Friday, May 23, 2008

More responses to covering of mummies in the UK

It is interesting that Hawass takes this line because Egypt's own Royal Mummy room at the Cairo museum in Tahrir Square lines up the royal mummies like sardines in glass boxes. Their bodies are covered but their faces and occasionally arms are revealed for all to see. It will be interesting to see how the results of the Manchester consultation impacts other collections with mummies in the future.

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)

Maev Kennedy (a staff news writer for the Guardian, specialising in archaeology) has picked up on the debate and has posted some comments on her own blog, putting the story into the wider context of recent discussions about how to handle the remains of the deceased:

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.

I was chatting to a friend today who says that a well known palaeoanthropologist has, over the years, received complaints about the display of fossil hominid remains. It is obviously an area of museum management that really stirs people to strong feelings and the need to comment.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What? This sort of “political correctness rubbish” is going to lead to the covering of skeletons too?

To give some credit, these are not nameless corpses from a bygone era. The Egyptian mummies displayed at Manchester and other museums are individuals we seem to recognize at some personal level. We know their names, their occupations and their position in their ancient society. Visitors appreciate some kind of acquaintance with these individuals, some form of connection that bridges the time abyss. It’s not offensive to view the faces of mummies, to see them as human beings, their arms, hands and feet. We marvel at the high degree of knowledge of ancient Egyptian embalmers, the mastery of their craft.

To cover a mummy in its entirety the way it’s being done at the present time at the Manchester Museum is tantamount to displaying corpses at a morgue.