Scientific findings that time could not erase from ancient Egyptian and Peruvian mummies are revealed in the new temporary exhibition Mummies: New Secrets from the Tombs, opening at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science on Friday, October 14.
The exhibition 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.
Mummies: New Secrets from the Tombs is unusual because it goes beyond the typical exploration of mummification in ancient Egypt and dives into preparations for the afterlife practiced by the Peruvian cultures of Chinchorro, Paracas, Chancay, and Nazcan. Mummification practices in Peru predate those of Egypt by 2,000 years.
The experience features real mummies and coffins, appearing alongside archaeological treasures such as stone sarcophagus fragments, pots and other everyday objects for the afterlife, and animal mummies, all displayed in beautiful historic exhibit cases. Guests explore the new findings through interpretive exhibits about the CT scans, interactive touch tables, 3D-printed casts of bones and burial figurines, and forensically reconstructed sculptural busts by acclaimed artist Élisabeth Daynès.
- a Predynastic mummy from Egypt whose mummification occurred 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 replica mummy’s mask from the Chinchorro of Peru and Chile, who practiced mummification long before the Egyptians. The clay masks rarely survived intact; a modern sculptor made the stunning replica using ancient materials and methods.
- rarely seen mummy “bundles” from Peru whose CT scans and X-rays reveal fascinating cultural details about these individuals’ lives and deaths.
- a reconstruction of a Chancay pit burial showing how these people placed their dead underground pits surrounded by burial objects, food, and drink.
- interactive touch tables that digitally unwrap mummies and allow guests to focus on key features and more deeply explore the new findings.
- an intricately mummified baby crocodile, buried as an offering to an ancient Egyptian god, as well as a mummified cat, baboon, bird, and gazelle and their CT scans.
- the “Gilded Lady,” 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 who was mysteriously buried in a coffin created for a grown man 200 years earlier. A facial reconstruction shows the teen’s features.
“We are thrilled to be one of only five U.S. museums to host this exhibition,” said Dr. Michele Koons, the Denver Museum’s curator of archaeology and curatorial advisor for Mummies. “Not only are these mummies rarely seen but the story of Peruvian mummies is rarely told. This gives the public an opportunity to continue their historic fascination with Egyptian mummies as they learn about other cultural approaches to mummification and the amazing new science that modern technology is revealing.”
Mummies: New Secrets from the Tombs was developed by The Field Museum, Chicago.