On Sunday, I went to the British Museum with my brother and sister-in-law. We like our trips to the BM, and this time we went to see the “Ancient Lives, New Discoveries,” exhibition, which is on until 19 April 2015.
This exhibition focussed on the bodies of eight mummies of varying ages (and when I say ages, I mean the time in which they were mummified rather than the age when they died). Apparently, the BM has never been one of those museums that unwrapped the mummies that came into its possession because it usually causes damage to the remains and therefore devalues the scientific value. So what the BM has done is to use CT scanning technology to see what was going on inside.
The process of mummification is interesting, in how it evolved and what it entailed. Much like Gebelain man, in the very early days of ancient Egypt, the bodies were wrapped in a sheet and buried in the desert, often with pots (for the food for the body in the afterlife). A combination of the heat of the sand and the physical properties of the sand itself dried the moisture and fats out of the bodies pretty quickly leaving a naturally preserved “mummy.” (Sand is one of the methods used by head hunters to shrink heads. I’ll say no more at present. Please don’t ask how I know this, you really don’t want to know.)
After a while, instead of just putting the bodies in the ground, the ancient Egyptians started putting the bodies in coffins, which protected the body but didn’t allow for the mummification process to take place so they developed the embalming process.
The eight mummies were different ages when they died, and all had had different professions in life. It started with Gebelain man B, who would have been between age 20 to 35 years old at the time of his death, about 3500 years BC. This mummy is pretty well preserved overall, with most of the internal organs intact.
The others were all mummified by more traditional methods – where they were embalmed and prepared for the afterlife, which was the Egyptian tradition.
If you would like more information, the link to the BM website is here, but I fully recommend that you go to see the exhibition. It’s not free, but well worth the price.
The whole exhibition was quite amazing. I apologise to my American readers for my British propensity towards understatement. What I really mean is that it was awesome! (I have never before spoken, let alone written, that word and I feel quite the rebel. However, I digress.) Gebelain man was both interesting and a little bit… strange? Freaky? I’m not quite sure what but Ali felt it too.
Something I didn’t know about the Egyptians before, although I probably should have realised had I given it any thought, was that they suffered dreadfully from tooth decay and associated problems. The reason I think I should have cottoned on to this is that I know that they ate a lot of fruit, which contains fructose. Dates and figs, lovely though they are, are filled to the gunnels with fructose and other sugars. The Egyptians would have dried them, as they do today, for preservation purposes, which just increases the sugar content per item. The poor Egyptians didn’t have Oral B and Colgate to help them out.
The other thing that struck all three of us was that a number of Egyptians seemed to have problems with atherosclerosis and heart disease. I know that there is a link between gum disease and heart disease (something to do with the bacteria) but the Egyptians didn’t seem to eat a great deal of meat. It seems that they didn’t get a lot of exercise and had a lot of saturated fat in their diets, at least the wealthy ones did. It’s been suggested by experts at the KNH Centre for Biomedical Egyptology in Manchester that the poor people may got the atherosclerosis because of infection or smoke inhalation.
We’d booked to go for lunch at the museum restaurant after we’d finished at the exhibition, as part of the ongoing birthday celebrations. The restaurant is upstairs in the Great Court, which was designed by Sir Norman Foster. For those of you have never been there, my I suggest a visit? The BM is fantastic in itself, but the Great Court is a fine piece of architecture. Once open to the elements, it now has a wonderful glass ceiling, complete with self cleaning glass, which gives it an open, airy feel while being warm and dry. (Would that all the glass in my house was self-cleaning!)
There was a good selection on the a la carte menu. The usual starters and main courses but also a good range of salads (and not just two lettuce leaves and half a tomato type salads, Ali had a cauliflower salad, which she said was very good). They also had a selection of charcuterie plates and cheese plates, and a set menu. We thought that the set menu was going to be Egyptian themed, because of our exhibition, but it was Chinese themed, for the Ming Exhibition that is running concurrently.
The food was actually quite good, but then I suppose, as so many of the galleries, etc, are getting top chefs into their restaurants nowadays, it’s a competitive market, so they all need to be on top of their game.
© Susan Shirley 2014