Monday, September 14, 2015

Preview: Mummies: New Secrets from the Tombs Opens

The hall was darkly lit, a figure of a short man with a cane walked past the dead. Toothy grins and dead eyes seemed to follow this man with a white silk beard and little on top, just enough to be recognized with hair. Every word he said was followed... not to long by a chuckle. If you asked him a question he would be delighted to answer you. He would explain the origin of the sarcophagus behind the glass. A transparent wall between you, the professor, and the mummy. Like out of a film, Dr. James Phillips spoke to us like a kindly professor might before you go on your own quest for adventure. Now you have a chance for your own slight adventure at the

Mummies: New Secrets from the Tombs
Opening to the public September 18, 2015 at 5pm-12am
 through January 18, 2016
Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
900 Exposition Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90007
Curators Dr. Phillips and Dr. Ryan Williams both showed us around the new exhibit of Egyptian and Peruvian mummies. Both come from the Field Museum of Chicago, Illinois. Dr. Phillips covered the ancient Egypt section of the tour.

"Buried contracted, put in the sand. Covered with fur from goats, linen and some reeds." Was the oldest mummy they had in the exhibit, far different from what we think of from the movies. Dr. Phillips told us it's the only mummy they had they wasn't buried in the long held Egyptian cultural practice of elongated and on the back.

Bags you might think kept ancient tools or were just used for storage are in reality more mummies at the exhibit. At their look and size you might find it hard to believe that what is left of a person is still inside. Or should I say persons.

One moment Dr. Phillips would be saying, "So they mummified anything and everything, " going on about pets and animals. Then he might say something profound about the how death in the culture was treated such as "You were born on the East and you die on the West, sun rises and sun sets."

On animals.. the first one you can dissect... is a gazelle on a tablet. That with some of the other mummies. You can play around and cut them at different points using the the CT scans at touch-tables located in the exhibit to say their...guts.

"Wheat and barley come from Israel and they definitely hate it. I was interviewed for an Egyptian newspaper ... and I happened to say that and they refused to publish it, " was one of the many small anecdotes Dr. Phillips said as we walked through the exhibit, later scoffing at the idea of skin color of one of the mummies. It being represented by a lighter skinned model that had been made alive again with new layers of meat and skin through technology. He agreed that they had no idea about the skin and it was just a guess based on what they knew of the people in the area of the time.

"This is a Roman mummy." Dr. Phillips started to explain as a sarcophagus that you could say looked gaudy compared to others was being discussed. He mentioned how the sarcophagus managed to have a bust, holes for earrings and a tiara, much different from the others already seen.

"We can look at the pelvic bone, for example, can be used to tell gender. The teeth can be sued to tell age. So we can see that in the CT scans." Dr. Ryan was questioned on how archaeologists and scientists can tell the difference of genders and ages among the mummies so he answered. No matter what the audience of reporters asked, Ryan explained in great detail on his section on Peruvian mummies.

Of note, that you might not remember learning or never learned is the art of skull shaping at young ages in both Peruvian and Egyptian culture, the exhibit shows off skulsl that don't look that quite human upon first approach. You can see the tools used to shape skulls. Let's hope that doesn't catch on as a fad anytime soon.

Peruvian mummification will be much different from what you know of the process as their practice had skin removal for a time.  Dr. Ryan Williams began answering some of our questions. "These cloth mummies, if you would like to call it aren't very well known." He continued that only at this point after so many years (thousands),  the bag is left, on top of it layers with precious textiles that showed the dead's funeral meant something  were one on it. "This exhibit opens people's eyes to that other world." The doctor was agreeing with me that schools rarely teach about the other mummies that are shown in his part of the exhibit. Peruvian practices of mummification is as fascinating as Egyptian.

"That particular type of mummification, where their skin is being peeled, flayed off. The musculature is being removed and the they're being re-sewn up is, is unique to that region." Dr. Williams was telling us the grim details of the differences of Peruvian mummies and the surrounding areas as we got to personally talk for a few moments about the exhibit.

"Later on people were just placed in their groups in very dry tombs and it was a natural desert environment that mummified them." Dr. Williams told us. So they exhibit takes you through years and years of the process until it ended.

Later he brought up the bog bodies of Europe, those who suffered a bad fate and had their bodies saved by the bogs to be studied later on. That led us to talk about the bodies on Mt. Everest, somewhere in the number of two hundred that litter that mountain perfectly preserved. Nature and location can sometimes prove to be the best at keeping human remains fresh for at least study.

The exhibit contains over twenty mummies from various ages. Though you might think of some uniformity on what you'll see, think again. This exhibit explores thousands of years and different practices of mummification taken from them. There is a little shock of seeing these ancient bones as rest at your feet or looking back at you with newly rendered skin via CT scans. From the "Gilded Lady" to the mummified baby crocodile it's something you'll want to see in person. You'll learn a little something more than from the movies, who even knew about the mummies of Peru?

So throw away your brain and only bring your heart to the exhibit, at least that's what the ancient Egyptians thought when saving what was important from your body. They placed those worthy organs in stylish canopic jars, which you can purchase at the gift shop.

Ms. Natalie Dominguez contributed to this story.