The temple of Amun-Re at Karnak, where Tayesmutengebtiu, also called Tamut, probably served as a priestess. © Vandenbeusch
Europe,  UK

Mummies come to life at the British Museum

A mummy undergoing a CT scan at the Royal Brompton Hospital
A mummy undergoing a CT scan at the Royal Brompton Hospital

 

Mummies come to life at the British Museum

Ancient lives, new discoveries is an exhibition at the British Museum, London, that looks to ‘unwrap’ mummies using the latest technologies, allowing us to understand more about the people behind the wrappings and what life was like in ancient Egypt.

As both a history and tech geek, this exhibition gleaned my interest as curators chose eight mummies to put through the latest CT scanners, allowing them to create 3D visualisations of the bodies behind the bandages and give us more details into their lives.

I found the exhibition both immersive and enthralling as I followed the stories of eight very different people that were selected from a time period of over 4,000 years from sites across Egypt and Sudan.

The CT scan of the mummy of an adult male (name unknown), showing his skeleton
The CT scan of the mummy of an adult male (name unknown), showing his skeleton.

 

Horrible histories

Although the mummified displays do provide the odd gruesome moment (such as the unnamed young man who’s naturally mummified body was discovered buried in the sand), the exhibition focuses on large screen visualisations of the scans that allow you to see what each person was mummified with, including amulets, food and even musical instruments.

These items give us glimpses into their social standing, and the scans of the remains allow us to discover some of the physical ailments (calcification of arteries and nasty dental abscesses appeared to be regular problems back in the day). The interactive displays also add another dimension to the exhibition, allowing you to feel even more a part of the discoveries.

Cartonnage of a priestess, adult, casing with a gilded face, named Tayesmutengebtiu, also called Tamut. Found in Thebes, 22nd Dynasty (c. 900 BC)
Cartonnage of a priestess, adult, casing with a gilded face, named Tayesmutengebtiu, also called Tamut. Found in Thebes, 22nd Dynasty (c. 900 BC)

 

Technology allows you to connect with their stories

With so much information learnt from the research, it’s hard not to feel empathetic to the mummies and connect to their stories. I won’t give all the details away, but I was able to picture so much about the life and death Tamut, the female temple singer and priest’s daughter, and it was amazing to see 3D printed replicas of the amulets wrapped under her bindings.

) CT scan of the feet of Tayesmutengebtiu, also called Tamut, to show the metal covers on her toenails and the large amulet of the winged scarab beetle Khepri
) CT scan of the feet of Tayesmutengebtiu, also called Tamut, to show the metal covers on her toenails and the large amulet of the winged scarab beetle Khepri.

But my favourite mummy had to be Padiamenet, the chief doorkeeper of the temple of Ra and chief barber of the temple of Ra and Amun. From the looks of things he had a pretty tough time of it, even after death.

As well as being separated from him mummified wife and son (they are held at separate museums across Europe) it appears that he underwent a botched embalming procedure, or due to his standing he didn’t pay for the top level embalming! During his preparation for burial the scan tells us that his head became detached from his body as you can clearly see in the visualisations that his head is crudely held in position by two long wooden poles! Bless him!

Ancient lives, new discoveries – well worth a visit

Don’t wait for a rainy day to visit the exhibition, Ancient lives, new discoveries is well worth dedicating a morning or afternoon trip to checking out. And if you have children you can get them involved too. The British Museum offers a family trail booklet to any families that visit the exhibition that takes interactivity to a new level for children that attend. As the follow the trail they can learn more about the foot ancient Egyptians ate, how the bodies were preserved, the musical instruments they played and even the toys Egyptian children played with and how they kept their hair. Educational and entertaining for all ages, this is probably my favourite museum exhibition of the last few years.


 

Running from 22 May to 30 November 2014 Ancient lives, new discoveries costs £10 per adult and under 16s go free. Discounts are available.

All images © Trustees of the British Museum.

The temple of Amun-Re at Karnak, where Tayesmutengebtiu, also called Tamut, probably served as a priestess. © Vandenbeusch
The temple of Amun-Re at Karnak, where Tayesmutengebtiu, also called Tamut, probably served as a priestess. © Vandenbeusch

By day Co-Editor Keri is a freelance journalist and copywriter, but spends most of her free time either travelling or planning her next trip!  A complete travel fanatic, she has a love of tropical climates, wildlife and afternoon tea (hence the creation of her Global Afternoon Tea Challenge!)

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