Teenage mummy at heart of new Franklin Institute exhibit
Annie, a mysterious Egyptian teenager, returned to Philadelphia in mid-January after a five-year cross-county journey with stops in major cities.
Checking on her well-being shortly after her arrival was Mimi Leveque, who has been overseeing Annie's state for those five years, following her to every stop on her journey.
It's a strange relationship – a middle-aged art conservator and archaeologist from the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, and a 2,300-year-old girl with a little-known background who is the headliner at The Franklin Institute's newest exhibit.
"She's my girl!" Leveque said enthusiastically, as she poked very gingerly at Annie's linen bindings and inspected the foot coverings she had helped construct to replace those that were smashed over centuries. Tiny and compact, Annie is a mummy, one of two that belong to one of the Franklin's neighbors in Philadelphia's museum district. She was acquired by the Academy of Natural Sciences in 1903 and had been on display there for decades.
She's now part of the roving exhibition compiled by a collaborative of science museums and she'll be hunkered down in Philadelphia through next summer, when the exhibit moves to Washington State.
Little is known of the tiny, narrow teenager, whom experts believe drowned in the Nile.
Annie is stored in a vivid coffin, or sarcophagus, adorned with a painted snake, that was in turn tightly packed among foam supports into a plain white box held closed with modern Velcro strips for shipping. Annie (she has no more detailed name and the Annie stands for Anonymous), quickly was installed in her own room in the "Lost Egypt: Ancient Secrets, Modern Science'' exhibit that will be on display through Aug. 28.
The coffin and its contents have been carbon dated to 300 to 200 B.C. Annie's facial bones were among those used by noted forensic sculptor Frank Bender to recreate her appearance at the time of her death. The head Bender made of her shows a girl with a flippy haircut.
Today, her body is covered with layers of linen. "I could feel the bones through the wrapping," Leveque said of her first encounter with Annie. "The feet were sort of smashed and I had to reconstruct them. She looks like a teenager of today, wearing white thong sandals with her toenails painted white," she said.
"There was no text (found with the body) to let us know who she was. The outer shroud was deep pink, usually used by priests. A CT scan shows displacement of vertebrae and one kneecap missing. The injuries were typical of a drowning death. It's likely she fell into the Nile," said Leveque.
A necklace is painted on the body wrapping and corresponds to pieces of a dried flower necklace she was wearing for her burial in the side of a cliff.
Her place of honor in the roving exhibit "has given her an eternity that she never imagined. Who would think an anonymous teenager would have such an afterlife?" said Leveque, who is responsible for inspecting the mummy and its coffin at each stop on the exhibit tour.
While Annie holds the headline for the exhibit, it's likely the children who are the intended audience will give her little more than a short look-see and then move on to the interactive stations.
"Egyptian exhibits have been favorites with our visitors, including King Tut and Cleopatra. They're intrigued by the lure of Egypt," said Larry Dubinski, president and CEO of The Franklin Institute. "Here we have 67 authentic Egyptian artifacts," he said.
But they, like Annie, are behind glass and are likely to be less remembered than the hands-on items, even if they're made of resin and designed to handle rough treatment. Interactive portions of the exhibit include an enclosed round table that allows visitors to channel winds to see the effects of desert sand storms on a small replica of three pyramids and a sphinx.
Likewise, children will be able to use wooden blocks to build a pyramid from rectangular blocks they can stack and finish with others shaped like triangles that gave pyramids their smooth exterior.
And how about moving those blocks, which each weighed the equivalent of 27 refrigerators? Well, that's covered in another interactive station, where an explanation tells how the blocks first were moved on stone chips, then on sledges, and then helped along with liquids to cut friction. Kids can pull blocks themselves to see how sledges made the task easier.
By watching short videos, they can learn how the workers lived while they were spending as long as three generations building a pyramid. There's information about their eating habits, the extent of medical care and sleeping arrangements.
"They lived well and they put graffiti on the walls to indicate they were proud of their work," says Ana Tavers, the assistant field director of Ancient Egypt Research Associates.
There's a miniature excavation pit and an opportunity to decode ancient messages. Pre-teens probably will spend time looking at a full-size replica of the Rosetta stone, where text in three languages (hieroglyphs, Egyptian and Greek) allowed archaeologists to crack ancient codes and use them to interpret messages written thousands of years ago.
Examination of different bones found at excavation sites will give an insight into how meals were prepared. Were pieces of meat roasted or boiled? Children only will have to look at excavated garbage to answer.
Dr. Tosha Dupras, chairman of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Central Florida, who participated in two Egyptian expeditions, explains in one three-minute video how researchers still can find signs of epidemics or other diseases in ancient settlements. She talks about how bone chemistry can help place the movement of nomadic people.
Pre-teens will love to look at Bender's work on crafting reconstructions of some mummies and will be fascinated with CT skeletal scans of those individuals that clearly show one with a broken hip, another with packets of body organs replaced inside the stomach cavity. Definitely skeevy to children will be the scan of a 40- to 50-year old man whose mummy was cosmetically improved with fake ears and another who shows signs of trepanning (brain surgery).
Visitors can huddle around an interactive station to realign pieces of a shattered jug and at another to learn how to pronounce hieroglyphs.
No one will overlook a great photo op at the entrance to the 5,000-square-foot exhibit: a life-sized kneeling camel, just waiting for someone to climb on board.
The exhibit isn't one that will call out to adult wannabe archaeologists or anthropologists, but it will stir up interest in children and show them opportunities to develop interests or careers studying ancient people. "We hope they go forth to learn about the past," said Dubinski.
The exhibit was put together by the Science Museum Exhibition Collaboration, which pulled in high-level experts for commentary and didn't over-complicate items on display. It's another reason to return with your children to the Franklin Institute. (Even Dubinski admits: How many times can you walk through the heart?)
If you go
"Lost Egypt: Ancient Secrets, Modern Science'' is included with general admission to The Franklin Institute and requires timed tickets. The exhibit runs through Aug. 28. The Franklin Institute is at 222 North 22nd St., Philadelphia, is open from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Daytime tickets are $24.95 for adults and $20.95 from children 3 to 11. children under 3 are admitted without charge. Timed tickets can be purchased online at fi.edu.