Grain mummy goes to the hospital

SUZANNE DAVIS, Curator of Conservation

Last week our colleagues Ron Bude and Michele Sakala, who are MDs in the Radiology Department of  the University of Michigan Health System, arranged for the Kelsey’s grain mummy (and his friends cat mummy and hawk mummy) to have CT scans at the U-M Hospital.

oct_image-1
The grain mummy and the animal mummies positioned on the CT scanner bed.

 

These little mummies are not sick! But CT scanning — computerized tomography scanning — is a great, nondestructive way to look inside an archaeological artifact. This technique uses x-rays, but it’s more detailed than a regular x-ray. The scanner takes images from many different angles, and then special software combines these to create cross-sectional images, or slices, of what was scanned.

 

oct_image-2
Patient identification sign on the scanner.

 

With CT scanning, we’re hoping to see what’s actually inside these objects. For example, what kind of grain is inside the grain mummy? And, are there any little amulets in there with it? What about the cat mummy? Does it actually have cat bones inside?

We don’t have results yet, so stay tuned! We did have a great time at the hospital, which is not something one often says, and the Kelsey artifacts were quite popular with Radiology staff members. Apparently, when you use radiology every day as a diagnostic tool for humans, a cat mummy makes a nice change of pace!

 

oct_image-3
Dr. Ron Bude and the U-M Radiology team who assisted with the scans.

Ugly Object of the Month — August 2015

BY CARRIE ROBERTS, Conservator, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

Hawk mummies
Above, hawk mummy #1. Below, hawk mummy #2.

This month’s ugly object is a double feature! (Or creature feature, depending on how you look at it.) Here we have two not-so-lovely, but oh-so fascinating, Egyptian hawk mummies. While neither of these mummies is beautiful per se, they are perfect examples of the ancient Egyptian practice of animal worship. Certain animals were sacred to the Egyptians, and hawks and falcons were closely tied to the sun god Horus. Animal mummies such as these were often left at temples as an offering to the deity residing there. I like this intriguing pair because while they each appear to be mummified birds, one of these mummies is not necessarily like the other.

To meet the demand for mummy offerings, stalls were set up outside the temple where worshipers could buy animal mummies. Sometimes the supply of animal remains couldn’t keep up with the demand, leading to somewhat “shady” practices. It was not uncommon for mummies purported to represent one animal to be composed of … well, other things. Some of you might remember the dog mummy featured in the recent Kelsey Museum exhibition Death Dogs: The Jackal Gods of Ancient Egypt. Looking closely at an X-ray of the mummy, KMA Associate Research Scientist Richard Redding was able to identify a number of bones — none of which belonged to a dog.

Our two hawk mummies are similar in shape and color. They are similarly prepared—each wrapped in linen and treated with resin. But only one reveals what’s going on inside. The beak and eyes of hawk mummy number one peek through its wrappings, as if to say — see? Genuine article, folks! No ibis bones here!

Hawk mummy #1
Detail of the hawk’s conspicuous face and head.

Hawk mummy number two has no such pretentions; there is no visible beak to show the customer they are getting the real deal. Back then, buyers would have had to depend on the word of the vendor and shape of the wrappings. Today, ethical considerations prevent us from physically peeling back the wrappings to discover what animal lies beneath. Only an x-ray, or CT scan, can shed light on the true identity of mummy number two.

What do you think? Hawk … or faux hawk?

Come see the hawk mummies for yourselves! They are currently on display in the exhibition Passionate Curiosities: Collecting in Egypt and the Near East, 1880s–1950s, until November 29 at the Kelsey.

My Favorite Artifact

When it comes to the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology’s collections, not all artifacts are created equal. Some call out to us intellectually, others emotionally.

BY DAWN JOHNSON, Associate Director, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, University of Michigan.

hawkmummy

Favorite Artifact: Hawk mummy. Ptolemaic period (332 BC–AD 100). Egypt (Bayview Collection). KM 1971.2.182

Why. “I saw this hawk mummy on my first tour of the museum’s collections in storage. A different hawk mummy is on display in our permanent collections that I also like. But I’m a very visual person, so this hawk mummy’s distinctive beak profile and vigilant turn of head formed a beautiful line that caught my eye immediately. The linen bandages seem to wrap around its head like a cloak.

The hawk’s intelligence and keen visual ability equip it to be a kind of ‘avian foodie!’ As a ‘foodie’ myself, I admire its skillful and intelligent approach to hunting at night for exactly the perfect meal, not settling for just any sustenance. Really, I think of them as the sophisticated diners of the avian world.”

About Artifact:
Although currently not on public exhibit, this hawk mummy last appeared in the Kelsey’s Conserving Antiquity special exhibition from November 2, 2012 to February 10, 2013. A picture of it appears in the Kelsey publication Life, Death, and Afterlife in Ancient Egypt: The Djehutymose Coffin in the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology by T. G. Wilfong (figure 12).

Background. One distinctive feature of Egyptian religion is the association of gods with animals. Temples often featured animal cults, in which an animal was revered as a symbol of a particular god. Animal cult centers, such as the temples of crocodile gods at Karanis and Soknopaiou Nesos, became pilgrimage and tourist destinations, with cemeteries where cult animals would be mummified and buried as offerings. Greek and Roman visitors were baffled by what they saw as animal worship in Egypt but failed to understand the complex relationship between god and animal in Egyptian thought. Animal cults had roots in Egyptian prehistory and survived well after the introduction of Christianity into Egypt; the last known animal cult in Egypt was active up to AD 340, and others may have persisted longer.

Find It. Currently, this particular hawk mummy is not on public exhibit. Scholars may inquire for more information from Museum Collections Coordinator Sebastián Encina at sencina@umich.edu.

However, another hawk mummy is on exhibit on the first floor of the William E. Upjohn Exhibit Wing. To find it, look for the statue of the seated priest near the stairway to the second floor. From there, go left one exhibit case. Then turn right to face the case. It’s in the lower third of the exhibit.

Learn More. Life, Death, and Afterlife in Ancient Egypt: The Djehutymose Coffin in the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, by T. G. Wilfong.