Making its North American premiere at the MMFA, this internationally acclaimed exhibition produced by the British Museum reconstructs the lives of six people who lived along the Nile, using an innovative approach that combines the arts and science. Accompanied by digital visualizations and more than 200 objects from ancient Egypt, these encounters offer a portrait of who these individuals were, presented with the utmost respect. Age, beliefs and the diseases they suffered from: each mummy has a story to tell.
The British Museum has 80 Egyptian mummies in its collection. Mostly acquired in the 19th century from private European collectors, very little was known about who these people were, how they lived and how they died. In keeping with its code of ethics, the British Museum refuses any and all invasive intervention on its mummies, including the removal of their wrappings. Hence, for over a decade, they have been the focus of new research using cutting- edge scientific methods that preserve the mummies’ integrity. This innovative approach has shed light on different aspects of the life (and death) of six individuals who lived in ancient Egypt between 900 BCE and 180 CE. The CT scans of their remains offer information that is seldom accessible in other sources of archaeological evidence.
The excellent condition of the British Museum’s mummies has informed anthropologists and archaeologists about important aspects of human biology, genetics, diet, diseases, burial practices and embalming techniques.
The spread of x-ray devices in the 1970s eliminated the need for invasive techniques. Since then, computerized tomography (CT) scanning and high-resolution three-dimensional imaging have replaced traditional x-ray machines. CT scanners use a combination of x-rays and a computer to create an image. Specifically, the x-ray beam circles around the body, creating thousands of transversal images. The data is then gathered by cutting edge software, which creates detailed 3D visualizations that allow us to view the mummys’ internal structures without the need to unwrap their fragile remains.
As such, the combination of physical anthropology, Egyptology, scientific research and conservation has brought our understanding of these past inhabitants of the Nile valley into vivid focus.