Egyptian antiquities chief Zahi Hawass on Thursday welcomed a decision by a British museum to cover up its collection of ancient Egyptian mummies, saying it was a question of ethics.
Covering up the mummies is "a very important decision. I myself am with this position on an ethical basis, not a religious one," Hawass told Agence France-Presse.
"We don't want people to see our naked bodies when we are dead, so why should we allow ourselves to view the bodies and expose them in this manner?" something which is not necessary for the mummies' appreciation, he asked.
The Guardian Art & Architecture blog (Maev Kennedy)
Nick Merriman, director at Manchester, says that this unwrapping, the interference and the fact that the mummies were no longer being displayed as found, was the crucial factor. He has no intention of having a hemp shirt made for Lindow Man, one of the most startling bog bodies, which by curious coincidence went on display at Manchester, on loan from the British Museum, at exactly the same time.
Bristol museum, which recently completely redisplayed a major Egyptian collection, keeps its unwrapped mummies in store. Instead of the previous open coffins, it now displays its two wrapped mummies with the lids slightly raised, which it considers more respectful. The gallery also has one body of a man which was curved into a foetal position to fit into a wooden box: this is now displayed in a dark case, and visitors must choose whether to light it: most do, and there have been no complaints.
The uneasy thought occurs that at both museums the changes actually ramp up the peep show element of the display.But, at Manchester, Merriman and his deputy director Piotr Bienkowski have bravely led a public debate on an issue which most museums just hoped will go away. Several recent developments suggest it won't: human remains have been repatriated from museums to Native American communities, to Australia and to New Zealand. In Britain there have been several reburials of remains recovered from archaeological excavations, in Christian rites or concocted "pagan" ceremonies.
The Manchester Museum blog, which is currently hosting a discussion on the subject, now has 76 comments in response to its actions.