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Lecture in Perth, 28/3/14: ‘Dying to Live Again: Mummies in Ancient Egypt & Today’

Gilded Roman mummy mask from Hawara. Acc. No, 2179. Photo: Paul Cliff

Gilded Roman mummy mask from Hawara. Acc. No, 2179. Photo: Paul Cliff

“Dying to Live Again: Mummies in Ancient Egypt and Today”

  • Friday 28 March 2014
  • Time: 18:00
  • Venue: Perth Museum and Art Gallery
  • Suitability: Families
  • Cost: £5.00
  • Booking: Essential

A talk by Dr Campbell Price , Curator of Egypt and the Sudan at Manchester Museum, in conjuction with the newly-opened “Secret Egypt” exhibition in Perth.

Campbell’s work involves caring for one of the finest collections of Ancient Egyptian Mummies in the UK. He was also responsible for translating the hieroglyphic inscription on Perth Museum and Art Galleries own mummy resulting in the discovery of her name – Takherheb. This evening marks the launch of our fundraising campaign to help conserve Takherheb.

Perth Museum & Art Gallery's Egyptian mummy and case photographed in 2010

The Perth Mummy, Takherheb

Suitable for adults and children aged 10 and over.

Book here

Contact details

Perth Museum and Art Gallery
Perth & Kinross Council
George Street
Perth
PH1 5LB
01738 632488

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Curator’s Diary: CT-scanning Demetria with the BBC

Demetria 3ajpgOn Thursday the 31st of January, a team from the Museum returned to the Manchester Children’s Hospital to CT-scan two more of our 24 human mummies. This time we were accompanied by a BBC film crew, who recorded proceedings for a segment on The One Show.

The mummy of Demetria had been chosen – shamelessly, I admit – as she was the most outwardly attractive for a TV audience. She had been X-Rayed by the Manchester Museum Mummy Project, led by Rosalie David, in the 1970s but there was lots more information that could come from a modern CT-scanner.

Demetria_scanner

Some of the team (Sam, Ray, and John) lift Demetria onto the scanner. With all the resin and gilding, she’s very heavy.

We know the name of Demetria because it appears – in Greek, along with the name of her husband Icaous – on the headband of her elaborate gilded covering. Demetria’s mummy (Acc. no. 11630) was discovered in 1910 during excavations by the British School of Archaeology in Egypt at the site of Hawara. Like many other mummies for the Demetria 2asite, Demetria died under Roman rule – in the First Century AD. Her burial arrangements are a typical fusion of Graeco-Roman styles – in her hair, jewellery and attire – and traditional Egyptian imagery. This expresses a mixed expectation for the afterlife: as a fashionable, contemporary woman, but also someone who depends on Egyptian ideas about resurrection and eternity. The outer surface of Demetria’s wrappings is still brightly painted with scenes of mummification and the protective Egyptian deities. She stands on her bound enemies, depicted in paint on her cartonnage footcase. Such an approach utilised as many motifs for survival after death as possible.

Initial results of the CT-scan revealed a fairly well-preserved body, with a distorted spine and crushed rib-cage that imply post-mortem injuries. Gilded studs appear in the wrappings, but there was no sign of other jewellery – though at this period little would be expected. The results – 10s of 1000s of individual images – will need considerable study to disclose further information.

MEN_mummyCT

The distinct glow of gold. Not posed at all.

Having the BBC film the procedure revealed much more about modern expectations of ancient Egypt than it did about Demetria. The opportunity to showcase the reinvestigation of the mummies – which is fairly standard, and has been practiced around the world for more than a decade – was a superb one. If nothing else, up to five million people now know about the superb Egyptian holdings, and a little of the history, of the Manchester Museum. Yet, despite the polish of the short film and the intelligence, professionalism and obviously deep understanding of John Sergeant, the framing of our 5 minutes of fame re-enforced most of the old tropes about Ancient Egypt: an exotic, potentially scary place, morbidly obsessed with mummies, material value, magic, the weird – a side-show. The attention span of the average viewer of such primetime, magazine-style coverage is not long – nor should it be expected to be. Hopefully those interested by this glitzy snapshot will visit the Museum and learn something more of Ancient Worlds than just mummies and bling.

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Halloween event: The Manchester Museum Mummy Walk

A spooky ‘lantern’ Anubis… or is it Wepwawet?

The Museum is working with CityCo and Piccadilly Partnership to bring a Halloween party to Piccadilly Gardens on Wednesday 31 October, in celebration of the opening of the new Ancient Worlds galleries.

The music and art event will take place from 1pm to 5pm and marks the centenary of the first Egypt gallery to be opened at the Museum, and the opening of the new Ancient Worlds galleries.

The event will feature dance and costume workshops, Egyptian and archaeology objects, ancient Egyptian face painting and will culminate in a twilight mummy walk and parade around Piccadilly Gardens.

More info at the CityCo website.

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The function of a mummy mask

Acc. no. 7931. Early New Kingdom.

A mummy mask provided protection – both physical and magical – to the head of the mummy. Masks were introduced in the First Intermediate Period (c. 2181-2955 BC) and were used until Roman times (30BC-395AD). They show the deceased in an idealised form, like a god who has triumphed over death. The use of gilding on masks of the wealthy symbolises the golden skin of the gods.

Spell 151 from the Book of the Dead – the ‘Spell for the Head-of-Mystery’ – makes the function of the mask explicit:

Anubis speaks, the embalmer, lord of the divine hall, when he has placed his hands on the coffin of [the deceased] and equipped him with what [he] needs: ‘Hail, O beautiful of face, lord of vision, whom Ptah-Sokar has gathered together and whom Anubis has upraised, to whom Shu gave support, O beautiful of face among the gods!

Your right eye is the night boat, your left eye is the day boat, your eyebrows are the Ennead. The crown of your head is Anubis, the back of your head is Horus, your fingers are Thoth, your lock of hair is Ptah-Sokar. You [the mask] are in front of [the deceased], he sees by means of you. [You] lead him on the goodly ways, you repel Seth’s band for him and cast his enemies under his feet for him in front of the Ennead of the great House of the Noble in Heliopolis. You take the goodly way to the presence of Horus, the lord of the nobles.’

Acc. no. 2178a. Ptolemaic.

This text appears on the famous golden mask of Tutankhamun, inscribing an object with its function in order to ensure that it would ‘work’ for the dead king. The spell makes clear that the mask was to protect the deceased (magically) from their enemies. As is common in such spells, the text is a command from a god to an inanimate object – divine authority used to spark to life a lifeless substance.

The spell emphasises the power of the mask to restore to the deceased the ability to see. An important part of the funeral ritual was a rite known as the ‘Opening of the Mouth’, which restored the power of speech, as well as the other senses to the mummy (set up outside the tomb, probably wearing the mummy mask). The senses were required for a successful rebirth into in the afterlife as a fully-functioning person, as in life.

In a label written to accompany a mummy mask displayed in our exhibition ‘Unearthed’, a schoolgirl wrote that she thought the mask in the case looked like it was “about to start speaking.” Although this is not the sort of label museum curators write, the girl highlights the essential function of one of the most important items of Pharaonic funerary equipment. Far from being made to simply look pretty, masks were made to give their owners the power of sight – and speech.

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Curator’s Diary 30/6/12: CT scanning Asru … and a crocodile mummy!

Inner coffin of Asru

Inner coffin of Asru

Over the past few weeks we have been filming short clips to appear in the new Ancient Worlds galleries, and in digital content to connect with them. This week we filmed Dr. Roberta Mazza of the University of Manchester talking about Egypt in Late Antiquity, in the beautiful surroundings of the John Rylands library. I am conscious, though, that I promised a follow-up post to news of another filming session, CT-scanning the mummies.

As part of a larger project, led by Profs Rosalie David and Judith Adams, to CT-scan all our mummies with the latest technology at the Manchester Children’s Hospital, one day last month we took one of the museum’s best loved mummies for a state-of-the-art examination.

Asru, already unwrapped, and her two finely decorated coffins were the first significant additions to the Manchester Egyptology collection. They were donated in 1825 by E. and W. Garrett to what was then the Manchester Natural History Society collection. Hieroglyphic texts on the coffins make clear that Asru had been a singer in the temple of Amun at Karnak, so it is probable that her burial was originally located on Luxor’s west bank. Stylistically, her coffins date to the 25th Dynasty (c. 750-664 BC)

Preparing Asru to be scanned

Preparing Asru to be scanned

Asru has enjoyed a surprising afterlife. She was an early subject of the Manchester Mummy Project, and proved a perfect patient. Using a pioneering range of non-destructive scientific techniques, the Project showed that in life Asru had suffered from a number of diseases. Among her complaints would have been anaemia, coughing, stomach ache and diarrhoea, caused by a parasitic bladder infection – called schistosomiasisis (or bilharzia) and other worm infestations, probably Strongyloides. Despite these ailments – and, judging from her fine coffins and mummification techniques, because of her wealth – she had lived to be around 50 at death – elderly for an ancient Egyptian! When the Greater Manchester Police took Asru’s finger- and toeprints (another first, for a 2700 year old body), they showed none of the wear and tear that most ordinary Egyptians would have expected.  Her duties as a chantress cannot have been arduous.

Following in a proud Manchester tradition: Jenny, Lidija, Campbell, Steph, Sam, Steve, and John, with mummified crocodile.

By conducting CT-scans using the latest technology, we hope to find out even more about Asru – things which, in the 1970s and 80s when she was first examined, were not possible to establish.

X-ray of the crocodile’s head

While scanning Asru, we also took the opportunity to subject one of our crocodile mummies to further examination. Lidija McKnight and Stephanie Atherton, colleagues from Manchester’s KNH Centre for Biomedical Egyptology, were interested to know more about what appeared to be a (fatal?) blow to the head. Results of the CT scans have not yet become available, but promise to give us much more information on the lives of people – and animals – in ancient Egypt. Results will be featured in digital content in the new Ancient Worlds gallery, and further collaborative research is expected to take place soon.

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Curator’s Diary 23/5/12: ‘Secret Egypt’ and Ta-sheri-ankh

Today I gave a lecture at Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery in Carlisle, in conjunction with the travelling exhibition ‘Secret Egypt’. The Manchester Museum has loaned a number of items to the exhibition, including two star pieces which would otherwise not have been seen during the redevelopment: a limestone flake (or ostracon) with a rare depiction of a funeral and the Riqqeh Pectoral. Also on loan from our Museum was ‘Salford EA 7’, the mummy and coffin of a woman, one of several human remains transferred to Manchester from the Salford Museum and Art Gallery in 1979.

Giving the lecture provided an opportunity to do some research on the coffin and its occupant, which we had previously loaned to a venue in Venezuela. X-rays carried out in the early 1980s revealed the mummy belonged to a woman in her 20s, but the label in the old ‘Afterlife’ gallery referred to her simply as ‘The Salford Mummy’. The label also claimed that she was ‘unnamed’. In fact, both the mummy’s brightly painted coffin and cartonnage decorations named the woman as ‘Ta-sheri-ankh’ (literally: ‘The living child’). The style of the coffin closely resembles other examples from the site of Akhmim.

Salford EA 7 – the coffin of Ta-sheri-ankh

In 1884, the French Egyptologist Gaston Maspero (1846-1916) discovered hundreds of coffins, mummies and other assorted funerary equipment at this site. Sadly, the fate of many of these mummies was to be sold to paper-making factories or used as fuel for the Egyptian National Railway(!). Fortunately, many items survived by being bought by travellers and have ended up in museums around the world. Interestingly, Ta-sheri-ankh and her coffin do not seem to have been part of this particular haul: her mummy and coffin was donated to Newport Museum in 1888 by Sir George Elliot, who acquired her in the 1870s.

The names of Ta-sheri-ankh’s parents are preserved: her father was called ‘Iret-hor-ru’ and her mother ‘Mut-hotep’, both of whom held titles in the priesthood of the god Min at Akhmim – corroborating the provenance suggested from the iconography of the coffin. It is likely – though not spelt out on her coffin – that Ta-sheri-ankh worked, like her mother, as a temple singer of Min.

The name of ‘Ta-sheri-ankh’ in hieroglyphs. The final two signs have been mixed up.

Ta-sheri-ankh had been labelled with a nebulous ‘Late Period’ date. It is difficult to be precise about dating Late Period coffins from Akhmim, because of a lack of reliable date indicators and variation between Akhmim styles and contemporary coffins made elsewhere in Egypt at the same time. However, the large size of the eyes on the coffin’s gilded mask and the fact that Ta-sheri-ankh is referred to as a ‘Hathor’ seem to indicate a date of around the beginning of the Ptolemaic Period (c. 300 BC).

Further investigation of Ta-sheri-ankh’s mummy is planned, but for the moment it is satisfying to be able to refer to her by name. It was, after all, the prime Egyptian funerary wish that the name should survive after death – so Ta-sheri-ankh is lucky in comparison with so many of her contemporaries, who met a rather different fate at the end of the 19th Century.

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Lecture in Carlisle: Behind the Gilded Mask of Sheri-ankh

Tullie House Museum & Art Gallery Trust presents:

Behind the Gilded Mask of Sheri-ankh: The life and death of an Egyptian woman in the First Millennium BC.

 

Wednesday 23rd May at 2pm

                                                       

Tullie House Museum & Art Gallery Trust is proud to present an afternoon lecture with Dr. Campbell Price, Curator of Egypt and the Sudan from The Manchester Museum. 

Dr. Price will share his knowledge of Egyptian culture during the First Millennium BC and in particular, Sheri-ankh, an Egyptian mummy and coffin currently on loan to Tullie House from The Manchester Museum.

Sheri-ankh, the mummy of a woman in her early 20s, and her coffin are one of the highlights within ‘Secret Egypt’, a major exhibition currently on show at Tullie House, examining popular modern ideas about the ancient Egyptians
 
Sheri-ankh lived between 600 and 300 BC. But what evidence is there for Sheri-ankh’s life and times? Using both the hieroglyphic inscriptions on her coffin and archaeological evidence for Egyptian burial customs, Dr. Price will investigate if it is possible to reconstruct some aspects of her life, religious beliefs and expectations after death. Sheri-ankh is not only a museum exhibit, but a human being with a story to tell.

More information can be found at the Tullie House website.

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