Mummies and Death in the Museum: Happy Halloween part two

Every once in awhile you can actually feel your life change.

It happened to me while sitting in a class taught by Ewa Wasilewska in the Anthropology Department here at the University of Utah. The class was called Death Rituals and Mummification, and when it was over an Academic Advisor would have to beg me not to just take it all over again. I reluctantly heeded that advice, but no class has stayed with me as long, no class has ever opened a world to me as that one did.

During that class I fell in love.

Anthropoid Sarcophagus, Twenty-sixth Dynasty, Egypt

With mummies.

When planning any vacation I will research if there are any mummies in the town, city, or country that I might be able to visit. I’ve managed to see quite a few (even one in Lucas, Kansas).

So as not to miss out on any breaking news, I briefly set up a Google Alert for the word “mummy,” but quickly deactivated this when I started getting a lot of British news referring to mothers.

Sarcophagus with Face of Bird, 304 BCE – 30 BCE, Ptolemaic.

When I see ^^this mummy^^, I see an early stage (in a long history) of humans grappling with loss and mortality. I see resemblance to rituals in ancient Siberia and Chile, and in the contemporary United States.

What I don’t see–what is not immediately apparent– I learned on a tour of the museum with an Art History class. This mummy is actually full of seeds, not a body– it’s an effigy of sorts. Ancient transformative rituals would allow this to become a “real” mummy, and if the seeds inside ever sprout, it should be taken as evidence of eternal life.

(note for fans of the UMFA and our blog: this object was a gift from Natacha Rambova!)

I know enough about mummies and love them so much that I am reluctant to even let this post be Halloween themed. It seems–it is–exploitative. It feeds stereotypes and misconceptions that I prefer to ignore surrounding this passion of mine. Mummies are not terrifying or scary; they are not going to wake up from a tomb or gallery and chase you down. They were someone’s child, sometimes someone’s parent, sometimes both (as in this Chancay Bundle). They felt the wind on their face, they were brave, they were afraid, they loved.

Perhaps this is why we fear them: they were so much like us, and it won’t be long until we are like them.


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