Posts Tagged With: mummification

Mummies of the World: The Exhibition

Over the holidays I traveled to Cincinnati, Ohio to spend time with family and also had the opportunity to visit the amazing Cincinnati Museum Center for the very first time (Thanks Mama and Papa Hill)! Within this group of museums, tucked away in the lower level, was the site of one of my favorite holiday gifts: The Special Exhibition entitled Mummies of the World. One of the largest exhibitions of mummies and mummification objects to date, Mummies of the World includes both animal and human mummies from South America, Europe, and Egypt. This revolutionary exhibition focuses on the scientific processes, both intentional and natural, that have created mummies—from ancient Egypt to the remote bogs of Europe. The exhibit uses multimedia approaches such as videos and interactive computer programs to enhance the experience of the viewer in understanding how scientists investigated both the past processes of mummification and the causes of death of the mummies exhibited. Most highly stressed by the exhibit is the fact that the human mummies were all once living, breathing people, and as such they should be treated with great respect. Although I don’t want to spoil the exhibit, I can’t help but share with you my favorite ancient Egyptian aspects of this exhibition (and one non-Egyptian example that I just couldn’t resist!)

courtesy of the Cincinnati Museum Center

courtesy of the Cincinnati Museum Center

At the top of the ‘Must-See’ list for this exhibition is the “Maryland Mummy.” The Mummy of the University of Maryland at Baltimore, or MUMAB, is particularly unique due to its lack of ancient origins. MUMAB was created in 1994 by Egyptologist Robert Brier (who has worked on the Mummies of King Tut and Ramses II) of Long Island University and anatomist Ronald Wade of the University of Maryland using replicas of tools and following the processes that ancient Egyptians utilized over 2,000 years ago. The process appears to be successful, since the mummy shows no signs of decay at present, and has given scientists, archaeologists, and Egyptologists great insight into the process of mummification. (MUMAB is permanently kept at the San Diego Museum of Man, where it is on permanent loan from the University of Maryland School Of Medicine.)

Second on my Mummies of the World exhibition list are the mummies of Nes-Hor and Nes-Min*. In life, Nes-Min and Nes-Hor were priests of the Temple of Min in the ancient city of Khent-Min. Although they lived during different periods in ancient history (Nes-Min lived during the Late period, while Nes-Hor lived 200 years later in the Ptolemaic period), both were stolist priests and were responsible for caring after the temple’s many statues of the gods. Their sarcophagi were constructed from wood and painted with elaborate images and hieroglyphs indicating their names and occupations, as well as prayers to help guide their souls to the afterlife.

*Wondering why both priests have ‘Nes’ at the beginning of their names? In ancient Egyptian, ‘Nes’ means ‘he belongs to’, indicating the individual is a priest or some form of servant.

Last but not least, I can’t help but share one of the most interesting sets of mummies in this fabulous exhibition.

courtesy of the Cincinnati Museum Center

courtesy of the Cincinnati Museum Center

Meet the Orlovits family, a trio who belong to a group of 18th century mummies discovered in a crypt in Vac, Hungary in 1994. The Orlovits, along with over 250 other residents of Vac, were mummified—not on purpose during any post mortem procedure performed by other humans—but by a natural process involving the cool, dry air in their crypt and oil from the pine boards that were used to create their coffins. Michael and Veronica Orlovits and their son, Johannes, are particularly important due to the discovery of tuberculosis on the bones of the mummies. By taking tissue samples from the Orlovits family, scientists can study the tuberculosis infection, provide an idea of how drug-resistant strains develop, and work toward combatting such strains in the short term.

Overall, I thought that the Mummies of the World exhibition was well laid-out, informative, and successfully exhibited both objects and information in a manner very appropriate for its audience: A city of curious residents who are eager to get a more global perspective, and see exotic and interesting objects. While the case labels for the mummies and their accompanying artifacts, as well as the educational information provided, are not typical of a museum in language or vocabulary, they succeed in contributing to an exciting and informative exhibit for all visitors of every age.

Mummies of the World is at the Cincinnati Museum Center until April 26, 2015.

 (And while you are at CMC, check out the three museums and other exhibitions!)

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Canines or Felines? A Centuries Old Debate

Few philosophical debates have endured throughout history. But the most important of these arguments, vital to our being, existing from the times of the ancients to the lifetimes of modern humankind, turning friends and families against each other, is this simple question:

Dogs or cats?

When we investigate the existence of this debate in ancient Egypt, we find a true head-to-head battle of the animals, a twist that may surprise anyone with ancient Egyptian knowledge.

Let’s start with the clear front runner: Cats. It’s generally accepted that cats were most likely domesticated around 2000 BC, and most of the cats we see today are descendents of these ancient felines. After about 500 years of domestication, the importance of cats reached a new level, and cats began to appear in tomb paintings depicting family life.

courtesy of A typical tomb hunting scene depicting a cat trained to catch fowl and fish

courtesy of A typical tomb hunting scene depicting a cat trained to catch fowl and fish

Cats played a variety of important roles in ancient Egyptian religion, the most famous cat goddesses being Bastet and the lion-headed Sekhmet.

Bastet was typically depicted having the body of a woman and the head of a domestic cat. She was known as a protector of women, children, households, and other cats. She was also the goddess of surprise, music, dance, pleasure, family, fertility, and birth. Most importantly, she was associated with the Eye of Ra, and acted within the sun god’s power. This direct connection to the almighty Ra gave Bastet a prominent presence in Egyptian religion. In 3200 BC, Bastet even had her own city (Budbastis), and was given a grand festival each October 31st in Budvastis and other cities, including Memphis.

courtesy of the British Museum

courtesy of the British Museum

Sekhmet is best referred to as Bastet’s evil twin. She is known as the goddess of war and pestilence, who is controlled by Ra (who, by the way, had to get her drunk to calm her down) and she becomes a great protector of humans. By having both a good and evil side in these two figures, the Egyptian religion is not only supporting the concept of duality that it is famous for, but also the subjugation of chaos; the most vital balance of the forces of nature.

One ancient Egyptian word described both wild and domesticated felines–‘miu’ or ‘mii’, which translates to “he or she who mews”. Creative, right? Curiously, there is little to no documented evidence of ancient cat names similar to those we use today. Two names that have been identified are ‘Nedjem’ and ‘Tai Miuwette’– the latter being the companion of the crown prince Thutmose, brother of Akhenaten. In a strange cultural twist, many Egyptian parents actually named their children after cats, using names like Mit/Miut for their daughters.

It is clear that felines were treasured by ancient Egyptians, even in the afterlife. Around 1000 BC cat cemeteries were formed, and, at one point, the penalty for killing a cat–even accidentally–was death. It was even illegal to export cats to neighboring countries, a law which sparked a thriving trade in smuggled cats! Court records confirm that armies were dispatched to bring these kidnapped kitties back to Egypt!

As might be expected, canines appear to be the literal underDOGS when it comes to the favorite pets of ancient Egyptians. Dogs do, however get one major point on the cats versus dogs scoreboard, since dogs were domesticated in ancient Egypt much earlier than cats. One ancient Egyptian word for dog is ‘iwiw’, an onomatopoeic reference to a dog’s bark. Surprisingly, dogs had numerous functions in society. They were trained for hunting purposes, used as police/guard dogs, in military actions, and also as household pets. In ancient Egyptian culture, dogs were among the ranks of the animal god-forms. Most commonly identified as a jackal, Anubis was a god of the underworld; a guide to the afterlife (much like another jackal deity called Wepwawet ‘The Opener of Ways’) and overseer of the mummification process.

courtesy of

courtesy of

It is possible that the jackal was chosen as the anamorphic figure for Anubis because of the attentive nature of the God to the spirit in the afterlife, much like a canine today is attentive to its owner. This could also explain the inclusion of hunting dogs in the tomb paintings of Rameses the Great, with the dogs being allowed to provide companionship for their master in life and the afterlife. In addition to appearing in relief paintings within tombs, domesticated dogs were buried and mummified, sometimes with their own coffin, and most often in the tombs of their owners. Some dogs were buried with great care in the temple of Anubis in Saqqara in order to help ease their passing in to the afterlife.

Even in Ancient Egypt, dogs were given collars inscribed with their names. Many of these collars survive today. From these collars, as well as from stelae and reliefs, historians have discovered that dogs were given names such as ‘Brave One’, ‘Reliable’, ‘Good Herdsman’, and even ‘Useless’. Other names seem to have been chosen based on the dog’s color and some were simply just a number. But it seems that many of the names for these dogs were selected to represent endearment, abilities, or capabilities.


courtesy of

Ultimately, it appears that ancient Egyptians were split down the middle regarding their preference for cats or dogs. In addition to their varied religious, domestic, and military significance, it is evident that both cats and dogs held enough of their ancient Egyptian families’ affection to receive intricate funerary rites.

So…sometimes dogs were truly an ancient Egyptian’s best friend…and sometimes “cats ruled and dogs drooled”…once again proving that the ancient Egyptians were real people…just like us.



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