from May to September 2020.
In the early days of Egyptology, the only way to learn about mummies was to unwrap them. 19th century European collectors were even turning this into a social event with lavish “unwrapping parties.” However, the British Museum, with its strong ethics about artifact preservation, always refused to perform any invasive intervention on its mummies and its collection is therefore in excellent condition. Since the 1970s the development of cutting-edge technology, like combining x-ray devices with high-resolution three-dimensional computerized imaging (computerized tomography (CT) scanning) in order to create detailed 3D visualizations of the internal structures, has revealed much more informations that a simple unwrapping would have provided — while still preserving the mummies’ integrity. Combining the resources provided by medical science with those learned from anthropology and archaeology, has allowed the egyptologists to learn a tremendous amount of information about the life and death of ancient Egyptians: not only their culture and way of life, but also their biology, genetics, diet, diseases, burial practices and embalming techniques. This exhibition is illustrating all this through the exemples of six in dividuals (and their mummies) who lived in the Nile valley between 900 BCE and 180 CE.
Apparently the only official catalogue of the exhibition’s international tour was produced by the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney and is now sold out. However, the catalogue from the original British Museum exhibition is still available.
It is a superb and fascinating exhibition, rich in informations and artifacts. I enjoyed it greatly and everyone must absolutely see it. When I visited, in early January, the museum was packed (so, PLEASE don’t bring your five or six year-old Kids, as they might not be old enough to understand the complexity of such subject, and don’t bring your crying baby in its giant stroller !!!).
Here’s a teaser of the exhibition (available on Youtube):
More information and pictures after the jump >>
Six mummies, six life
After passing an antechamber representing the Nile and displaying only the model of a funerary boat, you enter the room dedicated to Nestawedjat. The centrepieces of this room are her three coffins (outer, middle and inner) and mummy. She was a married woman between 35 and 49 years old and lived during the 25th Dynasty, around 700-680 BCE. The thematic of this room is the processus of mummification.
In a small room, we are introduced to the mummy of Tamut (short for Tayesmutengebtiu). She was a chantress of Amun, a middle-aged woman who lived in the early 22nd Dynasty, around 900 BCE. Her mummy contains many amulets which display is a pretext to teach about the magical rituals of mummification.
Next is a large room displaying the mummy of Irthorru (covered by intricate net made of hundreds of beads) and his richly decorated coffin. He lived in the 26th Dynasty around 600 BCE and was a high priest of Akhmin’s temple in charge of managing the daily life of the temple. Therefore this room is dedicated to the daily life of ancient Egypt (diet, food as offering), as well as the role of priests not only as servants of the gods but often also as physicians or apothecary.
The next display is dedicated to an unnamed priestess who was probably a temple singer and lived during the 22nd Dynasty around 800 BCE. Her coffin is made of a cartonnage, which consisted of plaster and linen soaked in glue and then colourfully decorated. The room has a woman-related thematic: body care (razor, mirror, wigs), cosmetics, jewels and musical instruments.
Boy from Hawara
The last room is dedicated to mummies from the Roman Period. First, the mummy of a two-year-old boy from Hawara who lived around 40-60 CE. It is the occasion to teach about family and childhood: clothing, games, and toys.
Young man from Thebes
The last display shows a young man from Thebes who lived around 140-180 CE. It is the occasion to talk about the evolution of the mummification techniques and how it was done in the Roman Period. The main characteristic of that era was the use of wooden panels depicting the deceased.
As a foretaste, here is a slideshow quickly showcasing a few of the artefacts from this exhibition:
[ iPhone 11 Pro, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 2020/01/02 ]
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