Girl, 17 going on 2,300, visits Fort Lauderdale
It's been a hard-knock life for "Annie," a 2,300-year-old ancient Egyptian mummy that's the centerpiece of a new exhibit at the Museum of Discovery and Science in Fort Lauderdale.
The teenager — archaeologists believe she was aged 17 — died about 225 BCE after drowning in the Nile River. She was a typical lower-caste girl nearly forgotten by history until priests removed her body from the Nile, which they considered a sacred river. They embalmed and mummified Annie and enshrined her in a small, painted coffin.
On Wednesday morning at the museum, workers cracked open shipping crates carrying Annie and her coffin and hoisted her onto a wooden dolly. Annie — short for "Anonymous," since no markings on the coffin bear her name — wears a red shroud, on which are elaborate, wavy lines of light blues and dark reds that frame hieroglyphs of small birds. She wears a golden mask with thick, red lips.
"She's got these lovely little sandals on," gushes Mimi Leveque, an objects conservator from the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass., pointing to white straps painted on the base of Annie's bound feet. "These look just like the flip-flops the kids are wearing today."Leveque has grown fond of Annie since she hit the road eight years ago with the mummy, part of the "Lost Egypt: Ancient Secrets, Modern Science" traveling exhibit that will open Friday, Feb. 3, at the museum. Annie, along with the 67 ancient Egyptian amulets, clay pottery and other relics on display, are on loan from the Academy of Natural Sciences at Philadelphia's Drexel University and the Brooklyn Museum.
When Leveque met Annie in 2008, she says the mummy's mask and feet looked "completely flattened" after decades of being displayed at the Academy of Natural Sciences. Leveque and others have since restored her frame. Annie arrived at the Academy in 1903, and records date her excavation to the late 19th century.
"I feel very close to her, even though we don't know a lot about her personally," Leveque says, moving to the nearby coffin, also covered in hieroglyphs. "You've got the gods of the underworld printed here to protect her passage into the afterlife."
Researchers traced the mummy's provenance to the cemeteries of Akhmim, one of Egypt's Nile River cities. Using CT scans, x-rays and historical records, archaeologist also reconstructed what Annie may have looked like underneath her linen wrappings. On display nearby is 3-D-printed skeleton of Annie and a sculptural bust of her face, frozen in a smile.
"I like to say she's the most traveled mummy in history," says Terry White, an exhibit supervisor for the Center of Science and Industry in Ohio, as he helped roll Annie into a darkened tomb built for this exhibit. A card mounted at the tomb's entrance reads, "This room contains human mummified remains."
"It says something nice about the sanctity of life, doesn't it?" asks Kim Cavendish, the museum's president and CEO. "Because [ancient Egyptians] held the Nile sacred, she could be remembered in death."
The rest of the "Lost Egypt" exhibit is broken up into four interactive sections, beginning with a re-creation of an Egyptian street scene at the foot of the famed Giza pyramids. Other highlights include a display of Egyptian clay mugs, plates and jars, along with rooms filled with hieroglyph tomb murals. Another section is devoted to mummified animals and a video explaining how Egyptians such as Annie were mummified. Near Annie's tomb, where she'll lay for the next three months, are amulets and ushtabti, or funerary figurines that represented workers who served the dead in the afterlife.
Ushtabti were buried with the mummies, Leveque says, usually with pharaohs such as King Tut. Annie probably wasn't that lucky.
"I don't think she was important enough to be covered in ushtabti," Leveque says. "Because of the way she died, it was the sacred duty of priests to give her a very nice burial. But not a spectacular one."
"Lost Egypt: Ancient Secrets, Modern Science" will go on view 10 a.m. Friday, Feb. 3, at the Museum of Discovery and Science, 401 SW Second St., in Fort Lauderdale. Admisison is $13-$16. The exhibit will close April 30. Call 954-467-6637 or go to MODS.org.
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