Welcome to the Mummy Blog!

Why mummies? What can we learn about ancient people from well-preserved human remains? Why should we care? Come explore the world of mummies and all their spin-offs (museum exhibits, movies, books....)

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Animal Mummies

People around the world revered animals, as manifestations of their gods, as votive objects, and as beloved pets. In ancient Egypt, embalmers treated some animals, like the Apis bull, with as much care as many humans. Here's one at the Smithsonian Institution:

Cat  mummies abound, as do ibises (sacred offerings to the god Thoth).

But in Peru, some animals were buried as pets, like this naturally dessicated puma with claws that were unworn. It was buried with jewelry and a special mantle:


Other animal mummies are just accidents of nature in a dry climate, such as this shriveled-up iguana I recently saw in the Galapagos:


My new favorite animal (not a mummy, just a burial) is a bobcat kitten found in Illinois. Buried with a necklace, it was clearly a valued pet until it died. Here's a reconstruction by Ken Farnsworth:




Sunday, March 13, 2016

Mummies of the World class, Part II

Over the past couple of weeks, we have examined "spontaneous mummies," such as the Italian Iceman, and "prepared mummies," such as Lady Dai, the Chinese aristocrat, and a plethora of Egyptian mummies, prepared because their people believed a preserved body was essential for a person to have an afterlife. When the class is over, I'll post some short entries on specific mummies, but for now here is a list of mummy videos, websites, and books for further exploration:

THE IRON COFFIN BOY (19TH C. MUMMY IN WASHINGTON, DC)

David Hunt on boy in iron coffin (video!)


EGYPTIAN MUMMIES:

Smithsonian on Egyptian mummification

CHINCHORRO MUMMIES, SOUTH AMERICA:



EXPERIMENTAL ARCHAEOLOGY: A MODERN MUMMY:

You tube video with Bob Brier: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pwJ7391G-1s


BOOKS:
·         Aidan and Eve Cockburn, Mummies, Disease and Ancient Cultures (Cambridge University Press 1980)

·         Christine El Mahdy, Mummies, Myth and Magic (Thames and Hudson 1989)

  •       Stuart Fleming et al., The Egyptian Mummy: Secrets and Science (University Museum, Philadelphia, 1980)
·         S. Ikram and A. Dodson, The Mummy in Ancient Egypt: Equipping the Dead for Eternity (Thames and Hudson, 1998)


·         Sarah Wisseman, The Virtual Mummy (University of Illinois Press, 2003)

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Mummies of the World Part I

This week we began our course with a summary of what a mummy is (a spontaneous or deliberately preserved body, human or animal) and showed examples of Greenland mummies, Bog Bodies, the Austrian Italian Iceman, and Chinese Red-haired mummies. Here are some of the stars of our class:

A 5,000 BC naturally preserved Egyptian mummy

A freeze-dried baby boy from Greenland


A western European bog body

The Iceman, the most analyzed dead body in the history of man. Star of a new Nova special (aired last week on PBS in Illinois). The "Iceman Reborn" tells the story of how a 3-D print of the 5,300 year old mummy was made and recent studies of its DNA: http://www.pbs.org/show/nova/
**See also the Nova link to "10 Ways to Make a Mummy" http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/ancient/10-ways-mummy.html
We will cover nearly all of these mummies in class.

A Chinese red-haired mummy with genetic connections to Europe

Stay tuned!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Osher Lifelong Learning class on mummies begins February 23

This blog will serve as a class website for an OLLI class, "You can take it with you: Mummies of the World" Feb 23-March 15, 2016. I will post key topics and images as the class progresses. Here is the syllabus:

Summary: Some people believe that in order to have an afterlife, the body must be preserved and clothes, tools, jewelry, pets, and food must accompany the human body into its tomb. Others believe preserved bodies allow ancestors to exert a benevolent influence on their descendants. This four-week class will explore mummies from Egypt, South America, the Canary Islands, Papua New Guinea, and China. The materials and methods used on mummies illustrate religious beliefs, burial rituals, concepts of good and evil, and social status. The human bodies inside, revealed by medical imaging and chemical analysis, teach us about ancient health and disease, diet, and ancestry.

Why study mummies? Mummies can teach us about human beings and how they lived in different times and places. Study of the physical body reveals health, disease, diet, occupations, and much more. Burial context, from tomb architecture to artifacts surrounding the dead person, illustrate beliefs, burial rituals, art, and technology. Multiple disciplines (e.g. anthropology, medicine, chemistry, biology, art history) are used to study mummies.

What is a mummy? A. An accidentally preserved “spontaneous” mummy, or B. a deliberately prepared body, human or animal. Body treatments include separating the bones, removing internal organs, defleshing, embalming, reconstructing the body or face out of mineral and plant materials, and decoration.

Themes:
·         We can learn much more about an ancient person if he or she is preserved in context.
·         Climate is crucial for preservation: dry and hot or dry and cold are the best environments. Exceptions: slightly acidic bogs, where oxygen is excluded.
·         Non-destructive techniques such as X-ray radiography and CT scanning are preferable to autopsies (ancient mummies are irreplaceable artifacts).
·         New dating and DNA techniques requiring ever smaller samples continue to provide new information on old mummies.
·         For prehistoric mummies, there are limits in what we can know about why mummies were prepared (beliefs in an afterlife, ancestor worship, fertility and regeneration)

Class organization (subject to change):
Week 1: Introduction, definitions, accidental or “spontaneous” mummies (Egyptian, European bog bodies, Otzi the Iceman, Chinese red-haired mummies)
Week 2: The Iron Coffin Boy. Prepared mummies: “Lady Dai” Chinese mummy, Egyptian beliefs and embalming, Manchester mummy project.
Week 3: Advances in radiology and CT scanning. Case studies: Brooklyn, Edinburgh, Chicago, Spurlock Museum mummies.

Week 4: Animal mummies. Human case studies: Canary Islands, Peruvian Ice Maidens, Ancestor worship in Papua New Guinea, Chinchorro mummies. Medical and dental studies, DNA advances. Bob Brier’s “Thorough Modern Mummy.”


Friday, February 5, 2016

Complete Bibliography on the University of Ilinois Mummy at the Spurlock Museum

Sarah U. Wisseman and David R. Hunt, "Rescanned: new Results from a Child Mummy at the University of Illinois," Yearbook of Mummy Studies, Vol. 2, pp. 87-94, 14 figs., March 2014 © 2014 by Verlag Dr. Friedrich Pfeil, M√ľnchen, Germany – ISBN 978-3-89937-163-5

Sarah Wisseman, The Virtual Mummy (University of Illinois Press. 2003)
Sarah Wisseman, "Preserved for the Afterlife," Nature 413, 783-784 (25 October 2001)

 Karen Wright, "Tales from the Crypt," Discover (July 1991) pp. 54-58

Sarah Wisseman, Linda Klepinger, Richard Keen, Mastura Raheel, and Joseph Barkmeier, "Interdisciplinary Analysis of a Roman Period Egyptian Mummy," Archaeometry `90 (Basel 1990) pp. 345-353

Mark Proefke, Kenneth Rinehart, Mastura Raheel, Stanley Ambrose, and Sarah Wisseman, "Probing the Mysteries of Ancient Egypt...," Analytical Chemistry 64 (2) Jan. 15 1992, pp. 105A-111A

Raymond Evenhouse and Tony Stefanic, "Image Processing and Solid Modeling Recapture a Mummy's Face," Advanced Imaging (October 1992) pp.40-43.

Mark Proefke and Kenneth Rinehart, "Analysis of an Egyptian Mummy Resin by Mass Spectrometry," Journal of the American Mass Spectrometry Society 3 1992, pp. 582-589.

Sarah Wisseman, "Imaging the Past...,"in Ancient Technologies and Archaeological Materials, Sarah Wisseman and Wendell Williams, eds., (Gordon and Breach Science Publishers 1994), pp. 217-234


Barbara Bohen, "Collaborative Investigation of the University of Illinois Egypto-Roman Mummy," Proceedings of the I World Congress on Mummy Studies (1997) pp. 515-522.