Tag Archives: mummified


peruvian mummified male

c. 1200 – 1400

This preserved mummy, a member of the Chimu culture that flourished from around 1100 until it was absorbed into the Inca civilisation in the late 1400s, is from the north coast of Peru.

On burial, the body would have been seated in an upright position, with the head on its knees. The body was interred with personal possessions, ritual objects and food offerings, revealing a strong belief in a continuing existence after death.


Mummies of the World exhibition

The exhibition Mummies of the World began with a mysterious and rare find of 20 human mummies hidden in the basement of the Reiss-Engelhorn Museums in Mannheim, Germany in 2004.  The mummies, which once belonged to artist Gabriel von Max (1840–1915) were thought to have been destroyed or lost during World War II.  This startling discovery prompted the most important research project ever undertaken with regard to mummies.  Without documentation explaining who they were, where they were from or why they were collected, an international team of scientists from many disciplines studied the mummies.  Their studies and research, known as the German Mummy Project, is the largest mummy research project in the world.  The results of their research and studies are presented in the Mummies of the World exhibition, made possible through the collaboration of 21 world-renowned museums, organizations and collections from seven countries, and is currently on show in LA.

The allure of Mummies

Walk into the British Museum on any given day and I can guarantee you the two busiest rooms will linked by a common theme. I can go further and predict that half the visitors to one of those rooms will be in fact actually scanning the area for something that’s found in the other room! 

If you havent guessed what I’m referring to it’s the Egyptian rooms and that old crowd pleaser mummies. 

There is undoubtably something of the star quality about a good mummy on display – gruesome you might say, but intriguing and quite frankly wonderous too in my opinion. 

Mummies and mummification has been around for a very long time indeed – practised not just by the famous Egyptians but also by the Inca’s and many other cultures. I have previously written about mummified cats but lets take a moment to appreciate some other fine human examples…and to start off the Mona Lisa of the mummy world – Tutankhamun:

King Tutankhamun Head

King Tutankhamun's Head

King Tutankhamun's Feet

King Tutankhamun's Feet

 And South America’s finest the Peruvian mummy:

Inca mummy

Inca mummy

Mummified Cats – the easy care pet

Ancient Egyptians had some great ideas, slave labour, beautiful tombs and pyramids being just three of them.  

Perhaps the best though was their preservation of the king of animals….cats!  

Beautiful examples can be in the Egyptian afterlife rooms of London’s British Museum, have a look at one below:  

Mummy of a cat, Roman period after 30 BC

Mummy of a cat, Roman period after 30 BC

Shrunken heads, trepanned skulls, tattoos and torture in Euston

Childhood memories are sacred things. An abiding fixation of my formative years relates to weekend visits to the upper echelons of the Science Museum and to the Wellcome collection that still today resides in some semblance there.

Shrunken Head

Shrunken Head, Shuar people

One object out of all the treasures in that collection became a vivid obsession for me – a shrunken head. This object of such complete wonder, such allure is now housed in the Wellcome Collection on Euston Road in London in their ‘Medicine Man’ gallery. It is now presented in all its wonder alongside other artifacts from all corners of the globe that were amassed by the great medical curiosity collector Henry Wellcome.

Henry Wellcome was a man of many parts: entrepreneur, philanthropist, patron of science and pioneer of aerial photography. He also created one of the world’s great museums: a vast stockpile of evidence about our universal interest in health and the body.

More than 150 years after his birth in 1853, this exhibition reunites a cross-section of extraordinary objects from his collection, ranging from diagnostic dolls to Japanese sex aids, and from Napoleon’s toothbrush to George III’s hair. It also provides a very different perspective on some of our own obsessions with medicine and health.

In ‘Medicine Man’ some objects are gathered by type and others by broad cross-cultural themes. Objects that can to some represent the grotesque and repellant are shown to be fascinating reflections of the culture they were products of. What is clear to me even all those years ago with my nose pressed to the glass display case of the shrunken head is that beauty can be found in places far from where you would expect, and while I still want a shrunken head of my own I will content myself with visits to this fine gallery for now!

For those wanting to know more about the Wellcome collection Frances Larson’s An Infinity of Things: How Sir Henry Wellcome Collected the World is a fine insight into the mind of the man behind it all.