What images come to mind when you hear the words: mummy, mummies, or mummification? Do you immediately think of a museum or movie? Do you imagine the hot sands of the Egyptian desert? Or maybe the cold mountain tops of the Andes?
So what exactly is a mummy?
It is the preserved body of a person or animal through artificial or natural means. Mummification can happen quite naturally as in marshes (bog mummies) or polar mountains (Peruvian mummies). It can also take place through the artificial process of embalming as in the case of ancient Egyptians or Sicilians of Italy.
In the movies, the most famous mummy is probably Imhotep. He was first made famous by Boris Karloff in the 1932 movie The Mummy and then in the movie of the same title staring Brendan Fraser (1999). (There was also an attempt by Universal for a reboot in 2017 but the first movie was considered a box office flop.)
Amazingly, Boris Karloff cemented the idea of mummies in cinema and he only appeared as the Mummy for a few minutes in the movie!
In addition to watching movies about mummies, I also like reading books about them – especially those books written by Bob Brier, an American Egyptologist. He has written a number of books about Egypt and mummies. He has also hosted a number of television specials, including one series that is my favorite – Unwrapped: The Mysterious World of Mummies.
Why do we find mummies so fascinating?
Perhaps mummies are fascinating because they seem to cheat death. Depending upon the way in which they are preserved, they can almost seem like they will wake up at any moment. They can also teach us so many things about the time in which they live from their clothing to the objects buried with them.
There are many famous mummies including:
- Ramses the Great
- Lady Dai
- Eva Peron
- Vladimir Lenin
- Rosali Lombardo
Ramses the Great
Sometimes what happens to the mummies long after their death is almost as interesting as the process of mummification. For example, the mummy of Ramses the Great was discovered in 1881 in a tomb near Deir el-Bahari. His body rested in the Cairo Museum until a request from the French government started it on a journey to France.
In 1975, the French government wanted the mummy for their exhibition on Ramses the Great. Unfortunately, the body of Ramses was under attack by over 370 separate colonies of 89 different species of fungi. The fungi was slowly destroying the body, the linen, and the wood. So the body of Ramses the Great arrived on September 26, 1976 in France with a full military reception needing treatment and conservation rather than exhibition.
Gamma-ray sterilization was used to treat the fungi. The bacteria that infested the mummy due to modern contamination and the fungi were both irradiated. During the conservation process a team of over 100 specialists also investigated Ramses using such means as x-rays. The x-rays showed that Ramses, who died at the age of 67, was probably crippled by arthritis late in life and had a dental infection at his death.
So what is your opinion of mummies? Do they belong in museums, buried in cemeteries or in crypts or in horror movies?
We own all three of these books (although our copy of the DK Eyewitness book is an older version)!