Humanities museum showcases rare mummies
October 17, 2008 5:45 PM
There are two dead bodies in the Humanities building, and everyone is invited to see.
Two mummies, part of SF State’s permanent archeological collection, will be on display in the Humanities building, along with other artifacts from the Sutro Egyptian Collection. The exhibit is from Nov. 3 through Dec. 12, and admission is free.
Staffers estimate that the two mummies are around 3,500 years old. In past exhibits, students from schools such as Lakeshore Elementary would gather around the mummies in excitement. Christine Fogarty, the program administrator for museum studies, said the amazed children would smell the mummies through small holes in the glass casings.
Heather Graybehl, a curatorial associate for museum studies, said the mummies sparked the children’s imaginations and many would invent theories as to how the preserved corpses died long ago.
“I always got questions like ‘Is the mummy cursed?’ and ‘How did the mummy die?’” Graybehl said.
This year, at least 10 classes from schools around the Bay Area will visit the SF State museum on a field trip, Fogarty said.
The mummies’ actual cause of death is less spectacular than many of the kids’ eccentric speculations. According to CT scans, the mummy named Nes-Per-N-Nub died of natural causes. However, not much is known about the death of the other mummy, whose name is not written in hieroglyphics on her coffin. The department knows that it is a female, and gave her the nickname “the Yellow Mummy” after her yellow sarcophagus.
What happened after the Yellow Mummy’s death is even more mysterious. Inside her linen wrappings lie the bones of multiple bodies, according to X-ray scans of the mummy.
Fogarty said the bones could be evidence of a grave robbery that happened more than a thousand years ago. Fogarty theorized that somebody unwrapped the Yellow Mummy while looting her sarcophagus in search of valuable jewels and trinkets. Fogarty guessed that the looters reassembled the Yellow Mummy poorly, placing bones from different bodies inside of her wrappings.
Nes-Per-N-Nub, whose name was as common in ancient Egypt as Joe is in America today, has an equally interesting background. Fogarty said he believes the mummy was once a priest of great importance because of his extremely rare triple nesting sarcophagus.
Much like a Russian nesting doll, the mummy was buried with three sarcophaguses that fit together as one.
Including the one at SF State, there are only three triple nesting sarcophaguses in the United States. All three parts of Nes-Per-N-Nub’s sarcophagus will be available for viewing.
The pair are part of a new exhibit titled “Agatha Christie’s Egypt – Life on the Nile in the 1930s,” which will be open 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Friday in the Museum of Ancient Civilizations. The museum, located in Room 510, is open twice a year and put on by SF State’s museum studies program.
The exhibit is named after Agatha Christie, a famous 20th century mystery novelist whose husband studied in Egypt as an archeologist. Christie’s murder mystery, “Death on the Nile” was inspired by her husband’s work in Egypt.
“A museum is like a time machine,” said Linda Ellis, the director of the museum studies department. “It gives [visitors] an idea of what it looked like in the 1930s. The exhibit’s not really about Agatha Christie, but she popularized ancient Egypt in fiction.”
The exhibit is being constructed by museum studies students, who have worked on everything from designing the floor plan to choosing which artifacts to display. Last spring, Fogarty estimated that 1,500 students visited the museum, and students are working vigorously to have the exhibit ready by Nov. 3.
“It definitely takes like two months of nonstop work to put it on,” Graybehl said. “It’s a big production.”
In the spirit of Halloween, the exhibit will be open for a special preview on Oct. 31, from 2 to 6 p.m.
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