Jon Anne Willow

Mummies in Milwaukee!

By - Jul 28th, 2010 04:00 am
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To put at the top of your holiday season to-do list: Visit your mummy. On December 17, the Milwaukee Public Museum will unveil the Midwest debut of “Mummies of the World”, the largest collection of mummies and related artifacts ever assembled.

A potentially fascinating mix of ancient and near-present, this collection of over 150 items spans five continents and over 6,000 years. The oldest is a Peruvian child whose remains are radiocarbon dated to about 4500 B.C. – about 3,000 years before the birth of King Tut. It is the second oldest mummy ever found, and had been sitting in the archives of a German museum for over 200 years when rediscovered. Which makes one wonder what else is gathering dust in museum vaults around the world, but we’ll save that for another time.

The newest (for lack of a better term; I freely admit that I am no expert writer on the subject of the eternally preserved) is a family of 18th century (A.D.) mummies discovered in a long-abandoned church crypt in Vac, Hungary. They are the Orlovits – Michael, Veronica and infant son Johannes. Preserved serendipitously by a combination of climate and the pine oil from their coffins, the Orlovits are part of a larger group discovered in the same locale who, I guess, are sitting this tour out.

But cheek aside, “Mummies of the World” is a pretty fantastic collaboration that began with the German Mummy Project’s re-discovery of 20 mummies (again, what else has been lost over the centuries?) in 2004 in the Reiss-Engelhorn Museums of Mannheim. Using all the advanced science at their disposal, from MRI to mass spectrometry and everything in between to analyze their subjects, the original team of scientists were able to learn more about their subjects than had ever been done in the past. As interest in the project spread throughout the scientific community and was spurred on by for-profit touring exhibit producers American Exhibitions, Inc., the collaboration grew to include 21 museums, organizations and collections, culminating in the exhibit the Public Museum will host.

An exhibition of unusual size for its seeming lack of density – 12,000 square feet for 150 objects, including human and animal mummies and the stuff they were interred with – “Mummies of the World” will fill its space with interactive multimedia exhibits illustrating the scientific process of studying mummies non-invasively; hands-on opportunities (Ever wonder what a mummy feels like? Soon you’ll know firsthand.), video and more.

And as with many holiday outings, expect to stand in line. Milwaukee is only the second city in the world to host what’s bound to be a hot museum ticket over the next year or so (commercial curators American Exhibitions, Inc. spokesman James Delay said only that the U.S. engagement would be “limited”), and no future dates have been announced yet. The exhibit debuted in early July in Los Angeles, at the California Science Center.

For a peek into the science behind the mummy magic, enjoy this video, courtesy of American Exhibtions, Inc.

Categories: Life & Leisure

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