An incredible array of mummies and artifacts — only a few from Egypt — will be unwrapped for the public at Tampa's Museum of Science and Industry on Friday to reveal a haunting (some would even say creepy) collection of mummified people, pets and wildlife frozen in time.
This traveling exhibit, Mummies of the World, is a rarity because it involves 21 different museums from around the world, making it the largest exhibition of human and animal mummies and related artifacts ever assembled. They come from Asia, Oceania, South America, Europe and ancient Egypt.
What you'll see
• The oldest on display is a Peruvian child in a remarkable state of preservation that carbon dating revealed to be nearly 6,500 years old — about 3,000 years older than King Tut.
• The Orlovits family, who were discovered in a long-forgotten church crypt in Hungary in 1994. High-tech scans and DNA tests have found the couple and their year-old son, Johannes, born 1800, suffered from severe tuberculosis and were buried together. A combination of dry air, temperature and the oil from their pine coffins preserved their bodies.
• Animals are also represented, including an Egyptian cat mummy and a howler monkey found preserved in Argentina in a feathered skirt with a feather wreath around its head. Why dress up a monkey? Nobody knows.
Will kids want their mummy?
With haunting images of shriveled flesh and sunken stares, mummies are the stuff of nightmares, so is this exhibit too scary for kids? Marc Corwin, president of American Exhibitions, producer of the Mummies of the World exhibit, said curators took kids into account and emphasized the science of mummification, playing down the scare factor. Of the 200,000 visitors at the exhibition's first stop in Los Angeles, half were families with young children, Corwin said. It helps that there are several interactive kiosks where kids can find out what a mummy feels like or see 3-D images of the high-tech scans scientists used to find out what the mummies died of, how old they were, if they were vegetarian or if they had traces of poison, nicotine or signs of cancer or heart disease. It's this kind of science that can draw kids in, Corwin said. "They will learn the science of mummification and why some people decompose and why do some end up in this limbo," he said. "We have these unique time travelers who for some reason their decomposition stopped and here they are for eternity."
Wrap your mind around . . .
Mummification is rare because it requires the preservation of soft tissue, such as skin, muscle or organs. Without that, it's a skeleton. That's why people are fascinated by mummies — they look more human.
Mummies can occur naturally. Mummies have been found in bogs, ice or desert environments. Several such finds are included in this exhibition, such as the the Tattooed Woman who was naturally mummified in dry desert air in Peru some 800 years ago, where even her long hair was preserved.
They are part of the family. Some cultures deliberately mummified bodies for long-term preservation, including the ancient Egyptians, who had a very strong belief about the afterlife. Some South American cultures were ancestor worshipers, too, so it was important to keep family members intact.