By Dr. Michele Koons
Earlier this year, the Museum embarked on a new project using updated technologies and testing to study the mummies and coffins displayed in the Egyptian Mummies gallery, which are on permanent loan to us from the Rosemount Museum in Pueblo.
For years, the two female mummies have been referred to as “Rich Mummy” and “Poor Mummy” based on previous research. But new findings show that their distinctions are less likely to be based on their economic status and more on their place in the history of Egyptian mummification. Read more about the new findings related to the mummies.
We also learned some interesting things about the coffins the mummies were in when they arrived in Colorado in 1905, after being purchased in Egypt by Andrew McClelland, an entrepreneur from Pueblo.
First, radiocarbon dates indicate neither woman originally occupied her respective coffin. We already knew this about the Rich Mummy. The coffin actually belonged to a man named Mes. Recently, Edoardo Guzzon, from the Museum of Turin, provided new clues on the origin of Mes’s coffin. According to Guzzon, the coffin was discovered by Ernesto Schiaparelli, an Italian Egyptologist, in the Valley of the Queens in 1903 in the re-used tomb of Khaemwaset, a son of Ramses III.
Forty other coffins were found in this tomb at the same time. During his studies, Guzzon realized that the coffin at our Museum was one of five left by Schiaparelli in the Cairo Museum to give to “some American museums.” According to Guzzon, the hieroglyphs indicate the Mes coffin dates to roughly 715 BCE. Our recent radiocarbon dating shows the wood dates from 787–556 BCE, paralleling Guzzon’s findings. How the Rich Mummy ended up in a coffin belonging to a man remains a mystery; however, it was common practice in the early 1900s to find nice mummies and nice coffins and sell them as sets to tourists, like McClelland.
Analyses of the coffin associated with the Poor Mummy also revealed new information. The coffin stylistically dates to the 21st Dynasty (1077–943 BCE). Radiocarbon samples were taken from a dowel, a tenon, and the lid. The dates for the dowel and the tenon range from 909–837 BCE. The lid wood dates to 1016–936 BCE. The wood is sycamore, a slow-growing tree, and the date may reflect a ring from early in the tree’s lifecycle. However, the earlier date for the lid wood versus the tenon and dowel may also indicate that this coffin was constructed of previously used wood, perhaps from architecture, since wood was in high demand at the time.
The overall construction is inferior, but the decoration is rather high quality, including the use of the esteemed Egyptian blue paint. This suggests the correct decorations were used to ensure the deceased’s passage to the afterlife but not much attention was paid to construction because the coffin was expected to fall victim to the frequent tomb robberies at the time. Indeed, this eventually occurred since the coffin is associated with the Poor Mummy, who died about 600 years after the coffin was built. However, we don’t know if she was placed in this coffin at the time of her death or when McClelland bought the mummy.
The new findings about the mummies and coffins will be displayed in the Egyptian Mummies gallery later in 2017. In the meantime don’t miss the temporary exhibition Mummies: New Secrets from the Tombs.