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Science & Technology
A covered mummy [pic: Manchester Museum]
'Uncover the mummies'
by Bob Partridge
Manchester Museum's decision to cover up three of its Egyptian mummies has fuelled a debate about how human remains should be displayed. Bob Partridge, chairman of Manchester Ancient Egypt Society, believes the museum is making a big mistake:
Manchester Museum is home to one of the largest collections of ancient Egyptian artefacts in the UK
The Museum has more than 1,700 items of human remains, ranging from objects made of human bone to complete human mummies
Around a dozen mummies are on display in the Egyptian gallery
The unwrapped mummy of Asru, the partially-wrapped mummy of Khary, and a child mummy have been covered
"The Egyptian collection in the Manchester Museum is one of the most important in the country and has achieved world-wide recognition. The displays have, since the museum first opened, done exactly what a University Museum should do, to inform and educate the public, enthusiasts and experts alike.
"The mummies in the collection have achieved their own national and international recognition following the detailed study of them over many years. Around a dozen mummies are on display in the Egyptian gallery and it is three of these which were partially unwrapped and have now been completely covered.
Egyptologist Bob Partridge
"The decision to cover these mummies was apparently taken because of negative comments received, although the implication is that the vast majority of visitors had no objections. In UK museums, only a few mummies are actually displayed unwrapped and in Egypt, in the Tomb of Tutankhamun, the king’s mummy was recently put on public display for the first time.
"The museum has stated that the covering was in line with 'government guidelines' but these are non-statutory, and make it clear that each institution should decide its own policy, which Manchester has done, so the covering is also 'in line with its Human Remains Policy'.
[Bob Partridge continues] "However, I find this incomprehensible and inconsistent, for in the very same building a much publicised exhibition has recently opened of the uncovered body of 'Lindow Man'. Lindow Man can be displayed, apparently, because it is 'in the way it was found' and only after a 'consultation process'.
"The Manchester Museum is liable to lose its academic credibility by the actions taken. It was the first in the world to scientifically examine its mummies and to display them sensitively as real people with real lives and interesting stories to tell. Museums in the UK and all around the world are still following this example today.
"The Manchester Mummies encourage visitors think and react to the past and makes ancient Egypt 'real' to people in a way that is just not possible any other way.
"If unwrapped mummies are not on display, then the public’s knowledge of the appearance of mummies, is likely to be the bandage-dripping, vengeful monsters portrayed in films, and the Museum should show that the reality is very different.
"It is clear from comments left in the museum and on the museum’s web site, that the great majority of visitors want the mummies on display and uncovered.
"I would hope that in the light of this feedback the Museum will review its Human Remains policy with regards to the display of ancient Egyptian remains and uncover the mummies immediately and ensure that they are included in any future reorganisation of the galleries in the museum."
Bob Partridge is Editor of Ancient Egypt magazine and Chairman of the Manchester Ancient Egypt Society
last updated: 23/05/2008 at 17:54
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