Henry C. Pelgrift discusses the new mummy room at the World Museum in Liverpool
Although I am an American and New Yorker, I take great pride in my new home of Liverpool and all of her achievements. So, when I heard that the Egyptian galleries at our Liverpool World Museum were reopening, and that they had an impressive 12 mummies on display (more than anywhere else in the UK outside London), I had to go see them! As with most things Liverpool, they did not disappoint!
This actually involved two separate trips. The first was joining (and helping organise) a tour by Stacey Bagdi's excellent West Midlands Egyptology Society, and the second was a trip with my father on a rainy last Tuesday.
Walking through the new Egyptian galleries, you find a family friendly presentation that goes in a loop, but right from the outset, you see the well-signed Mummy Room right across the way. There's a straight shot into there if you so choose.
Outside the Mummy Room, there's a reconstructed burial of a woman who lived in the late Pre-Dynastic period just before the first Pharaoh of Egypt, Narmer. She is huddled up and skeletal, as you can see, so not your traditional mummy, but we can count her as a mummy and bring the number to 13, a baker's dozen. There's so much else to talk about in this gallery, but we are focusing on mummies!
This new mummy room is meant to be the first new display of the Museum's mummy collection. The collection was built in 1852 around the six mummies placed in the museum by Joseph Mayer. These bodies were kept in a mummy room similar to this one, but they had been damaged in the 1941 bombing of the next-door Liverpool Central library which led to fire engulfing much of the World Museum. It took a long time, over three quarters of a century, but finally the World Museum was able to bring back its Mummy collection in the glorious new room of today!
Interestingly enough, two of the people whose mummies you find in the World Museum were named Padi-Amun, and they are the two of the people I will talk about today. There's so many mummies, in such an impressive space, that they simply can't be confined to one post! So, I will leave the other ten for someone else to discuss.
One of our Padi-amuns was a priest and boat captain in the chaotic Third Intermediate Period. He met an unfortunately early end in his 20s. No one knows why, and given what happened next, it might be difficult to figure this out. Our friend, Padi-amun received a rude awakening in 1828, when James Burton dug him up and had him carted off to London.
If that wasn't bad enough, in 1851, he was subjected to one of the brutal unwrapping-dissections of the day. Not only were over 256m of carefully-done, beautiful wrappings ruined before a paying audience, but they broke poor Padi-Amun in half and somehow left a scalpel in his head! Someone rewrapped him and put him back together, but one shudders to think how his ka (soul) felt in the afterlife!
The other Padi-amun was Padi-amun-neb-nesut-tawy, the door keeper of a temple in the Third Intermediate Period, who got to live to middle age. His sleep was disturbed at some unknown date, but originally he had been buried near Thebes, modern Luxor. In 1833, Joseph Mayer brought him to Liverpool, where, years later, he wound up in the Museum's mummy collection.
His wrappings weren't as fine, but it also looks like no robbers or surgeons felt the need to attack him with hammers and scalpels, however it wasn't all smooth sailing for our friend. In 1941, his middle sarcophagus was burned up in the same fire that destroyed much of the original museum. Happily, though, Padi-amun-neb-nesut-tawy himself was unharmed, and his other sarcophagi were left intact.
My father and I spent a great deal of time admiring and photographing our mummified friends—and snapping at tourists using flash in their photos—and thinking about the mummy stories. Needless to say, we left impressed by this amazing new display, and we can't recommend enough that you pay a visit to Liverpool and her grand new Mummy Room!
Henry Curtis Pelgrift is a first-year PhD Candidate at The University of Liverpool's Department of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology. His interests cover all of history, put his main focus is on the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East with a focus on the Southern Levant. His thesis looks at the wider impact of cylinder seals on the development of the art history and archaeology of the ancient Near East.