(Story) An Egyptian Mummy in the Sam Walter Museum
I work as Curator and Archivist at the Sam Waller Museum in northern Manitoba. As with every museum, there are an astonishing number of items. Our founder Sam collected everything and anything. We have original leaded glass from Hardwick Hall, arrowheads and pottery shards, dressed fleas and a two-headed calf, and so much more. As I got to know the collection I had the privilege of caring and collecting for, I was startled to find out we had, along with a small piece of linen cloth, the left femur bone of an Egyptian mummy, in storage. I sat down to do some research.
We have the provenance for our piece, direct from Egypt to the Museum. According to records, the mummy was obtained at Thebes by Dr. James Douglas. Douglas was born in Scotland and moved to the United States, eventually was forced to flee to Canada after performing illegal dissections. He settled in Quebec and became a prominent doctor. Douglas spent several winters in Egypt and along with his son, James Douglas Jr. were part of the first group of Christians allowed to enter the Mosque of Omar, located in a sacred enclosure at Jerusalem. The two and other members of their group met August Mariette, the French first Director of Antiquities in Egypt, and spent a day with him in 1851. Douglas brought back at least two mummies from Egypt to Quebec, and along with another man, purchased a mummy for seven pounds from Mustafa Aga Ayat (noted grave pillager). That mummy turned out to be King Ramses I, who for over 130 years sat anonymously in another Canadian museum. With respect to our mummy, the bone was given by Douglas Jr. to another man, who in turn donated it to Sam Waller and his eclectic museum.
James Douglas Jr. presented a talk to the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec on 15th February, 1865, entitled “Two Mummies from Thebes in Upper Egypt.” The description of one of the mummies appears to match ours. On one of Douglas Sr.’s trips he “procured at Thebes, a handsome male-mummy case, with body enclosed”. Douglas believed the mummy to be of a person of importance, and the name of “King Amunoph” [Amenhotep] I was deciphered from hieroglyphic text on the tomb’s cover and, along with his “immediate successor”, on items in the coffin. This man could have been a servant or public officer of King Amenhotep I, the second ruler of the eighteenth dynasty. This dates the mummy to approximately 1500 B.C.E. Douglas Jr. suggested the man would have stood about 5 feet 10 inches. The man had suffered an injury to his face which had depressed some of the bone and “[t]he injury had been received so long before his death as to afford time for all the changes which take place subsequent to fracture with great depression of the bone.”
However, what leads me to believe this man is our mummy is the next statement: “He was mummified when almost a skeleton… Beneath the wrappings we found a coat of transparent, ruby-coloured gum, of about the consistency of honey, as fresh apparently as when laid on… The bone was quite moist. The gum, on exposure to the air, soon dried, and now resembles the preservative mixture of the first mummy”. Our bone is indeed coated in a substance resembling what Douglas Jr. describes.
One aspect of my job that I enjoy the most is researching, trying to solve mysteries. This one mummy connects us with some of the biggest movers and shakers in Victorian Egypt. But, like many great stories, this one provides more questions than answers. Where is the rest of this mummy and why was it broken up? Where is its coffin? Where is the other mummy mentioned in the article? Perhaps by sharing our beloved mummy’s story we may learn some new clues. Regardless, we will keep him, our mummy in the Great White North, safe.
Joanna Munholland completed her Master of Arts, Museum Studies and the University of Leicester in 2015 and began working at the Sam Waller Museum soon after. She hopes to eventually complete a PhD – topic TBD.