Monday, August 04, 2008

Covering the mummies: summary of discussion and Museum response

Egypt at the Manchester Museum blog

Another one from Chris Townsend, with my thanks.

Many thanks to all of you who contributed to the discussion on the covering of the mummies at the Manchester Museum in April 2008. Below is a summary of the main issues raised and the Museum’s response. Apologies for the length of the posting!

The discussion on the blog, in response to the posting on 6th May 2008, ‘Covering the mummies’ where the covering of Asru, Khary and the child mummy was explained, has been lively, generating around 150 responses, and covering a number of different issues pertinent to the display of human remains in museums. This posting is now archived, as an update on the decisions regarding the display of the mummies has been more recently posted, but the original posting is still generating occasional responses.

(I) General consensus

The overwhelming majority (c. 85%) of people have expressed the opinion that they would like the mummies to be uncovered and to remain on display. A strong thread running through this viewpoint has been that museum visitors should be able to make the choice as to whether they view human remains, and not have that decision made for them. A simple solution iterated by many has been to put up a sign indicating that there are human remains on display, in order to allow visitors to make the choice about viewing them. Related to the feeling that visitors should have the opportunity to make their own minds up has been the expression of disappointment that the Manchester Museum appeared to make the decision to experimentally cover the three mummies without waiting until the end of a clearly designated consultation period. One of the suggestions that has been made in a number of postings is that the bodies could be covered but the face, hands, and feet revealed, as is done in Egyptian museums, in order to allow the bodies to retain their dignity, as well as their humanity.

The minority in favour of covering the mummies, or removing them from view, has praised the Museum for being experimental and courageous, and suggested that displaying the mummies, especially if uncovered, disregards the wishes of the ancient Egyptians.

Museum response:

The recent covering of three of the Egyptian mummies on display was in response to a small number of visitor complaints, and which triggered an experiment in ways of displaying the mummies. The response to the covering has revealed that a greater number of people prefer to be able to view the mummies, and the Museum is taking this into account.

On Monday 4th August 2008, Khary is being uncovered, Asru’s face and feet will be uncovered, and the child mummy will be removed from display – this mummy is a loan and will return to its own institution some time soon.

The Manchester Museum utilises consultation to inform its activities, and is commissioning research into visitor responses to displaying (Egyptian) human remains on the galleries as part of the ongoing consultation process on displaying the dead. The issue of choice as to whether visitors view the mummies on display or not has been addressed by installing panels at either end of the Egyptian galleries that indicate the presence of human remains, and offering an alternative route bypassing the galleries. Until the galleries are redeveloped, a route through the galleries avoiding the human remains entirely is not possible.

The other main themes of the discussion are summarised on the above page.

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