Ancient Lives, New Discoveries

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From 22 May 14 to 30 Nov 14

A CT scan 3D visualisation of the mummified remains of a Sudanese woman

LONDON. “Think you know mummies? Think again…” is the tagline for the British Museum’s latest show, which offers a rare opportunity to see what lies beneath the wrappings of eight mummies from Egypt and Sudan in the museum’s collection.

Thanks to CT-scanning technology, long-hidden secrets from a Christian tattoo on a woman’s thigh, to poles driven into a man’s neck to reattach his head following a botched mummification are revealed through interactive displays that peel away the layers so visitors can become part of the discovery process.

“This is not a conventional arts of death exhibition,” says John Taylor, who is co-organising the show with his BM colleague Daniel Antoine.

“It’s about trying to understand the people of the ancient Nile Valley and see them as individuals, not as objects.” The eight mummified people, of whom the youngest was around two years old when he died, lived between 5,500 and 1,300 years ago.

Eighth-century tattoo Visitors will see amulets nestled among the wrappings of an older, high-status female who also had metal plates, possibly made of gold, on her fingernails.

They can also examine a monogram of St Michael—the patron saint of medieval Sudan—tattooed on an early eighth-century AD Sudanese woman, in the belief that it could offer her protection.

One of the museum’s more unusual mummies, described by Taylor as a “mystery”, is also on display: a first-century AD male whose wrappings have been painted to include facial features, including a beard, and who also “seems to have feminine breasts that have been enhanced with cloth underneath the wrappings”.

“He’s always been a puzzle, but we weren’t expecting to find this,” he says, referring to the man’s feminine attributes.

“We’d like to know more about him. In a way this exhibition is a staging point on the road to finding out more.

“Mummies are a rich storehouse of information and we are not by any means at the end of collecting that data,” Taylor says.

“There is a great deal yet to be learned thanks to new technology.” Emily Sharpe • Ancient Lives, New Discoveries, British Museum, London, 22 May-30 November Categories: Middle East Archaeology & Ancient art

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