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Mummies of Brooklyn

June 11, 2018

Egyptian Mummies have captivated me since I was a child. Through my years growing up in New York with, and then working at, our beloved Metropolitan Museum of Art, I always found myself coming back to visit these travelers from Egypt along with so many other people from around the globe.

It was only in the last few years that I discovered these world-famous mummies are not the only ones in our fine city, and on my most recent trip home, I decided to try something a little different. So, today I will not be talking about the Met’s Mummies, rather their four less-often visited countrymen who live in New York’s new cultural heart, Brooklyn.

 

 

On a gorgeous, warm, and sunny day, I went into the humble but proud Brooklyn Museum and made my way to the third floor. I find myself surrounded first by the Ashurbanipal II’s friezes and their ancient and modern story. The Brooklyn Museum is one of the few major museums that also tells you about the secondary lives of objects, and their stories in getting to Brooklyn and Daesh’s attacks on their home are all detailed. But I’m not here for these endangered stories.

Walking into the Amarna galleries (something every Museum should have) and into further Egyptian galleries, I spot the vibrant empty Cartonnage of Nespanetjerenpare, and I am instantly blown away by depth of colour and state of preservation. You would swear it was painted just yesterday! Because Nespanetjerenpare is somewhere else—I can only conclude, sadly, that his fate is unknown. Further along, there is the mummy mask of an unknown Romano-Egyptian. Its meaning is stated but nothing more. Beyond him, I find the entrance to the Mummy chamber and meet Thothirdes, our first Egyptian Mummy.

Thothirdes was a priest in the Late Period. As such, he guards the entrance to the Mummy chamber as a lone sentinel. He has his own massive display case, and aside from a ruined cartonnage on the other side of the room, the room is his alone. His mummy is used to illustrate exactly how an Egyptian mummy functioned: as a home for the tri-partite soul of the individual in death. Aside him is a statement on the museum’s mission to use the mummies as ‘an important point of departure for learning about ancient Egyptian religion, medicine, and science. / Always remembering that these preserved human remains represent real human lives[.]’

Looking at Thorthides, I admire the quality yet simplicity of the wrappings he was afforded. While they were not the intricate diamond patterns found on the wealthiest individual’s mummies, he was not effectively bound up in a sack either as with some individuals. He was also lucky not to have been unwrapped, unlike one of his colleagues further on. While he is no longer in his old tomb, Thorthides has a new tomb, a new role, and no shortage of admirers to pay r