The mummy: it’s not just a relic in Egypt.
In fact, examples of mummification have been found from all over the world; they've not only given us anthropological insight into the lives of long-ago cultures, but they've also served as unexpected links to modern medicine. And through the fall of 2015, you can learn all about them in Orlando.
From Saturday, June 13, through Sunday, Nov. 29, visitors to the Orlando Science Center can join the more than 1.3 million viewers who have already been enlightened by Mummies of the World, a fascinating exhibition that bridges the gap between past and present with an eerie and alluring collection of mummies and related artifacts.
"The most surprising thing about the exhibition for most people is discovering the great variety of mummies that exist in the world," says Heather Gill-Frerking, director of science and education for Mummies of the World. The exhibition has both human and animal mummies, some of which were preserved deliberately by other human beings, and many of which were preserved as a result of chance, because of the special conditions of the environment in which they were found. Nearly every visitor leaves having seen something that they will never have seen before."
"Mummies of the World" changes how the general public thinks about these fascinating artifacts from the past — Photo courtesy of American Exhibitions, Inc / Orlando Science Center
Expected but captivating examples include specimens unearthed amid the dry, desert sands of the Middle East. Others come from more surprising locales: South America, Hungary and Germany.
Naturally-occurring mummies are created in sand-sealed crypts, to be sure, but also in caves, salt, bogs, snow and ice and even in laboratories. One such specimen – MUMAB – hails from the unlikely city of Baltimore.
While his predecessors came to capture our imaginations via the famed relic hunters of the past (and more than a few Universal horror classics), MUMAB’s mummification D.O.B. was 1994.
Nes-Min was a priest in the temple of a fertility god in the ancient city of Khent-Min — Photo courtesy of American Exhibitions, Inc / Orlando Science Center
His “immortality” is the handiwork of an Egyptologist and an anatomist from the University of Maryland, who employed the same ancient techniques as those who prepared Egypt’s pharaohs for the afterlife.
MUMAB is still in the infancy of mummification, in many ways still going through the process.
Modern technology, of course, has allowed scientists to study mummies in far less invasive ways than in the past, leaving specimens more intact and, arguably, beautiful. Mummies of the World showcases these new methods, as well, with state-of-the-art multimedia and hands-on exhibits that highlight advances such as CT (computed tomography) scans, DNA analysis and more.
These teach researchers not only about the science behind the mummification process, but also the culture and personal lives of the mummies – who were people before they were priceless artifacts.
Gill-Frerking says the mummies' personal stories often help quell feelings of unease to foster a powerful learning experience.
"Those who might be a little uncomfortable with the idea of mummies being displayed in an exhibition ...often get caught up in the personal stories of the people, which we use science to tell. Sometimes we have their names and some family history. When we don’t, we can use a range of scientific methods to study the mummies and learn more about them as individuals. Then we try to understand that person and how he or she lived, based on what we know from the mummy, as well as archaeological and cultural information for context. Once people are able to see the mummies as people, they often forget any fear or discomfort that they may have originally felt."
This naturally mummified woman from Peru, between 18 and 21 when she died, is approximately 550 years old today — Photo courtesy of American Exhibitions, Inc / Orlando Science Center
“Most people think mummies come from Egypt. But mummies come from all over the world," says Marcus Corwin, president of American Exhibitions, Inc., the event’s producer. “The exhibition is changing centuries-old perceptions about what the general public thinks about mummies and providing insight into the lives and cultures of these ancient people.”
Fascinating, to be sure – and, yes, even for kids – but it's suggested parents check out the online guide beforehand, discussing the exhibit with their children to gauge whether it will be appropriate.
Tickets to the Mummies of the World exhibit are available online at Orlando Science Center's website; prices range from $10 to $27.