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Show Me the Mummies!

December 1997

  Museums Online

X-ray of mummy head, from the University of Illinois at Urbana. (From UIUC Web site)
Shouldn't some dead things "lounge music" comes to mind stay that way forever? Well, the ancient Egyptians didn't think so. Why else would they have made such an effort to eternally preserve people's soles, and souls, as mummies? They hoped that embalming their dead and hiding them away for millennia would ensure the corpse's resurrection in the underworld. We'll never know their spiritual fate but mummies have certainly made a comeback on the Internet.

Mummy Web sites range from straight ahead museum collections and academic studies to way-offbeat museums in the hills of West Virginia. Here's a tiny sampling...

  • British Museum Continually warding off Italian and Egyptian governments looking to reclaim the relics of their countries' past, the British Museum has a collection of Egyptian antiquities that is "one of the most important...of its kind outside Cairo," according to the museum. While the museum Egyptian galleries are being renovated, there's plenty to learn about mummies and the elaborate cases in which they were housed. One thing to come in the new gallery, "the presentation of the nearly complete burial paraphernalia of the physician Gua of the Twelfth Dynasty," including (yum!) "his embalmed internal organs."

  • Manchester Museum Wondering what to do with that mummy you've been storing in the attic for so long? Unwrap it, snip off a graft of skin and send it to the Manchester Museum in England, whose neighbor Scotland made news and caused controversy recently when it cloned a sheep from a DNA sample. Mummy DNA is a hot commodity for the Egyptologists and epidemiologists at Manchester who say they have "developed a methodology for the study of Egyptian mummified remains and added to knowledge of disease, living conditions and religious beliefs in ancient Egypt." They've also put together the Egyptian Mummy Tissue Bank, soon to be available on the Internet, and an International Mummy Database, "to gather information and results of scientific investigations relating to Egyptian mummies in museums worldwide."

  • World Art Treasures Another worthwhile, if clunky, source, this French site
    Mummy at Barbour County Historical Museum. (From Roadside America)
    (with either awkwardly translated or just plain loopy English prose) is funded by the Jacques-Edouard Berger Foundation. Berger was a museum curator who was "particularly attracted to the ancient civilizations" and whose "untimely death prompted a number of his friends and admirers to create the Foundation that bears his name and whose principal purpose is to promulgate the discovery and love of art." Once you've got all that down, click your way around the site's slides of ancient Roman portraits, which some historians think were painted using mummified Egyptians, not living people, as models.

  • Kelsey Museum, University of Michigan Apparently, crocodile god Sobek got centuries of credit for just about everything good that happened in Egypt, where it was only natural to lube crocs up for posterity "After a long, long while, crocodile." And, hey, cats are mummies too.

    Cyber Mummy Project. (From World Heritage Museum)

  • World Heritage Museum, University of Illinois in Urbana The Cyber Mummy Project, created with the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, takes X rays and CAT scans (check these out in Quicktime videos) and samples mummy DNA to "do as much as possible to recreate the life of the person inside of the mummy."

  • Akhet Egyptology It's not a museum, but Scottish Egyptologist Iain Hawkins's Web site does a good job of pointing to various Egyptology sites (including his own Clickable Mummy), and not without attitude: "If anyone takes any great exception to what I have said, I look forward to seeing your opinion on your Web Site."

  • Barbour County Historical Museum Last and most ludicrous is this spot in Philippi, West Virginia, presented by online travel guide Roadside America. The site offers a movie of local mummies and details about the not-so-complex preservation methods that have helped them "survive" multiple floods and a circus tour with P.T. Barnum.

    © Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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