On July 1, California Science Center will unveil an unprecedented collection of forty-five mummies and ninety-five related artifacts. The exhibit, “Mummies of the World,” will feature both natural and intentional mummies hailing from collections in fifteen different museums and seven different countries. These will include one of the oldest known mummies in the world, a child mummy from Peru that is more than 6,000 years old, a family that succumbed to tuberculosis during the 18th century and a 17th century baron who is believed to have died during the Thirty Years' War. Friday morning, a motorcade transporting these human remains arrived at the Science Center to begin preparations for this world premiere event.
“Mummies of the World” is part museum exhibit, part research project. “Each of these mummies will have additional scientific analysis with CT scans, MRI scans, x-rays, other types of appropriate analysis,” says Diane Perlov, Senior Vice-President of Exhibits for the Science Center “We'll put the results in the exhibit for people to learn the latest scientific information from them.”
The exhibit will cover a variety of areas of study, including archaeology, anthropology, molecular biology and radiology. As research continues, visitors will learn about the diet, health and customs of people who lived between 300 and 6,000 years ago. These include different mummification rituals for people buried in Egypt and South America.
“The Egyptians went through a process where they thought they were preparing you for an afterlife,” says William T. Harris, Senior Vice-President of Development and Marketing for the Science Center. “They actually removed all the organs from the body, including the brain, which they pulled out through the nose and then put them in jars that would be interred with you, and then they buried you with everything you would need in the afterlife, a boat so you could cross the sea, food, sometimes servants would be sacrificed to be included to help you in the afterlife.”
He continues, “In the case of the South American exhibit, they would dress them. They would also give them things for the afterlife, but they didn't go through the extensive preparation of the body and removing organs.”
The natural mummies, on the other hand, are simply the result of being buried in precisely the right spot.
“The natural mummification is from deserts, bogs, cellars, ice, salt, sugar, all different kinds of way,” says Perlov. “Mummification requires a consistent dryness as well as particular chemical and mineral conditions.”
The remains arrived at the Science Center, which currently has three mummies on display for the “Lost in Egypt” exhibit, in large boxes filled with soft packaging. The cases are currently unopened as the remains have to stay sealed for forty-eight hours so that they may acclimatize. When the mummies are unveiled, though, they will shed light on a diverse range of human experiences.
“All of these mummies are different,” says Perlov. “It's fascinating and also kind of heart-wrenching. You identify with these people because they are human remains. It's a fascinating mystery and, through scientific analysis we can learn something about them.”