Mummies

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Review

of an Exhibit

by Carrie Gonzalez

Published on June 02, 2017

  • Description:

    Both mummies and the after-life have fascinated me. For hundreds of years, the process of mummification has been practiced all around the world as a way of preserving and honoring the dead. With the opening of “Mummies” at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) I was ecstatic with the thought of seeing up close and personal real mummies and learning the stories behind the individuals mummified and their cultures.

    Upon opening one of the double sided doors, I found myself standing behind a large group of young and old visitors, intensively watching the introduction film highlighting the three different types of mummification practiced in Peru and Egypt. As the film was playing, a steady flow of people speaking various languages kept streaming in through the moving doors. There were no guards or staff in sight to assist with the crowd or volume control. At the conclusion of the film, I walked away understanding that the exhibition would examine the cultural and technical aspects of Peruvian and Egyptian mummies through the usage of modern technology.

    As I continued into the exhibit, there were no brochures, background music, staff members or guards. The exhibit was dim except for the cases where the lights were bright. The first half of the snake like layout of the exhibit focused on Peruvian mummification and the other half on Egyptian mummification. There were a few large scale text panels introducing one of the twelve thematic stations consisting of a collection of burial objects, cultural practices performed and mummies. The text panels were at a reading level most visitors with limited previous knowledge would understand. The text labels were located in awkward positions at the very top of the cases. Unless you were tall enough or took a few steps back, they were hard to read. The mummies, as well as the other objects in the cases, were located at a level where both children and adults can comfortably see from any angle. There were not enough hands-on experiences except for two tabletop Ipads, located one for each section. Two people at a time could examine the x-rays and CT scan images of mummies to gather information and make inferences from the images. For example, what do dental images tell us about the age of the person mummified, or what conclusion about cultural practices can be detected from the shape of the skulls. Kids seemed to gravitate toward the activities and were fully engaged for long periods of time. This led to long waiting lines where other intrigued kids wanted to “read” up close and personal what “juicy” information was hidden underneath the layers of wrapping materials covering the mummies.

    One of the highlights for me was located at the end of the Peruvian section. Mounted on top of a small platform, a small flatscreen TV showed mummification practices from three different Peruvian cultures; Chancay, Nazca and Incan mummification ceremonies. Likewise, in the Egyptian section, there was a life-size scale of how Egyptians buried their dead with servant figures. They also emphasized the importance of names being written on top of the mummy’s cases since this ensured their soul would travel to the afterworld.

    Overall, I had a great experience! I walked away with a new appreciation and understanding of the cultural practices associated with the mummification of loved ones. As one leaves the exhibit, one is left with the following message: “ The dead have more to tell us – we’re finding new ways to listen….” Despite how different our modern burial practices are from those of the ancient Egyptians and Peruvians, all cultures have placed emphasis on rituals surrounding the death of loved ones. We in our own ways continue to honor our loved ones.

Latest Comments (1)

a diligent visitor

by Kathleen Mclean - June 05, 2017

Thanks for your review, Carrie. You are a great example of a “diligent visitor” with a prior interest in the exhibition content. Even though there was little to help you set the stage for your visit, and you had to stand in lines to access some of the information, you were supported in your interests and learned new things along the way. Mummies are definitely intriguing to many people, and attract and hold peoples’ attentions.

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