“Mummies have often been represented as mere curiosities, but should be regarded as unparalleled sources of knowledge about many aspects of life in early civilisations. The exhibition shows how very true that is,” says Marcel Maree, Curator, Ancient Egypt and Sudan department, The British Museum. For the first time ever, the city will see 110 artefacts belonging to the ancient Egyptian period, displayed as a part of Mummy — The Inside Story, an exhibition at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS) in collaboration with The British Museum, London.
The exhibition focuses on the mummy of a priest named Nesperennub, enclosed in a cartonnage mummy-case, which in turn was found inside a wooden coffin. “The burial was discovered at Luxor (ancient Thebes) in the 1890s. We do not know the exact year, because the discovery was made by local diggers who left no documentation. The British Museum bought the set from an antiquities dealer in Luxor. The exhibition presents about a hundred further artefacts from other tombs and from temples, covering some 3,000 years of pharaonic history, acquired in the course of the 19th and early 20th centuries,” says Maree.
The exhibits will be accompanied by a 3D film that would help the layman understand the process of unravelling the secrets of the mummy obtained without destroying its case. “Recently, the mummy was subjected to CT scanning at London’s University College Hospital. The data obtained informs us in detail about numerous aspects of Nesperennub’s appearance, health, age at death, and about the way his body was treated and preserved by the priests who embalmed him. The scans have also revealed a range of amulets and other objects still placed between the wrappings and in part even placed within the cavity of Nesperennub’s body,” says Maree.
Sabyasachi Mukherjee, Director, CSMVS aims to shed light on India’s relations with Egypt that go back to several thousand years, “Our association with Egypt goes back to the Harappa civilisation, almost 5,000 years ago. From one of the excavation sites at Lothal in Gujarat (which was one of the biggest ports), several artefacts that indicate trade relations between the two civilisations have been indicated.”
Tales from the dead
With the help of the exhibits, one can get an insight into the religious beliefs of ancient Egyptians, especially concerning the afterlife, depicting how they prepared themselves for death and afterlife. “They had developed sophisticated mummification techniques to preserve the body and they performed rituals to restore the body’s capabilities. The mummy was equipped with amulets and other trappings to endow the deceased with divine powers.
Nesperennub is a perfectly preserved mummy and has never been seen by modern eyes, because it is still enclosed in its beautifully painted mummy-case, which cannot be opened without destroying it,” says Marée. Mukherjee also revealed that the museum is in talks to bring down the Cyrus Cylinder, an important artefact related to the history of Zoroastrianism, in 2013.