Unwrapping a mummy – digitally!


Hands-off history!

With technology creating ever expanding opportunities for museums, gone are the days of dragging the kids round stuffy aisles looking at row after row of artefacts behind glass cabinets. Museums now have the opportunity to become much more interactive and hands-on, as visitors are given a chance to do, rather than just see. Nowhere is this better shown than at Stockholm’s Medelhavsmuseet, in their latest exhibition – which will guarantee to maintain the attention of even its most restless visitors.

Medelhavsmuseet is giving visitors the chance to get well acquainted with one of its oldest residents, a mummy named Neswaiu, by unwrapping his bandages. But fear not, Neswaiu will remain safely in his coffin the whole time, as this will all take place digitally using techniques that are more commonly associated with the living than the dead.

Hospitals have been bombarded by mummies sent from museums around the world, queuing up for computed tomography (CT) scans which create high density maps of their insides which can then by analysed by researchers, or in this case put on display to allow the public to get up close and personal with some of archaeology’s most loved artefacts.

Unwrapping mummies to reveal the mysteries behind the bandages has always been appealing for later generations, no matter how destructive a process. It was not uncommon to have a public unwrapping in the 19th century and even later. In 1908, over 500 people attended the unwrapping of one of the bodies from the Tomb of the Two Brothers at Manchester Museum by Egyptologist Margaret Murray.

Now, on top of an ‘autopsy table’ in an ‘embalming room’ , this can be done with absolutely no harm to the mummy whatsoever. Museum curator Sofia Häggman says she wanted users to be able to “see this information first hand” and not always have to count on researchers explaining what can be found on the mummy.

The table allows visitors to open the two coffins then peel their way through the layers, from the highly decorated cartonnage (outer layer) down to the skeleton.Everthing can all be seen in very fine detail, from the exact location of his 120 amulets to the cut marks where his internal organs were removed.

A technological and innovative feat for museums certainly, but perhaps not an exhibition for the more squeamish among us!

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Written by Aisling Serrant

An all round museum educator and enthusiast, Aisling's the Family Festival Coordinator at the Museum of London Docklands.

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