Preview of 2012 - Fascinating Mummies
Exhibition of Egyptian death rituals and paraphenalia
If, by any chance, you happened to be in Edinburgh in 1988, and at school, there was a very good chance you went on a trip to see the Gold of the Pharaohs exhibition at the City Art Centre. It was a big deal, up there with the Glasgow Garden Festival in terms of generating buzz and keeping the turnstiles spinning. The mask of Tutankhamun was on loan from the Cairo Museum, there were jewel-encrusted death masks, sarcophagi and priceless relics acquired by tomb-raiders on display, and it spawned a series of copycat library exhibitions and school projects.
Twenty odd years on, the newly refurbished National Museum is playing the masterstroke of kick-starting its exhibition programme with Fascinating Mummies, the first major show since their reopening. The treasures of Ancient Egypt have a knack of capturing imaginations – perhaps by simple virtue of them being so old (some artefacts going on show at Chambers Street date back to 4000BC), and ornate (can hieroglyphics be beaten for their primitive blend of aesthetic beauty and usefulness?).
But a large part of the intrigue is down to the Ancient Egyptian treatment of death. Based around the concept of ‘dying to be born again’, their elaborate tombs, complex funeral rituals and mummification techniques are off-the-scale in terms of attention to detail. Fascinating Mummies aims to focus on this aspect of their culture with a two-part exhibition. One half will include the items from these death ceremonies – painted coffins, amulets, jewellery, papyri, embalming equipment and a mummified crocodile and cat will all be there to gawk at. The second half will examine the techniques used by scientists and archaelogists to make sense of the artefacts they have discovered. For example, after finding a mummified body, scientists faced the dilemma of unwrapping it; thereby damaging the corpse underneath, or piecing together the facts based solely on inscriptions on the coffins and objects around the body. The exhibition aims to shed light on modern techniques including DNA investigations, X-rays and CT (computerised tomography) scans which let scientists perform facial reconstructions of the bodies.
It will be the first UK date for the exhibition, on loan from the National Museum of Antiquities in the Netherlands, one of the world’s leading ancient Egypt collections. Additional artefacts from National Museums Scotland’s own collections will also be on show, including mummies and coffins gathered in the mid-19th century by Scottish archaeologist Alexander Henry Rhind.
National Museum of Scotland, Sat 11 Feb–Sun 27 May.