By Jeannine Sherman
Director of Public Relations
Before today, everything I knew about mummies would fit into a sarcophagus the size of a thimble. They come from Egypt, they’re wrapped in bandages, and if you wake them up you’re in for a world of hurt. This minefield of misinformation was gleaned during an impressionable childhood filled with a steady diet of Saturday morning reruns of Scooby Doo cartoons and old, black-and-white horror movies.
Mummies of the World, running now through May 30th at the Milwaukee Public Museum, changed all that. It’s an extraordinary display – the largest traveling exhibition of mummies and related artifacts ever assembled – and the Museum is only the second venue to host this must-see. If you’re like me, it will leave you both fascinated and profoundly moved.
First, the fascinating.
I was amazed to learn mummies have been found everywhere from splendid tombs to hidden caves and on every continent, with the exception of Antarctica. The exhibit includes human and animal mummies from South America, Europe, Asia, Oceania and Egypt. Not all mummies are intentional. Sometimes, Mother Nature steps in – arid deserts, extreme cold and ice, and acidic bogs are prime environments for natural mummification.
Cool multi-media and hands-on interactive stations tell exactly how mummies are created. You’ll also learn what’s in a mummyologist’s high-tech tool kit and how these scientists use state-of-the-art techniques such as DNA analysis and CT scans to gain insight into ancient civilizations and cultures.
The breadth of the exhibit is amazing. While Egyptian mummies are well represented, Mummies of the World includes a 6,420-year-old child mummy from Peru, an entire family that was part of a group of 18th century mummies discovered in a long-forgotten church crypt in Hungary, and the mummy of a 17th century nobleman discovered in a German castle.
Now, the profoundly moving.
The Statement of Ethics at the entrance to the exhibit hit me like a ton of bricks. It frames the experience by reminding you that the mummies are far more than relics of antiquity. They are the remains of human beings.
Each one is a silent and eloquent testament to a life and a story as individual as any fingerprint. At the same time, they remind us of the universal connection we all share.
From the amulet lovingly tucked into the garments of a young child to the graceful lines of the South American mummies, “seated for eternity,” a humbling humanity permeates the displays.
It brings home the questions “Who were they? How did they live? What can they teach us? What secrets do they hold?”
Details: Mummies of the World runs through May 30th at the Milwaukee Public Museum. Tickets are timed entry and include general Museum admission. The Museum recommends allowing two hours to explore the exhibit. Add to the experience via a self-guided audio tour on headphones.