Noma Kutalad is taking us on a journey and shares her recollections of encounters with Egyptian mummies.
"As I can recall , I presumably have known about ‘Mummies’ for the first time when I was about 8 years old from encyclopedia books for children. At that time, I didn’t know anything about them much more than they were like a coffin, they were in pyramids and they were in Egypt. (Later I have realized that Mummies are not only in Egypt though.) As an 8-year-old kid, I quite thought that it was just like a mysterious ghost story from other countries. Therefore, as a girl who tended to be not into ghost stories but more into arts and world’s famous people’s biography, I had to confess that I was not much into Mummies at all. However, the stories of Mummies could occasionally provoke the curiosity of a girl like me when it has become a theme or a plot of TV cartoons I watched or children fictions I read. In this case, I would count The Adventure of TinTin: The Cigar of Pharoh’ book as my always favorite story related to Mummies.
Since that book has been my favorite and I used it as my case study for my first MA degree thesis in Cultural Management in Thailand to study intangible cultural heritage (ICH) interpretation in comic books. Obviously, I took making Mummies as Social Practices Rituals and Festive Events type of ICH . Then, I had to do more research in Mummification and its process and this created a huge change in my perception of Mummies forever. I felt like I wish to see a real Mummy! Unfortunately, there is no Mummies discovery based on history of archaeology due to geography of Thailand, my home country. Furthermore, none of the museums in Thailand display Mummies or exhibit content about them. Consequently, I have kept my wish in my mind the whole time since then until my wish has come true when I have got a chance to study my second MA degree in UK.
I was quite sure that at some point I would be able to see real Mummies in some museums in the UK. My wish came true for the first time was when I saw Mummies in New Walk Museum in Leicester. Of course, that was not the only one and the last time I saw Mummies. I have never realized that most museums in the UK would give importance to the content about Mummies as much like this. I saw them again and again in British Museum in London and in other museums such as Petrie Museum, Derby Museum and Manchester Museum. What I would consider about when looking at Mummies in the displays are how perfect of the remained body after the mummification and the story of each Mummy ie. who s/he was, how old s/he was when the died and why they died. These details intrigue me to discover more information. Additionally, since I have seen Mummies displays from many museums, I have to say the one from Manchester Museum impress me most due to its completion of the remain her story and how she is displayed.
Being able to see the real Mummies in the museums in the UK. makes me feel the importance of having museums as a place of learning and seeing something authentic to create inspirations. On the other hand, after I have experienced seeing the real Mummies for many times, staring at them and thinking of their past lives according to the details on the panels, I sometimes wondered how these people would feel if they knew that thousand years later their body have become the human remain objects in the museum displays and are looked at by various visitors. Would they be happy? Angry? Or embarrassed? I would like to thank them as they sacrifice (or are forced to sacrifice) their remained bodies for educational purpose from generations to generations. Nonetheless, at least I can say I feel happy that I can fulfill my wish after all."
Nuntamon Noma Kutalad is a freelance translator who holds degrees in Cultural Management from Thailand and Museum Studies from Leicester. She is currently conducting a PhD research in Museum and Exhibition Design at De Montfort University, Leicester.
Pictured is the mummy of Asru at the Manchester Museum, which presents an innovative display strategy for the mummy of Asru, reliant on giving the visitor the choice to see the mummified remains or not.