By: Jordyn Hronec
PITTSBURGH–In a glass case, there is the preserved body of a Maryland man, wrapped in linen. The only part of his body that is visible are his feet, which are stiff and dried up. On the wrapped body’s chest, there is a wooden ankh, the Egyptian symbol for life.
A plaque on the wall next to the case identifies the body as “MUMAB: The Maryland Mummy”.
This mummy, as well as 39 other mummified human and animal remains, are a part of “Mummies of the World: The Exhibition”, a touring museum exhibition that has been seen by two million museum-goers worldwide. MUMAB is the “newest” mummy in the collection, created in 1994 by scientists looking to recreate the mummification process used in ancient Egypt.
Currently, the Carnegie Science Center on the North Shore of Pittsburgh houses the entire exhibit in its PPG Science Pavilion, and the exhibit opens to the public on October 5, 2019. The exhibit was recently named by USA Today as a “must-see exhibit of the summer”.
“It’s also a ‘must-see exhibition’ of the fall, winter and spring,” Jason Simmons, the Operations Director of IMG exhibitions, the producer of the exhibit, said.
“Mummies of the World: The Exhibition” defines a mummy as “the dead body of an animal or a human that has been preserved after death so that it does not decompose”. It also specifies that in order for a body to be classified as a mummy, it must retain some of its soft tissues rather than just bone.
Perhaps one of the most famous instances of mummy discovery was in 1922, when British archaeologist Howard Carter discovered the tomb and mummified body of King Tutankhamen, who died at age 18 in ancient Egypt. The Grand Egyptian Museum, which has been under construction since 2006, is set to open in 2020, and will house artifacts from the King Tut tomb excavation.
“Mummies of The World”, however, which showcases accounts of mummification from Egypt and beyond, is ready for new visitors now.
“Mummies of the World: The Exhibition” has previously been housed in museums in places such as Orlando, Florida, Buffalo, New York, and most recently, Phoenix, Arizona. The exhibit arrived in Pittsburgh early in September, escorted by police to the Science Center. In order to bring the exhibit to the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh, Angora Charter Schools and Baierl Subaru both acted as sponsors.
When visitors first enter the exhibit, they are greeted by the “Sarcophagus of a Woman of High Status”. Then, they can explore the rest of the exhibit, which includes mummies from Egypt, Hungary and Germany, as well as mummified animals. There are also interactive screens for visitors to learn about the mummification process, as well as samples of material to simulate how different types of mummies may feel to the touch. The exhibit ends with a gift shop for visitors to purchase any mummy-related merchandise they may wish.
The exhibit has four sections in total. The first section is the Natural Mummification Gallery, and it includes several mummified bodies found in a church crypt in Germany, as well as the mummified body of a woman found in an acidic peat bog in the Netherlands. All mummies in this section, as the name suggests, were mummified through natural processes.
The second section is the Artificial Mummification Gallery, and it houses several mummies from Egypt, as well as shrunken heads from South America.
The Experimental Mummification Gallery is centered around MUMAB and the tools required to fulfill the scientific embalming.
Finally, guests walk through the Science and Medicine Gallery, which emphasises the medical information that can be gathered from mummies. Housed in this gallery is the Orlovits family, a father, mother and child who were all mummified naturally in a Hungarian church crypt after dying from tuberculosis.
“This exhibit is going to take us around the world,” Margaret A. Judd, a bioarchaeologist in the University of Pittsburgh’s Department of Anthropology, said. “To Hungary, Germany, and even Egypt, and we’re going to see many human and animal remains. Some mummies were preserved after death intentionally, and this is to preserve the integrity of the afterlife. However, we’ll see a lot of mummies that were preserved just by a twist of environmental fate.”
“We’re so proud to bring them [mummies] here for a reason, because they really helped us illuminate the importance of science, technology, engineering and math,” Jason Brown, the interim director of the Carnegie Science Center, said. “‘Mummies of the World’ is especially exciting, because it’s the largest collection of real mummies to ever travel in North America…This exhibition is a perfect fit for us here at the Science Center, the mummies and exhibits…offer a wealth of scientific, anthropological, archaeological, anatomical, medical and historical information.”
Ruth Penfold-Mounce, of the Department of Sociology at the University of York in the United Kingdom and author of the journal article “Corpses, popular culture and forensic science: public obsession with death”, believes that popular culture’s portrayal of forensic science and the dead have lead to a “public fascination” with death. Penfold-Mounce cites the uptick in popularity in television shows such as CSI, which often tend to showcase corpses, as well as forensic science programs in universities.
Bob Brier, author of “Egyptomania! What accounts for our intoxication with things Egyptian?” and self-proclaimed egyptomanic, stated that the appeal of ancient Egypt comes from the civilization’s “antiquity” and “accessibility”.
“Both children and adults line up to stare at a mummy,” Brier said. “ There, looking across three thousand years, is a recognisable human being, not so different from you and me. Perhaps when we stare at a mummy, there is a bit of envy; perhaps immortality is possible.”
“Mummies of The World: The Exhibit” will only be in Pittsburgh until April 19, 2020. Tickets and ticket prices for this exhibit are available through the Carnegie Science Center’s website. Tickets for “Mummies of the World” may be purchased separately or in addition to General Admission tickets.
Luckily for students looking to visit the exhibit, the Carnegie Science Center offers a student discount with a valid student ID.
“I’m interested, not so much in seeing the dead, but more so the rituals for the dead,” Grace Tyler Frank-Rempel, a sophomore global cultural studies major at Point Park said. “Because we don’t have rituals like that for our dead today.”