Full body cartonnage case of Takhenmes. Cartonnage is similar to papier mache, and is decorated with funerary inscriptions comprising of a decorated wig, fillet, a scarab on top of the head and a floral collar.
The marvels of one of humanity’s greatest civilizations—and one of their most mysterious and intriguing practices—will be on display at the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium this season in the blockbuster exhibit “Afterlife: Tombs and Treasures of Ancient Egypt.” On display from October 11 through April 18, the exhibit will include original artifacts, a reconstructed tomb and mummies—one of which is rumored to carry a curse to all the museums it visits.
Created by the United Exhibits Group of Copenhagen in cooperation with the Bolton Museum in England, most of the Egyptian artifacts stem from the collection donated to museum by Annie Barlow, the daughter of a mill owner from Bolton, England in the late 1800s. While accompanying her father on expeditions to the Egypt to purchase cotton, she fell in love with Egyptian antiquity, helping raise funds for the Egypt Exploration Society of Great Britain for excavation projects throughout the region. The majority of the artifacts on display in ”Afterlife” were discovered at sites throughout Egypt and the Middle East, including the Valley of the Kings and Deir el Bahri in Luxor.
“The exhibit includes nearly 6,000 years of Egyptian history,” says Lew Crampton, president and CEO of SFSCA. “There are artifacts relating to the lives of Egyptians and, of course, the afterlife.”
A blockbuster in every sense of the word, “Afterlife” lets museumgoers don their Egyptologist helmets and explore the tomb of Thutmose III, the great warrior pharaoh who oversaw the expansion of the empire to incorporate a swath of land ranging from Syria through Canaan to Nubia from 1479-1425 BCE. Within the tomb, which is a reconstruction of Thutmose’s tomb discovered in the Valley of the Kings in 1898 by French Egyptologist Victor Loret, guests will find original artifacts excavated from Egyptian tombs, including a mummy and coffin. The walls and columns are covered with an extensive collection of hieroglyphics and script making up the Amduat—translated as “That Which is in the Afterworld”—an ancient Egyptian funerary text reserved for pharaohs.
“Essentially, [the Amduat] parallels the path of the sun as it rises in the morning, sets at night and then rises again,” Crampton says. “When the sun is not around, there are all kinds of perils, all kinds of gods trying to keep it from rising. So the sun needs a lot of help from various gods to rise again. This transmogrified over to the same kind of journey the pharaoh would make through the underworld to emerge on the dawn of a new life—of the afterlife.”
This journey comes to striking reality with the collection on display. Starting with artifacts from Egyptians’ everyday lives that boggle the mind in not only their sophistication but their artistry as well, the exhibit illustrates the cultural significance of death and the afterlife through more than 200 pieces, making “Afterlife” the largest traveling exhibit of original artifacts in the United States. This includes animal mummies, an extraordinary number of human mummies, exquisite golden mummy masks and coffins and strange magical figures from ancient tombs. Each piece tells part of a greater story depicting the elaborate burial rituals that has captured the world’s collective imagination for centuries, such as the exceedingly rare ornamental gold eye and tongue pieces believed to allow the dead to see and speak in the afterlife. Also on display are animal-headed canopic jars that preserved the vital organs; ancient royal burial linen; finely painted coffins and masks meant to transport ancient Egyptians to the afterlife; jewelry in carnelian, crystal and amethyst; fine clothing thousands of years old; fragile baskets and jars; elegant cosmetic containers; and detailed artistic scenes of Egyptian people.
“Life in Egypt, in that day, was just about better than anywhere else in the world,” Crampton says, “so people loved their lives and wanted to keep living them, even after they died. And the pharaohs—who had the most money and land—were obviously more dedicated to living longer.”
The portion of the exhibit sure to stir the imagination of all who visit is the mummy display. This is a fascinating collection of remains, from animals destined to accompany their human counterparts into the afterlife to people young and old. The first mummy guests will encounter is that of the Panesittawy Coffin and a wrapped mummy containing the remains of a woman dating back to the Third Intermediate to Late Periods (roughly 1069-664 BCE). Little is known of this mummy aside from the name, Panesittawy, which was inscribed on the coffin.
A 3,000-year-old Egyptian mummy, whom scientists think was a girl between four and eight, will undergo a Computerized Tomography (CT) Scan at the Palm Beach Children’s Hospital at St. Mary’s Medical Center to help determine her cause of death.
On display alongside SFSCA’s resident mummy—the remains of a 5-year-old that dates to the Roman and Byzantine Egypt era (30 BCE-395 CE) and on loan from the Carlos Museum of Emory University—is the mummy of a young girl discovered in Gurob. Dating back to the Late Ptolemaic Period (100 BCE-100 CE), scientists originally thought the young girl may have died from tuberculosis, but many believe that diagnosis—derived from X-rays taken more than a decade ago—is inaccurate, which is where the science center steps in.
“There is a scientific mystery tied to this child mummy,” Crampton says, “so we are getting together with the radiologists and head of the hospital at [Palm Beach Children’s Hospital at] Saint Mary’s to have a CT Scan performed of the mummy [scheduled for October 10], after which the doctors at the hospital will come up with a diagnosis of how she died. It is more effective in educating people if you can tell a story. Telling the story of how she died makes it real.” The results of the CT Scan will be revealed October 16 at a joint press conference held by the hospital and SFSCA.
One of the most well preserved mummies in the world; the Ramesside mummy has been posited to be the remains of Ramesses II’s son. It also supposedly carries a curse, so viewers beware.
The last of the full mummies on display, and one of the most well-preserved mummies in the world, will take center stage in the exhibit’s tomb chamber, complete with an intricately designed coffin. Found in Thebes, on the west bank of the Nile, the coffin belonged to a chantress (an important position among priests) of Amun named Tayuhenet, dating back to 1069-945 BCE. However, the mummy found within was the body of a young man dating to 1295-1186 BCE, 300 years before Tayuhenet’s death. Interestingly enough, the television program Mummy Forensics on the History Channel determined the mummy was none other than the 25-year-old son of Ramesses II. It is unclear why or how the Ramesside mummy made it into this coffin, though theories range from the coffin being used to rebury a cache of mummies to a marketing ploy by local Egyptians trying to make it seem more interesting to European explorers as they “discovered” the burial remains of ancient Egyptians.
The final collection of remains lies in the “Disturbed Tomb,” a recreation of what some of Egyptian tombs resembled when explorers first entered the crypts. The result of multiple burials and grave robbing, some tombs contained a jumble of mixed linens and wrappings, amulets and jewelry, and human remains. Guests must look closely at the Disturbed Tomb at SFSCA to take in all that lies within, which contains mummified hands and heads, linen wrappings and an amulet, among other ancient remains.
Now, about that curse … it is reported that strange happenings have surrounded the mummy of Ramesside at nearly every museum it has visited. While on tour in Asia earlier this year, as the exhibit was being installed in a museum in Taipei, Taiwan, an earthquake struck the exact moment the mummy of Ramesside was being lowered into its coffin. The entirety of the museum’s lighting was knocked offline, except for one, single light—the one directly above Ramesside. Even though power had been completely cut to the building, it still shone. So for those looking to make it to SFSCA’s next Nights at the Museum—October 31—and Brendan Fraser happens to stroll through the doors, run.
- “Afterlife: Tombs and Treasures of Ancient Egypt” will be on display October 11 through April 18.
- Admission is $19.95 for adults ($8 for members), $15.95 for children.
- For more information, call 561-832-1988 or visit sfsciencecenter.org.