Yesterday saw the latest phase of clearing – or ‘decanting’ – the Egyptian afterlife gallery in preparation for building work to begin on the new Ancient Worlds Galleries. This was the first time some of the mummies have been moved in over 30 years. A skilled team of movers and conservators ensured that each was carefully transferred to a temporary storage space to await conservation.
Among the travellers was Khary, a priest at the temple of Karnak during the Late Period (c. 750-330 BC), and his brightly painted coffin (Acc. no. 9354a-b). Both were purchased in Egypt in the late 19th Century, and arrived in Manchester via the Ship Canal in 1893. They were donated to the museum in 1935. Moving Khary afforded an opportunity to examine at close quarters his carefully wrapped body and brightly painted coffin. Although most of the mummies will not be put on display in the new galleries, improved storage will make access to them easier for researchers – who previously could only peer into a dimly-lit display case or had to rely on archive photographs. Because they do not add significantly to our understanding of funerary beliefs, the skeletal remains of the Two Brothers will also be moved into storage, where their condition can be more closely monitored while being accessible to researchers.
Two Graeco-Roman mummies (Acc. no.s 1767 and 1768) – still wrapped, with their portrait panels in place – will be displayed together with our superb collection of ‘Faiyum portraits’ in a dedicated space, where Asru is located now. This will be particularly exciting, because for the first time in many years visitors will be able to see the finely-painted faces of these men, which previously were difficult to view because of the arrangement of the old gallery.
Part of the new displays will also highlight the role women played in Egyptian religious practice, focusing on the life of Asru, a temple singer in the 25th-26th Dynasty (c. 750-525 BC) and a firm favourite in the museum. Her well-preserved body is an excellent example of mummification. This process – along with how modern techniques help us understand ancient disease – will be explained in both printed and digital media beside her mummy and coffins.