To dig or not to dig, that is the question

8 mummies technology

Archaeology is often characterised by the act of digging, so when Mary Beard suggested that new techniques could mean giving up the trowel, there was furor. In short, to dig or not to dig? We visited the British Museum to see what the latest technology can do.

The British Museum’s latest exhibition, Ancient Lives, New Discoveries, is a timely exploration of how archaeologists can use non-invasive techniques to interrogate their finds.

The exhibition displays the preserved bodies and burial objects of eight people from prehistoric Egypt and Christian Sudan, including a desiccated young man, an Egyptian temple singer, a young Roman, and a Christian Sudanese woman.

Spread across four thousand years, it looks at how non-invasive tools, such as CT scanners and 3D model printing, have been used to uncover new information on their lives and beliefs.

But it’s not just the use of these tools that’s impressive. The exhibition also uses interactive displays to slowly uncover tantalising new details about each individual, from diet and health, to family life and career.

And as each new personal detail is revealed, you become more and more immersed in their story – by the end, you’re viewing them not as a museum artefact, but as a person that you have a connection with.

Between the applications of technology and the personal accounts of the preserved bodies, Ancient Lives also challenges the conventional stereotype of ancient Egyptians and mummification – from end to end, you see how the mummification process varies over time according to religious beliefs and social class, exposing it as a burial custom that was neither standard among, nor the sole preserve of, the Egyptians.

With technology and mummies surging in popularity, making this an ideal time to see this exhibition – just make sure you have a strong stomach!

Ancient Lives, New Discoveries is open at the British Museum now until the 30 of November 2014
Tickets: £10 for adults, £8 for concessions

Love archaeology?

DigVentures crowdfunds archaeological projects that everyone can be part of, in the UK and overseas. With help from people all over the world, we investigate the past and publish our discoveries online for free. Become a DigVentures Subscriber and be part of great archaeology - all year round!


Written by Kirsten Amor

On-line, Kirsten is a squeaky clean communications volunteer for the Brunel Museum and freelance heritage journalist; offline, and she's a dirt-covered urchin scaling rocks and trails in search of obscure archaeological sites. Her hobbies include photography, rock-climbing, hiking, and half-finished crafts projects. Twitter: @amorexplore

Read more from Kirsten Amor +

Get Dig Mail

Keep up with the latest fun, facts & features from the world of archaeology.

Easy opt-out at any time - Privacy Policy

Archaeology / In Your Hands

Courses for anyone who wants to learn more about archaeology, and have fun while they're doing it!

Archaeology Courses

Our fab archaeology merch: dig team tee-shirts, Tatty Devine jewellery range, tote bags, and more!

Archaeology Shop