The traveling exhibit Mummies re-opened at The Field Museum of Natural History on Friday, March 16, 2018 and will remain open through Sunday, April 21, 2019. [Update: Mummies is now scheduled to close on Sunday, April 28, 2019.] Entry requires either a Discovery pass or an All-Access pass. Discover Card and United Airlines are the major sponsors.
“Mummies,” The Field Museum stated, “uses modern technologies to take an unparalleled look at the remains of the ancient people within the wrappings. With the help of CT scanners and 3D imaging, scientists can explore what these people’s lives may have been like and even what they looked like when they were alive. Visitors will be able to examine Egyptian mummies as never before, in addition to those from other places and cultures like South America.”
The exhibit compliments two permanent exhibits: Inside Ancient Egypt and the Robert R. McCormick Halls of the Ancient Americas. “One of the unique things about this exhibition is the inclusion of the Peruvian mummification traditions, which started much earlier than in Egypt and lasted until the Spanish conquest [about] 500 years ago,” stated Curator Ryan Williams. “That seven thousand year history of Andean mummification is something most people have never heard previously.”
This is a traveling exhibit that The Field Museum created. It returned home last year in time for the 125th anniversary of the foundation of The Field Museum after the closure of Chicago’s first World’s Fair, the World’s Columbian Exposition (1893). “It’s been a great way for us to share Field Museum science with people all over the country, not just Chicago,” explicated Janet Hong, Exhibitions Project Manager. “Because the exhibition is back at its home base, we’ll be able to include some cool artifacts that were too fragile to send out on the road.”
The Field Museum stated, “This illuminative exhibit uses cutting-edge technology to take a look at mummies in a new light. By using CT scanners and 3D imaging, researchers have glimpsed the people beneath the wrappings—people that actually lived thousands of years ago. Visitors will be able to explore mummies and artifacts with digital interactives, like touch tables of 3D scans of mummies, and see full-sized dioramas of what burials looked like.”
Examples of new, rare artifacts that are on display at The Field Museum and were not on display at other museums include a two-and-a-half-foot-tall Peruvian beer jars that, fittingly, were originally shown at the World’s Columbian Exposition. Artifacts such as these relate a human story and help researchers illustrate the lives of ancient people.
“This exhibition allows visitors to see how we use modern technologies to learn about the lives of ancient peoples and cultures,” explained Curator Bill Parkinson. “Before, you would have to unwrap the mummy, or even cut it open, to learn more about it. Now we can use non-destructive methods to learn so much more about the past.”
Mummies examines the lifestyles and even the physical appearances of mummies in the exhibit, conveying that these mummies are human remains. These mummified people had much in common with people today.
One mummy on display is a woman who lived 1,500 years ago in Egypt, and we can even tell that she had curly hair, a slight overbite, and died in her forties. A Peruvian mummy bundle consists of a mother and her newborn baby, indicating they died together in childbirth, including goods they would have had with them like food and weaving spindles.
Sculptures in the exhibit by the French artist Elisabeth Daynès, who used 3D data to create lifelike renderings, depict what these people looked like when they were alive. “The sculptures ate very beautiful, and stunningly realistic. You get the feeling that you’re really face-to-face with people who lived thousands of years ago,” stated Ms. Hong.
Figure 1 Credit: © The Field Museum Caption: After CT scanning a mummy in the museum’s collections, called the Gilded Lady, scientists discovered she was a woman in her early forties with curly hair, who likely died of tuberculosis.
Figure 2 Credit: Karen Bean, © The Field Museum Caption: The Gilded Lady mummy, an ancient Egyptian woman, awaits CT scanning, a non-invasive method that allows scientists to see vivid details of the preserved individual and thousands of cross-section images.
Figure 3 Credit: John Weinstein, © The Field Museum Caption: The Gilded Lady, an intact, carefully preserved mummy from Roman-era Egypt (30 B.C. – 646 A.D.) has a coffin with a gold gilded headdress made of cartonnage (glued layers of papyrus or linen). Ancient Egyptians believed gold would preserve a person’s nose, mouth, and eyes in the afterlife.
Figure 4 Credit: Élisabeth Daynès © 2012 The Field Museum Caption: This sculpture, made by French forensic recreation artist Élisabeth Daynès, portrays the woman inside the Gilded Lady mummy as she may have looked in real life in ancient Egypt.
Figure 5 Credit: John Weinstein, © 2015 The Field Museum Caption: This mummy, with beautifully painted cartonnage and a gilded mask, holds a boy of about fourteen years old who died around 350 B.C. in the Ptolemaic era of ancient Egypt. The wooden coffin was opened for the first time in 100 years for the Mummies exhibit, in which the elaborately decorated mummy and coffin are featured along with CT scan images of the boy’s remains.
Figure 6 Credit: John Weinstein, © 2015 The Field Museum Caption: This painted coffin and the mummy inside it are from the late 25th or early 26th Dynasty of ancient Egypt, or approximately 700 to 600 B.C., and are featured in Mummies.
Figure 7 Credit: John Weinstein, © 2015 The Field Museum Caption: Detail of a coffin from the late 25th or early 26th Dynasty in ancient Egypt, or approximately 700 to 600 B.C.
Figure 8 Credit: John Weinstein, © 2015 The Field Museum Caption: In the details on this coffin, you can see on the upper band, the ibis-headed god named Thoth, who is holding the hand of a deceased man and introducing him to Osiris, the god of the underworld who is wearing a white headdress. In the lower band Anubis, a jackal-headed god, is embalming the man.
Figure 9 Credit: John Weinstein, © 2015 The Field Museum Caption: In these details you can see the deceased man beingembalmed by the jackal-headed god Anubis.
Figure 10 Credit: John Weinstein, © 2015 The Field Museum Caption: Intricately wrapped, mummified baby crocodile which was buried as an offering in an ancient Egyptian tomb.
Figure 11 Credit: John Weinstein, © 2015 The Field Museum Caption: An ancient Egyptian mummified gazelle.
Figure 12 Credit: John Weinstein, © 2015 The Field Museum Caption: These vessels, called canopic jars, were used by the ancient Egyptians to preserve organs including the stomach, liver, lungs, and intestines which they believed were needed in the afterlife. Often the jars were representations of deities who protected organs, such as the jackal-headed jar that held a stomach, which was dried and wrapped in linens.
Figure 13 Credit: John Weinstein, © 2015 The Field Museum Caption: This guardian figurine was buried with the mummified remains of a loved one, along with food and everyday objects, in the Chancay culture of Peru a thousand years ago.
Figure 14 Credit: John Weinstein, © 2015 The Field Museum Caption: Made in the Wari culture (800-100 BC), this double-spouted jar with the face of a jaguar was the type of fine ceramic that was often buried with the mummified dead.
Figure 15 Credit: The Field Museum Caption: This three-foot-tall jar was used by the Inca to serve corn beer and is decorated with the same designs used on Inca imperial clothing. It may have been used in feasts at which the mummified remains of previous Inca emperors were brought out for consultation by living emperors.
Figure 16 Credit: The Field Museum Caption: This picture was taken in Mummies on March 12, 2018.
Figure 17 Credit: The Field Museum Caption: This picture of museum visitors looking at exhibit labels was taken in Mummies on March 12, 2018.
Figure 18 Credit: The Field Museum Caption: This picture of a family looking at a mummy in a CT scanner was taken in Mummies on March 12, 2018.
Video Credit: The Field Museum Caption: Mummies is a traveling exhibit developed by The Field Museum that compliments the permanent exhibits Inside Ancient Egypt and the Hall of Ancient Americas. It brings together mummified human remains and artifacts from ancient Egypt and pre-Columbian Peru. Guests learn how modern technology enables scholars to learn how mummified people looked when they were alive, reconstruct how they died, and gain other valuable insights into the conditions in which the mummified people lived.