LASM celebrating unknown Egyptian’s 50 years in Baton Rouge
No magic tablets here.
You know, the kind that brings all the museum exhibits t life each night? And while on the subject, there’s no danger of awakening a cursed high priest, whose goal is to rule the world.
Isn’t that always the case in Hollywood? And these things happen only in the movies.
Well, imaginations can make a strong case for fantasy stories, too, and who knows how many kids have dreamed of their own adventures in the last half century after gazing upon the Louisiana Art & Science Museum’s mummy?
It would be easier to call him by name, that is, if he had one. But nowhere do the hieroglyphics on his cartonnage spell it out.
Cartonnage are the wrappings that bind his body, the first item most people use when identifying a mummy. And though these wrappings haven’t revealed much about the person inside them, it’s a known fact that he’s spent the last 50 years at rest in the museum.
So, call 2014 the Year of the Mummy, because the Louisiana Art & Science Museum is celebrating. Monthly events are planned to commemorate the Ancient Egyptian Exhibit, which began with the mummy lying in a glass case in the center of a room when the museum was housed inside the Old Governor’s Mansion.
There are lots of adults in Baton Rouge who can tell their stories of walking around the glass case, remembering how they gawked at the toes peeking out of the cartonnage. And fascinated by the red, curly hair that framed a sunken face.
Hair that they thought belonged to a girl.
“That was the story for a long time,” curator Elizabeth Weinstein says. “And the story grew when we displayed a smaller mummy beside the museum’s mummy when we moved to the train station. The smaller mummy had been onloand from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York since 1975, but visitors thought they were mother and child.”
But the child returned to his New York home in 2005, and it was discovered that the Louisiana Art & Science Museum’s mummy couldn’t be anyone’s mother.
He’s a guy. A guy with no name.
“We thought about giving him a name, but you have to understand that this was someone who believed in everlasting life,” Weinstein says. “He’s found it, and this is his final resting place. And that should be respected.”
From here, the rest of the mummy’s story is told throughout the exhibit, whose design is based on tombs found in the limestone cliffs in Thebes.
That’s the ancient Egyptian city in which the mummy lived in the Ptolemaic period from approximately 300 BC. He was part of a Philadelphia museum’s collection when the Louisiana Art & Science Museum, then called the Louisiana Art & Science Center, purchased him in 1964.
The idea was then-board member B.B. Taylor’s, who thought every museum needed a mummy. But, as Director Carol Gikas recalled in a 1986 interview, “We ran into trouble because you can’t carry a deceased person across state lines without the permission of the next of kin.”
Clearly, the young man in funerary wraps had no next of kin, and he eventually arrived at the museum which built a tomb for him in 1986 after moving to its riverside location. The Ptolemaic tomb was designed by Ben Kozak of Chicago, who also designed the King Tut exhibit for the Field Museum.
The exhibit underwent major renovations in 2007. It focuses on the Ptolemaic period, named for Alexander the Great’s general Ptolemy, which corresponds to the mummy’s lifetime. It includes exhibits on the Eyptians’ religion, which was spent preparing for life after death; funeral practices; a timeline, a world map and displays of ancient Greek, Roman and Egyptian artifacts.
Finally, there’s the faux limestone corridor which transports visitors to Ancient Egypt. Most adults will have to hunch over a little, because the people of this era were not very tall. Children, meantime, will have no trouble walking upright, letting their imaginations soar as the darkness at the tunnel’s end opens into the burial chamber.
The mummy rests in dim light behind the glass, not as close as he was to viewers in the Old Governor’s Mansion. Still, his toes are in full view, as is his red hair.
The exhibit proved to be one of the museum’s most popular. In 2013, total attendance was 168,966. About one-quarter of these visitors, or 41,215,visited the Ancient Egypt Gallery. This includes families with children, adults, school teachers and students as well as summer campers.
And though he has no name, parts of his biography have been pieced together.
Computerized and topography, or CT, scans were used to examine the mummy in 1984, 1986 and again on July 15, 2007, which St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Gonzales volunteered its services.
Also, in 2007, Mary Manhein of the FACES Laboratory at LSU examined the mummy and sent x-rays to forensic anthropologists throughout the country. Then came the reveal: the mummy wasn’t a woman but a young man. Examinations of his teeth and bones indicate that he was between 25 and 32 years old.
The FACES Laboratory produced a rendering of the man’s appearance based on his skeletal features. A copy of this drawing hangs in the exhibit near bust created by Jonathan Elias of the Akhmim Mummy Studies Consortium, who analyzed the 2007 results.
Elias determined that embalmers had not removed the organs, and the body mummified naturally by drying in Egypt’s hot, dry desert conditions. The organs are preserved, as is the brain, suggesting that the drying process was fully advanced at the time of the body’s delivery to the embalmers.
The rib cage experienced multiple fractures resulting from extreme pressure or a high energy impact. The mummy was transported by full-length stretcher bond to his body by the cartonnage, whose style is consistent with the Ptolemaic period.
As for the young man’s hair, it’s not known the reddish color is natural.
“As hair is not widely preserved in Egyptian mummies, its presence is noteworthy,” the museum’s narrative states. “An important aspect of the hair is its coiffed arrangement in the form of small ringlets around the crown of the head.”
And the rest of the story? Well, there is no movie magic here, but there is the magic of imagination.
Which has been luring children -- and adults -- to the resting place of this man with no name for the last 50 years.