Moving the Mummies
Photos courtesy of the Saint Louis Art Museum
The task sounds daunting: Move the mummies, along with hundreds of other ancient Egyptian artifacts. But that is what the Saint Louis Art Museum is doing starting this week. The mummies and antiquities were placed in a temporary location a decade ago when the foundation for the East building was being excavated. Soon the embalmed bodies and artifacts will have a new home among the permanent gallery spaces.
“You’re not going to have this weird experience where you’re looking at mission-style furniture and then it’s like, ‘Oh hi ancient Egypt,” says Lisa Cakmak, SLAM’s assistant curator of ancient art. “There won’t be skylights. It will be much darker and it will feel more tomb-like since so much of the collection is funerary artwork.”
The museum currently houses about 300 artifacts in the Egyptian collection, and one-third of those are on view. More will be added, as will more information uncovered from CT scans done in 2014 at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and Barnes-Jewish Hospital. Cakmak says digitally interactive displays will be by each mummy, and visitors can choose to see the CT images as well as analysis of the films and new interpretations of life lived during three different time periods in ancient Egyptian.
“What the doctors were amazed by was the general health and quality of the bones and skeletal remains, even their teeth,” Cakmak says. “For being 3,000 years old, they had signs of wear, but they looked generally healthy.”
The three mummies are: Amen-Nestawy-Nakht (currently owned by SLAM), and Pet-Menekh and Henut-Wedjebu, both on long-term loans from Washington University’s Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum. Specks around the head that showed up on the scans of Henut-Wedjebu, an Egyptian noblewoman who lived during 1300 B.C., were interpreted to be the beads of a headdress. A visible skull fracture seen may indicate an injury sustained before her death. Her brain was left intact whereas those of the other mummies, from 1,000-1,100 years later, were removed before the mummification process was completed.
The permanent gallery is slated to open December 15.
CT Scan at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Barnes-Jewish Hospital