Wrapped! Search for the Essential Mummy
Tells the Inside Story of Mummies: both figuratively and literally!
Museum visitors often leave an exhibition of Egyptian artifacts with the impression that mummies are all the same and that all mummies were kings or princes during their lives. In reality, mummies are individuals; they vary in terms of their manner of preparation, the decoration of their sarcophagi, and the region in which they lived. And, of course, before they were mummies, they were living people, of either gender, belonging to different classes, working in a variety of occupations – who died of as many causes as people die today. Underneath their ancient linen wrappings lies a multitude of mysteries often too great for scientists and researchers to uncover. Nevertheless, since their first discovery by Western cultures, seekers across the centuries have been trying to unwrap the secrets of mummies.
From June 19 to October 31, 2010, the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, MA will take museum visitors several steps closer on this quest. The Museum’s groundbreaking, world-premiere exhibition, Wrapped! Search for the Essential Mummy, transports visitors to the Egyptian tombs of Akhmim and the funerary tables and labs of ancient mortuaries; through the discovery of mummies by Western explorers and the ensuing “unrolling” soirees of the 19th century, to current-day mummy research, including reconstruction of mummies’ facial features in sculptural busts and digitizing mummies’ body cavities using cutting-edge scanning technology from the leading radiology labs of North America.
Wrapped! takes visitors to the awesome cliffs of Akhmim, Egypt and its sprawling cemetery– 300 miles south of Cairo – the year is 1884 and mummies are being pulled from their ancient tombs by the hundreds. Among those buried in the loose limestone of Akhmim was Pahat, who lived a full life as a smaty priest of the temple cult of Min. Pahat was carefully mummified 2,300 years ago with the best funerary methods and craftsmanship of his era. At the turn of the 20th century, Pahat was excavated, removed from his resting place, and eventually sold to Zenas Crane in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, for the now-paltry sum of $300. Crane donated Pahat to Berkshire Museum, which the philanthropist founded in 1903, where the prized mummy has remained on display to this day.
Visitors will be able to see forensic sculptures of Pahat, Shep-en-min, and Pesed, all based on CT scan data, and those of other mummies excavated in their town and its surrounding region. These busts reveal what these people looked like before mummification dried their bodies in preparation successful burial and transition to the ancient Egyptian afterlife.
Wrapped! will also reunite a father and son pair of mummies for the first time in North American history. The opportunity to stage the first-ever father-and-son reunion of mummies from the late Ptolemaic period (332 to 30 B.C.E.) is one of the most remarkable aspects of Wrapped! Search for the Essential Mummy, but the exhibition has many other engrossing components. Created by the Akhmim Mummy Studies Consortium in partnership with Berkshire Museum, Wrapped! explores Western society’s fascination and interaction with ancient Egypt centuries before the discovery of King Tutankhamun. It elucidates the burgeoning interest in this mysterious culture during the Renaissance and the growing scientific investigation of its mummies during the early 19th century. The exhibition looks at how mummies became prized commodities; How they were purchased, collected, and in some cases destroyed in the name of science. Wrapped! includes historical documents related to the trade and study of mummies that elucidate the rush that occurred in Egypt — similar to the American gold rush — as explorers, adventurers, speculators, and scientists plundered ancient tombs and local officials hastily attempted to document the exodus of artifacts from the region, a legacy whose ramifications resound even today.
Wrapped! reveals how the study of mummies has evolved from destructive, archaic methods to comprehensive, noninvasive analysis. Up until the 20th century, the study of mummies frequently included public unrollings. These “science nights,” often held at the homes of wealthy philanthropists throughout England and Europe, are now perceived as sacrilegious and barbaric. Current scientific standards require the use no-impact research methodologies based on today’s most advanced technologies and forensic techniques.
Wrapped! also traces the evolution of mummification techniques from the primitive, early stages to the ornate methods used to prepare royalty for the afterlife, as exemplified by the more famous mummies found in the Valley of the Kings. Mummified animals, including cats, falcons, and a baby crocodile will accompany the human mummies, as they did in ancient Egyptian tombs.
Wrapped! Search for the Essential Mummy will be on view from June 19 to October 31, 2010. Berkshire Museum is located at 39 South St. on Route 7 in Downtown Pittsfield. For more information call (413) 443.7171, or visit online at www.berkshiremuseum.org.