Mummies: New Secrets from the Tombs is a rare glimpse at a collection of mummies from The Field Museum in Chicago, many displayed for the first time. Using modern technology and noninvasive research techniques, scientists avoided the hazards of unwrapping the fragile specimens and uncovered a wealth of new discoveries. Medical scanning, DNA sampling, and advanced computer modeling revealed a storehouse of natural and cultural information with extraordinary detail.
- An introductory panel establishes context for how techniques for studying mummies have changed since the 1800s. In the past, mummies were unwrapped; today, much less invasive techniques are used.
- An Egyptian mummy illustrates the risk of invasive procedures: his head became detached a century ago when archaeologists unraveled the wrappings.
- A computerized tomography (CT) scanner and replica mummy introduce the technologies modern scientists use to study fragile mummies. All of the mummies featured in the exhibition have been scanned within the last few years.
- The exhibition is unusual because it goes beyond the typical exploration of Egyptian mummification and dives into preparations for the afterlife practiced by the ancient Peruvian cultures of Chinchorro, Paracas, Chancay, and Nazca. Their practices predate those of Egypt by 2,000 years.
- Rarely seen “mummy bundles” and their CT scans and X-rays reveal fascinating cultural details about these individuals’ lives and deaths.
- Interactive touch tables digitally unwrap the mummies and allow guests to focus on key features and more deeply explore the new findings.
- A reconstruction of a Chancay pit burial shows how they placed their dead underground pits surrounded by burial objects, food, and drink. The tombs were replenished by the families with offerings, a direct contrast to Egyptians, who prepared the tombs and sealed them forever to protect against thieves.
- A replica of a mummy’s mask from the Chinchorro explains how these clay masks have rarely survived intact. A modern sculptor made the stunning replica using ancient materials and methods.
- “False head” sculptures were placed atop mummies that were placed in fetal positions and wrapped in colorful ponchos and cloth.
- Several skulls show how head shaping was practiced by some ancient Peruvian cultures.
- An exploration station further examines how goods and bones from a tomb provide clues to the person’s occupation in life.
- Ancient Egyptians believed the dead lived on in the next world, and that a person’s body needed to survive, preferably intact, so they could continue in the afterlife.
- A Predynastic mummy from Egypt is one of the oldest known mummies in the world. This mummy mummified naturally in the hot dry sand about 5,500 years ago. Some scholars believe this natural process gave Egyptians the idea for artificial mummification.
- A collection of animal mummies, including a crocodile, cat, baboon, bird, and gazelle, and their CT scans illustrate how animals were presented as offerings to ancient Egyptian gods and as pets for the afterlife.
- A walk-in tomb features real stone sarcophagus fragments and an intricately painted coffin. Canopic jars to hold organs and funerary figures called ushabti are among the tomb goods on display.
- An exploration station with items from the Museum’s education collections further examines the Egyptian mummification process.
- Scans of mummy heads, that were likely damaged during grave robberies, examine the teeth of the individuals, determining age at time of death and dietary information.
- The extraordinary “Gilded Lady” is a mummy from Roman-era Egypt that has not been seen in public since the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. Beneath her golden mask, CT scans revealed a 40-year-old woman with curly hair. Her forensically reconstructed face hyper-realistically portrays what she would have looked like when she was alive.
- The mummy of an Egyptian teenager was mysteriously buried in a coffin created for a grown man 200 years earlier. A facial reconstruction shows the teen’s features.