Egyptian Mummies


egyptA few weeks ago I watched a series called Tutankhamen starring Sam Neill who I’d seen prior to that on ABC’s Home Delivery. His charm encouraged me to have a meander about my local library website (yes very rarely do I peruse the book shelves at the local library instead opting to reserve titles in the comfort of my armchair) and lo and behold I came across this Egyptian series. I still have My Brilliant Career awaiting a viewing. And just thought I’d add his portrayal last year as a laconic loner in the New Zealand film Hunt for the Wilderpeople was quite marvellous. I can’t say the same about Tutankhamen which turned out to be predominantly a love story. But then I suppose if it wasn’t it would be a documentary. Anyway it piqued my  ancient Egyptian interest. So when I heard there was an exhibition a mere 3 hour train ride away I was eager to see it. The Egyptian mummies are currently on display at the Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo, Sydney.

Darkness is a sensation I first encountered in the exhibition space which I guess is maintained for preservation purposes along with constant temperature and humidity. The 6 mummies have been borrowed from The British Museum and come with their respective artefacts. The dedication to preparing a calm passage into the next life is illuminating. Coffins made of wood, metal or pottery are patterned with hieroglyphics and it’s interesting food was added for their comfortable journey. Preserved bread has been analysed and found to contain tiny pieces of pebble which perhaps accounts for the deterioration of the teeth. Just a note that the decline of bones with age obviously can’t be seen without unwrapping the body (which I read was a party trick in the Victorian years in Britain. Such fun!) but imaging techniques have remedied this and all is revealed through the CT scan. Which are interactive. Rough ages are given of the age at death which not surprisingly is much younger than our present life expectancy in our wealthy part of the world. Without being too specific under 49 seemed a popular age to die in ancient Egypt. Septicaemia was mentioned as a cause possibly relating to abscesses in the mouth however this is speculation on the historians part. Gravel sandwiches don’t seem conducive to good oral hygiene though.

Mummification gradually declined when other cultures infiltrated and diluted customs. Nothing stays the same though it’s perhaps not always recognisable until after the event. The mummies on display died in ancient Egypt 1800 – 3000 years ago the most recent being a young man from Roman Egypt. So much reading for me to do. Moses as a baby was floated down the river Nile to escape the Romans is about the extent of my knowledge from that time and not being a biblical type I’m not quite sure of that. But regardless I found this exhibition fascinating. So many interesting facts. Apparently the prolific god Anubis is most likely the jackal (recently reclassified as the African golden wolf) that was often seen about grave sites. Of course it wasn’t for spiritual reasons but purely as a source of survival. They prefer rotten flesh over fresh. Hmmm.

Anyway if you get a chance and you’re interested in reading lots about ancient Egypt I recommend this exhibition. We were there for around 3 hours. So careful who you take as a pal. It won’t be for everyone.

On until 30th April.