Human Mummy; Burial-Cloth; Mummy-Wrapping; Amulet-Frame; Amulet: British Museum.

his story is part of our Mummy Stories collaboration with students of Dr Katie Clary from Coastal Carolina University in the USA. Find out more here: https://www.mummystories.com/single-post/new-mummy-stories


Personally, I have never seen a mummy in person, nor do I have a ‘mummy story.’


When I was first presented with the opportunity to write a mummy story, I thought that I wanted to write about a famous king or queen that I had learned about in my History 449-Ancient Egypt class. In my search, I found myself on the British Museum's website where I found page upon page of mummified human remains. It is there that I found the mummy of an unknown adult male. [1]


The unnamed body’s bandages are linen and painted. They are described as a life-size representation of Osiris with the face missing. The individual is wearing a red garment and a possible bead pattern around its throat with representations of Isis and Nephthys. A prayer to Isis is written in hieroglyphs vertically down the body. There is an amulet frame with amulets of funerary deities on its chest. The mummy is described as being well intact and skillfully mummified. The only damage is that the body is missing some upper incisors. This mummy is Egyptian, from the Roman period, and is on display at the British Museum. It is known that the body was purchased from Giovanni Anastasia, a Greek merchant who sold a collection the British Museum in 1839. Anastasia bought ‘objects’[2] directly from people in Thebes and Saqqara. However, nothing else is known about how this individual arrived to the British Museum. The British Museum’s webpage that displays their remains is coldly titled, “Human Mummy; Burial-Cloth; Mummy-Wrapping; Amulet-Frame; Amulet: British Museum.”[3]


That is this person’s life after death as I know it.


They have been belittled in the description of their burial dressings and identification numbers assigned by the museum that houses their body, thousands of miles from their home, believed to be Thebes[4]. I think the most important thing the public should know about this person is that based on the description of their burial, they cared a lot about funerary practices. They were wealthy enough to have an intricate, and sophisticated burial. I feel comfortable inferring that this individual would have wanted to remain in their tomb because of the care and consideration that was taken in their mummification. Their mummification would have been expensive thus this person invested in their burial and their culture’s funerary practices. People should know that the person whose body they are viewing cared deeply about their cultural funerary practices and that sacred act was violated so people can view them in the museum. If I were to guess, I do not think they would want to be on display. I think they would have wanted their burial to remain untouched.


In full transparency, I feel deeply uncomfortable with this person being on display. As they are not recognized as in a humane way. Their name is not known, nor is their life’s story. While royal family members or notable elite members of ancient society are somewhat known to us and their history told along with their display, this person is presented as an artifact. I do not understand why they would be on display other than because their body is decorative and mummified. As they appear to be a person with enough money to afford a proper burial it is disheartening to consider the way their tomb has been disturbed.


Completing this story took me down a path I did not expect as I had planned to learn about Ramses I. I have been faced with questions about the displaying of human remains that I had not thought about before. For example, does who the person was in life define if it is acceptable to display their body in death? How do we resolve wrongful robberies of ancient tombs? How should the mummies of average people be treated and used in public history? Exploring the British Museum’s website opened my eyes to the misrepresentation of ancient human remains. Connecting to a person whose life is unknown to me but whose remains are on display has left me with an ache for justice. In my History 449 class on Ancient Egyptian history, we have often discussed the importance of Ma’at and its maintenance. Ma’at feels disrupted by the removal, purchase, and display of this man who we do not know. The display of an everyday person on the British Museum website and in the museum feels unjust. While their pristine burial cannot be rectified, perhaps somewhere to rest outside of the public’s eye can begin to bring balance back.


I have been faced with questions about the displaying of human remains that I had not thought about before

 

Bibliography

The British Museum. “Human Mummy; Burial-Cloth; Mummy-Wrapping; Amulet-Frame; Amulet: British Museum.” Accessed April 10, 2022. https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/Y_EA6714.

The British Musuem. “Giovanni Anastasia,” Accessed April 11, 2022. https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/term/BIOG52951


[1] “Human Mummy; Burial-Cloth; Mummy-Wrapping; Amulet-Frame; Amulet: British Museum.” The British Museum. Accessed April 10, 2022. https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/Y_EA6714.

[2] The British Musuem. “Giovanni Anastasia,” Accessed April 11, 2022. https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/term/BIOG52951

[3]The British Museum. “Human Mummy; Burial-Cloth; Mummy-Wrapping; Amulet-Frame; Amulet: British Museum.”

[4] British Museum. “Human Mummy; Burial-Cloth; Mummy-Wrapping; Amulet-Frame; Amulet: British Museum.”