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Encountering Mummies in Glasgow

October 17, 2017

Dr Campbell Price shares his first encounter with an Egyptian mummy.


My first encounter with an ancient Egyptian mummy was in the towering civic jewel of my hometown of Glasgow: the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. What I remember most about my early visits to Kelvingrove is the smell – the peculiar smell of what I thought was ‘antiquity’ – strange, exotic, slightly musty – but which was probably polish. It still has it.


There was only one ‘proper’ mummy. I did not recognise a collection of (original?)bones (placed in a remarkably small coffin with partially closed lid) as a mummy. Skeletons are too prosaic, not as exciting as the ‘mummiform’ – with its scintillating suggestion of a human being beneath a bandaged surface. My interest had initially sprung from a combination of watching the popular 1980s cartoon Thundercats (with a bandage-swathed baddie, Mumm-Ra, who lived in an onyx pyramid) and looking through a copy of Howard Carter’s The Tomb of Tutankhamun, with a plate of the linen-shrouded form of the king’s second coffin. I was fascinated about what was hidden beneath, unrevealed. However, I remember a sense of disappointment when encountering the Kelvingrove mummy (who a friend of a friend later told me was referred to as ‘Mary’ by staff); it was blackened from the application of resins, not the gleaming white of the dastardly Mumm-Ra. It didn’t match my expectations, but it was intriguing nonetheless.


Now, as the curator of a significant collection of Egyptian mummies, I witness the excitement, apprehension, and curiosity of visitors from a different perspective. For those who visit the mummies held in storage, it is still the smell that gets them first – the same sort of strange, exotic, musty – but not necessarily unpleasant – fragrance. I cannot easily say what my attitude to the mummies is now. As a child, my excitement was never dimmed by repeated visits; now, I suspect, we adults can over-intellectualise that encounter.


Dr Campbell Price is Curator of Egypt and Sudan at the Manchester Museum, University of Manchester - one of the UK's most significant Egyptology collections. You can find his blog here: https://egyptmanchester.wordpress.com/

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