Daily Archives: October 1st, 2006

A Tale of Three Egyptian Mummies

“New Science on Ancient Lives”

Dr Karin Sowada, assistant curator at the Nicholson Museum, Uni of Sydney. Spoke at the Melbourne Museum last year.

*Mummies currently held by the Nicholson; had never been studied before this.

*Two have coffins; one an inscription. Curators were trying to see what they could find out from textiles etc, not just the body.

*Why mummify at all?
–probably arose through seeing natural mummification in the desert sand.
–once you start building structures for holding bodies, you remove them from the sand and heat, so you need to do it artificially.
—-But why?
–to be recognisable to the soul coming back
–be identified with Osiris

NB: mumiya = bitumen (in Arabic); in the 19th century, it was thought that bitumen was used on the mummies, because of the colour.

Mummy 1
*A very well-decorated coffin.
*Possibly priestly; has the title ‘Beloved of the God’ – not really sure what this means.
*Name is Padiashaikhet, meaning “One given by Ashaikhet”; a very unusual name, because Ashaikhet is a personal name, not a god. Could be some sort of debt the parents had??
*From c.720-700BC.
*Wrapped in used linens, despite signs of his obvious wealth and status.
*Nothing left in the body, not even the heart; no broken bones.
*Possibly died of dental abscesses (ouch).

Mummy 2
*Female, from c.1950BC. Her name was Meruah (sp??). Had priestly duties.
*Highly decorated coffin. People couldn’t afford big funerary houses, so coffins get the pictures usually found on the walls.
*Torso filled with something. The mummy encased in a plaster carapace! Painted red over face, green over body (for Osiris).
*But: the DNA says the body is male! Red face of carapace is the colour used for males on coffins. Shows re-use of funerary stuff? Or, possibly, that it was done by a nineteenth-century dealer….
**Huge issues over whether you can actually trust that the coffin and body match in other cases**

Mummy 3
*A child, 7-9 years old. From early second century AD, so Roman.
*No coffin accompanying the mummy. Has a painted mask. The linen wrappings were once dyed red, blue and yellow. The colours have probably faded after arriving in Sydney – was stored in a large, airy room, with lots of indirect sunlight; no knowledge of this.
*All organs removed; linen plug at the incision site. Some sort of package inside; no idea what.
*No DNA sample taken because the wrappings are so thick.

My take: this was a great lecture; it was fascinating to hear about the processes undergone to examine the mummies, as well as the sort of stuff that could be learnt. And just bizarre to think that these mummies had never really been examined before.

Flower photo

Just playing… I love this flower.