Thursday, July 1, 2010

Mummy exhibit

An international exhibit of mummies premieres today at the California Science Center in Los Angeles. "Mummies of the World" runs through November 28, and other cities on the 3-year U.S. tour will be announced this fall. The exhibit is the largest traveling collection of mummies and artifacts ever assembled, and features more than 40 naturally and artificially preserved bodies from South America, Europe, Asia, Oceania, and Egypt - all of them displayed for the 1st time. Specimens include one of the oldest mummies ever discovered (Peruvian, 5th c. B.C.), an entire mummified family (Hungarian, 18th c.), and mummies of the people and animals of ancient Egypt. "There's far more to mummification than the wrapped Egyptians people automatically think of....We wanted to present as many different types of mummies from as many different environments as we can," says Heather Gill-Frerking, the exhibit's director of science and education.

"Mummies of the World" will include 2 mummies I had never heard of until now: a baron and baroness discovered in a family crypt in a 14th c. castle in Germany and loaned by a descendant. The mummies of Baron von Holz and 4 others were discovered in the crypt of the von Crailsheim castle in Sommersdorf (1st image). The baron, a veteran of the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648), was wearing calf-leather boots with nailed soles. A team in Mannheim has subjected the mummy to CT scans (2nd image) and other investigative techniques, including facial reconstruction, to reveal clues about his anatomy, age, and approximate date of birth and death. The baron died at about age 35 of influenza or blood poisoning. At 5' 10" he would have been quite tall among his contemporaries - and had better teeth than many of them. The nobles in the exhibit are among 1,000 or so similarly mummified bodies in German aristocratic graves that have been discovered and cataloged so far. It is so far not known why the bodies were preserved, but their sheer numbers indicate that it was more than happenstance and was in fact done deliberately, by placing them in crypts that had ventilation adequate to dehydrate their bodies and adding sawdust to the caskets to soak up the resultant fluids.

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