Mummies have been objects of horror and fascination in popular culture since the early 1800s at least — over a century before Boris Karloff portrayed an ancient Egyptian searching for his lost love in the 1932 film “The Mummy.”
Public “unwrappings” of mummified human remains performed by both showmen and scientists heightened the fascination, but also helped develop the growing science of Egyptology.
Margaret Murray, third from left, and team after unwrapping Khnum-Nakht
Dr. Kathleen Sheppard an historian from the Missouri University of Science and Technology argues this point in her latest article entitled “Between Spectacle and Science: Margaret Murray and the Tomb of the Two Brothers” in the December issue of the journal Science in Context.
A public spectacle
While mummy unwrappings served as public spectacles that objectified exotic artefacts, they were also scientific investigations that sought to reveal medical and historical information about ancient life.
On Thursday, 7 May 1908, The Manchester Guardian reported the unveiling of human remains in the Chemistry Theatre at Manchester University. As the “peering collection” of men and women looked on:
“[the ancient mummy] Khnumu Nekht was bared of his wrappings and brought once more to the light of day. . . . Near the body the linen sheets had rotted, and they fell to pieces at a touch. The bones, however, were more or less perfect. There were traces of flesh on them. It was on the whole a gruesome business, and one or two people left early. (“Mummy of Khnumu Nekht” 1908)”
Margaret Alice Murray, was leading the “gruesome business” at the front of the theatre, wearing a white pinafore apron and her hair neatly pinned back.
A few notes survive from the unwrapping in the archives of the Manchester Museum. The only detailed report of the investigation, The Tomb of the Two Brothers, was published two years later and remains today one of the leading studies of the mummification processes and human remains of Middle Kingdom Egypt.
Educating the public
Sheppard says Egyptologist Margaret Murray, the first woman to publicly unwrap a mummy, sought to unravel the mysteries of ancient Egypt by exposing mummified human remains. She says Murray’s work is culturally significant because it is “poised between spectacle and science, drawing morbid public interest while also producing ground-breaking scientific work that continues to this day.”
Margaret Murray and team unwrapping Khnum-Nakht in the Chemistry Auditorium, University of Manchester.
Mummy Unwrapping Parties
"Nobody knows when mummy unwrapping parties first started, but royalty used to throw them quite often. Although mummy unwrapping ultimately went out of fashion, mummies never have."
Mummy Unwrapping Parties were a very popular social event in Victorian England. After dinner the guests would retire to the parlor and the mummy would be unwrapped to reveal the contents and search for trinkets, which the guests would keep as party favors.
Pressure from the United Patriots Front Stops Mosque Plan 2016-04-28 20:10
Pressure from the United Patriots Front appears to have killed off a mosque development in Narre Warren North.
The City of Casey council now looks likely to withhold planning approval for the development in a special meeting set for Tuesday night.
A council report, to be considered by councillors on Tuesday, recommends that the approval be blocked.
The mosque opponents’ cause has been helped by councillor ...
Police face questions over the influence of the Freemasons 2016-04-28 20:48
South Yorkshire Police today face questions over whether powerful 'secret society' the Freemasons held sway over the force at the time of Hillsborough.
Families of victims say that officers who were Masons were promoted into powerful positions despite being ill-equipped, including match commander David Duckenfield.
Duckenfield told the fresh inquests he had been a Freemason since 1975 and became head of his ...
England Bans its Own Flag to Avoid Offending Muslims 2016-04-27 2:23 St. George's Cross "racist" towards immigrants
Government officials said their city was ‘too multicultural’ to celebrate St George’s Day, England’s version of the 4th of July.
The council said that displaying the English flag may have been seen as “racist” towards immigrants.
Half of Western European men descended from one Bronze Age ‘king’ 2016-04-27 2:09
Half of Western European men are descended from one Bronze Age ‘king’ who sired a dynasty of elite nobles which spread throughout Europe, a new study has shown.
The monarch, who lived around 4,000 years ago, is likely to have been one of the earliest chieftains to take power in the continent.
He was part of a new order which emerged in ...
"Local Residents" Are Filmed Stealing Dozens of Bottles of Water at London Marathon Stop 2016-04-25 23:10
Editor's Comment: "Local" residents? Why bother blurring their faces? We know who they are.
London marathon runners were robbed of dozens of bottled waters when thieves raided a refreshment area armed with trolleys during today's race.
Nearby residents - including parents with children - were captured on camera piling up crates of free water handed out by volunteers during the 26-mile event.