Covering the mummies – curator’s update, Monday 2nd June 2008

The Director of the Manchester Museum, Nick Merriman, at the staff Director’s Update in the Museum this morning, reported on the ongoing response to the covering of the three unwrapped or partially unwrapped mummies on the gallery. The response to the covering, on the gallery comment cards, in the media and on this blog, will be taken on board and the Museum will shortly decide its next step in relation to the display of these mummies. The covering of the mummies had been intended to stimulate the debate and discussion surrounding the display of human remains, and in this it has been very successful.

In response to Peter Robinson’s request for further information on the response to the covering of the mummies, the information will be fed into a consultation report which should be available towards the end of the year. The report will be made publicly available.

All developments will be posted on this blog for further discussion. Many thanks to all of you who have constributed so far, your comments have been very welcome, interesting and useful.



Filed under Egyptian mummies

19 responses to “Covering the mummies – curator’s update, Monday 2nd June 2008

  1. Allen

    I hope they uncover the mummies again. What a disgrace for a museum to be influenced by puritanism instead of educative reasons!

  2. Tim Muston

    In my view, the museum has a duty to interpret the Egyptology collection in a meaningful way to the public. Covering up mummies does not seem to be meaningful at all. On the contrary, it appears that this act was undertaken with the sole intention of generating controversy.

    Another thing that concerns me is the seeming inconsistency in the implementation of the policy. Asru’s mummy is covered, but the skeleton of one of the two brothers is not. Also, Lindow man is on full display.

    I was at the museum on Monday 2nd June, and spoke about this issue to a very helpful lady in the Lindow man exhibition. She stated that Lindow man could be displayed because he was in the state in which he was found and not ‘altered’. Frankly, this doesn’t seem to be a problem. Surely as long as the display is tasteful and not gratuitously offensive, the educational value should be the prime concern.

  3. Kayt Turner

    I feel that whilst the display of dead bodies needs to be treated respectfully, as is the case in every museum I have visited, to cover the remains up is a form of censorship and is a retrograde step.
    Using dead bodies in the name of “art” is a gratuitous act of someone desperate for media attention and shows no awareness or sensitivity towards others.
    If we start covering things up where do you draw the line?

  4. Bob Partridge

    I would have thought that analysing the responses to the covering on the web site and in the museum would not be a task that would take over long and the opinion of the public on this now apparently “temporary” covering, intended specifially to encourage a response is readily apparent.

    I think the musuem should revet the display of mummies back to how it was immediately, not wait for a report “towards the end of the year”.

    The opinions and the useful comments can be used to determine the future display, but why keep the mummies covered over now?

  5. I do not think the mummies should be covered, though perhaps they could be displayed with “restricted visual access” as is often the case in ritual settings.

    I personally find the display of dead flesh a bit icky (though I have no problem with the display of bones), but this is definitely an “ick” response and I definitely do not feel that the mummies have been profaned or anything.

    Museums are derived from the Greek word “Museion” (temple of the Muses) so as far as I am concerned they are sacred space, dedicated to knowledge and wonder. Therefore the mummies are displayed in a sacred space.

    By displaying the ancient dead and recovering their stories and their lifeways, they are being rescued from oblivion and remembered – another form of immortality. Therefore I do feel that any display of human remains should be accompanied by an attempt to reconstruct their story (similar to the TV series Meet the Ancestors).

    Also, the ontological status of the dead is not the same as that of the living. They do not have rights; we have responsibilities to them (but that is not the same thing).


    I was shocked to hear that the Museum had surrendered to the forces of political correctness and misplaced prudishness. A museum should be an educational resource and, frankly, a shapeless mass of fabric has virtually no iinformative value. The mummies might as well be removed from display altogether. Surely a warning sign that human remains are on display could be could be installed for those easily offended?

    As a young child I found these mummies a little creepy because they were dead, not because they were naked. Being able to see them actually demystified the mummification process and awakened my interest in ancient peoples. I went on to train as an archaeologist because of this interest and hope that the Manchester Museum chooses to continue to inform ignorance rather than pandering to it.

  7. louise Hart

    A museum is all about learning. Egyptian mummies have so many important factors-history, religion, foriegn customs, science and now politics too.

    It also appears to me that when the covering took place it was intended to be a permant feature until the museum was met with such a negitive resonce and then u-turned and said it was always a way of establishing how people felt.Well the museum has had ample time to establish the reaction of the general public which, from what I can tell, is against the covering of the mummies

    Please stop denying the general public access to an important part of Ancient Egyptian history.

  8. After having just returned home from a long spell abroad, I went to visit the Manchester Museum, only to find that a whole raft of curators and ‘intellectuals’ had seemingly started to peddle backwards, covering up bodies of important, educational human bodies. It’s an interesting exploration in opinion, but the voice of the public can not longer be ignored-come on guys, the experiment over. Since when did curators cease to think of these mummies as, primarily, specimens? Is being a museum curator NOT all about looking at an artfact in order to value it’s historical importance? You’re mixing science and religion-and history has shown that these two are seldom good bedfellows. Not once have I, or any of the visitors who have commented, it seems, detected any kind of disrespect in the way Manchester Museum displays its artefacts. You’re in the clear. The finer details of Spirituality should be left to religious experts and those who should wish to venture into this field- museum curators and those specialising in HISTORICAL FACT are not here to shoulder this concern for them.

  9. Hugh Polehampton

    Please uncover the covered mummies now as current visitors are being deprived of a view of them purely because the Museum wanted to stimulate a debate.

  10. Bob Lyall

    It seems unbelievable that it takes 6 months to make a decision to do the blindingly obvious and stop beholding to crazy ideas of covering the mummies.
    And whilest on to you, since when did hanging a skeleton of a T-Rex from the ceiling make any sense? My little grand daughter asked if they were able to fly because of this! Why on earth dont you have it stood on the floor at ground level so we all can understand the size of these fantastic creatures and see them in a realistic way?
    I fear the museum has lost touch with reality. What a shame.

  11. Em

    Please put the mummies back on display. As a child these displays fascinated me and made me want to learn more about their history and culture.

    It is a shame that visitors to the museum will not be able to see these individuals.

  12. Andrew Platt

    It seems incredible to me that at a time when exhibitions like “Body Worlds” can openly display the remains of the recently deceased, anyone should balk at the display of centuries old remains. As there is no suggestion of any lack of respect for the remains on the museum’s part, and as long as due warning is given to prevent the squeamish from inadvertently stumbling across something they do not wish to see, then I can see no reason for such nonsense. It is a museum’s role to educate, not to pander to political correctness. I hope the remains will be uncovered at the earliest available opportunity.

  13. egyptmanchester

    Just a quick reply to Em: thank you for the comment. The mummies are still on display, three have been covered as an interim experiment, and there will be further exploration on ways of displaying the mummies over the next year.

  14. Will

    Can the Museum state clearly what was the purpose behind this public consultation if the decision to cover the mummies was made before the consultation had been completed?

    The initial justification for the covering incident was that some visitors found it ‘insensitive’ to display unwrapped mummies. But now the decision is being depicted as a postmodern experiment in how to display the dead. If the intention was to provoke debate over how to/whether to display human remains, then this could should have been made clearer from the start. The Museum was always going to do what it wanted, and the public consultation has been shown as a bit of a sham.

    I personally think that postmodern posturing can be as controlling and confusing as the ‘traditional’ approaches you are trying to expose.

  15. egyptmanchester

    Many thanks for your comment. The consultation programme related to displaying the Egyptian human remains is ongoing. Covering the three mummies explored whether this was a possible option, and it is clear that this is not what Museum visitors want.

    Shortly the next satge of the consultation strategy will be posted. Watch this space…

  16. Will

    I look forward to hearing more. I think the intentions could have to be better enunciated. If there was a frank statement from the start saying ‘we’re going to do this as an experiment to test public reactions’ then museum visitors might not have felt so imposed upon.

  17. Dave Howlett

    (cross posted from another entry, to ensure my views are available to those who read all articles on this matter rather than just the one)

    I visited the museum yesterday, and I believe it is a step too far to cover the mummies – especially in white covers which are jarring and do not “fit” visually with the exhibition as a whole. This is most noticeably a detriment to the egyptology exhibition in the case of the mummified child – whereas the other two mummies were displayed in some degree of context, with their sarcophagi visible, this mummy was merely covered up completely but outside of context – it might as well have been a bundle of staw covered by sheets. Furthermore, allowing the bodies to be visible would allow the public to see the skill with which these bodies have been preserved, as well as realise all the more strongly that they *are* human remains, and thus elicit a feeling of reverence which may be unconsciously lacking when no obvious signs of this fact are in evidence.

  18. karen

    asru was uncoverd before she came to the museum
    there four she shuold not be coverd up like that.

  19. I don’t really see the point. We all already know how the mummification process goes what to we learn from looking at a dead body?? Also as for covering it up that just makes it a waste of space. Ether put it back were it came from or show halfway does not serve any propose at all.

    I would not like to be dug up.

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