A LOST MUMMY IN
A mummy in the waste disposal: the incredible story of the mummy of Ta-Iset.
In 2010, the mummy of a child was discovered in the city of Rueil-Malmaison, a western suburb of Paris. The first display of the mummy in the city's history museum (Musée d’histoire locale) on 21 May 2016, for the French ‘Night at the Museum’ (Nuit des Musées), is the occasion to look back at this mummy’s history.
In June 2010, a woman – whose identity remains unknown – deposited an object to the city's waste collection: a small mummy in its wooden coffin. By a fortuitous coincidence, the mummy was collected by an agent who had previously worked in a cemetery, and recognised the shape of the coffin which contained the mummy. He decided to bring the artefact to a civil building and the coffin and mummy were then offered for inspection to the Musée du Louvre in Paris.
Following a fundraising campaign by the city, the mummy was restored by Dr Laure Cadot who specializes in human remains, at the Centre de Recherche et de Restauration des Musée de France (C2RMF). The mummy was in poor condition but following an intensive project which lasted thirteen months, Dr Cadot fixed the wrappings, and the result can now be witnessed in the new gallery which opened on 21 May to the public.
The room, located on the upper floor of the museum – the former location of the Town Hall, where offices are still held to celebrate events such as weddings – is small but very well documented. The room contains lengthy descriptions of the mummification process, the history of the uncanny uses of mummies throughout history (including the use of mummies as paint and medicine), and the story of this specific mummy, Ta-Iset. The mummy was examined by various experts upon its discovery, including the late Christiane Desroches Noblecourt, who attributed it to be the mummy of a young girl aged four or five, from the Ptolemaic period.
The room contains a significant number of objects related to the afterlife, in particular a set of shabtis (figures placed in tombs to serve in the afterlife), sculptures of deities and a funerary mask, all on loan from various museums and private collections. These objects are going to change regularly according to loan agreements. At the centre of the room is the mummy of Ta-Iset. The wrappings have been fixed and present a fine mummy, fully wrapped, and covered with cartonnage representing Egyptian symbols and deities. The part covering the face is missing. In another case is displayed the wooden coffin which was handed to the waste disposal site with the mummy. It is made of sycamore wood, and has the shape of a face carved on it. It is unclear if the coffin and mummy belonged together. Although the size fits the mummy, there are many occurrences of mummies and coffins being paired together for the purpose of bringing them back to Europe in the nineteenth century.
The room next to the mummy's room in the museum has a staggering 1600 tin soldiers representing Napoleon Bonaparte's Grande Armée, and the relation between these two rooms' main focus is not by chance. Rueil-Malmaison was indeed the home of men who engaged in the Napoleonic expedition to Egypt of 1789-1801.
Various hypothesis have been made regarding the original owner of the mummy of Ta-Iset. Among these hypothesis, Colonel Noël Varin-Bey (1784-1863) has been considered as a potential owner. Varin-Bey was a soldier in Napoleon's army: first a simple soldier in the Italian campaigns, he was promoted General of the Army of Egypt. Varin became the director of the cavalry school in Cairo. Upon his return, General Varin-Bey lived at n. 37 rue de Marly in Rueil-Malmaison. There is no significant proof that he was the owner of this specific mummy, but documents attest that he was the owner of a collection of artefacts, although there is no precise list.
The link between Malmaison and the collection of Egyptian mummies will be explored in a future Mummy Story, looking at Denon's collecting of mummies in the first half of the Nineteenth Century.