Venture Bound: Have you seen my mummy?
I have seen mummies in five countries: Egypt, Italy, Peru, Mexico and Ireland, but at the Mummies of the World exhibition, now showing at the Union Station in Kansas City, I had a memorable time seeing many mummies from around the world all in one place.
Thirteen museums from five countries collaborated to make this exhibition possible. It is the largest collection of real mummies and related artifacts ever assembled.
I took the audio tour that talks about what conditions help create mummies. Egyptian mummy-making is discussed in detail based on modern experiments on mummies.
What does a mummy's skin feel like? Visitors are able to touch a mummy skin and objects to compare: naturally preserved skin, bog bones, bog body skin, embalmed skin, linen, and preserved fur.
In contrast to the natural ways mummies have been created was the display of shrunken heads with a description of how headhunters turned their opponents' heads into trophies. I was appropriately jarred by the experience.
The most interesting things to me were the movies of CT scans that allowed visitors to see all body parts, to turn the images and check for various kinds of injuries or damage to the mummy. This also allows the study of mummies without unwrapping them.
A short movie showed an artist reconstructing King Tut's head and face to show what he would have looked like when alive. With that face he'd have fit in on any college campus.
In Peru, children were sacrificed in special ceremonies, and their bodies left in the high Andes that had ideal conditions for mummification. The exhibition has two sacrificial bodies contained in small baskets, but with the use of the CT scan visitors are able to get a full picture of the bodies inside.
Mummification can happen naturally in some places. I found the husband and wife from a German family crypt different from what I had seen elsewhere. The constant flow of air through the crypt had been sufficient to turn their bodies into mummies, and the CT scans allowed the investigators to see the husband had an extra vertebra in his spine and his wife had a rare curvature of the spine.
At one point in time, ground-up mummy was considered a cure for many diseases and thousands of mummies were destroyed this way. Investigators found that something in the chemicals used to embalm the bodies may actually have had a mild effect on some medical conditions.
On one of my walking tours of London I was introduced to the problem of finding bodies for medical study to use so students could learn anatomy. Some entrepreneurs had a business of digging up graves, and went so far as to create corpses for sale by killing street people .
The Burns Collection shows a different approach. Allen Burns, a Scottish anatomist, discovered a method of creating his own method of mummification to provide mummies to teach anatomy. The bodies came to the University of Maryland in 1820 and are now part of their permanent collection.
For some reason Egyptians were fascinated about cats and a number of their mummified bodies are on display. Cats were raised to be mummified and put in the tombs of the dead. Other mummy animals are also on display.
What does the process of decomposition look like? A short film shows the decomposition of a rabbit, a rat, a strawberry and pumpkin. Fortunately they were not able to capture the accompanying smell.
Along the way there were a half dozen attractive interactive displays where visitors could learn: Where do mummies come from? What does the Book of the Dead tell us? How do scientists investigate mummies?
Fascinating, educational and at times, a bit shocking, but this exhibition provides an interesting experience.
Read Wayne Anderson at email@example.com.
-- Sent from my Linux system.