Mummies of the World exhibition opens in Philadelphia

mummies, mummy
Mummies are endlessly fascinating. To see a centuries-old body so well preserved brings the past vividly to life. While Egyptian mummies get most of the press, bodies in many regions were mummified by natural processes after being deposited in peat bogs or very dry caves.

Mummies of the World is a state-of-the-art exhibition bringing together 150 mummies and related artifacts. It opened last weekend at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia after successful runs in L.A. and Milwaukee. Visitors will see mummified people and animals from all over the world and learn how they came to be so well preserved.

Besides the required collection of ancient Egyptians, there are numerous mummies from other regions, such as this prehistoric man from the Atacama Desert in Chile.

%Gallery-126801%From South America there’s the famous Detmold child from Peru, dated to 4504-4457 B.C., more than 3,000 years before the birth of King Tutankhamen. This ten-month-old kid was naturally preserved by the incredibly dry climate of the Peruvian desert. There’s also a tattooed woman from Chile dating to sometime before 1400 AD who also dried out in a desert.

From Germany there’s Baron von Holz, who died in the 17th century and was preserved in the family crypt. Then there’s the Orlovits family: Michael, Veronica, and their baby Johannes. They were discovered in a forgotten crypt in Vac, Hungary, in 1994, where they had been buried in the early nineteenth century. The cool, dry conditions of the crypt and the pine wood used in their caskets helped preserve them.

There are animal mummies too. There’s a mummified cat from the Ptolemaic Period (305-30 BC), the same time in Egypt that the mummy portraits started coming into fashion. There are several naturally preserved mummies such as frogs, a lizard, a hyena, and even a howler monkey that dried out in desert conditions and are on display.

Several interactive exhibits give visitors a chance to see where mummies come from, how they were preserved naturally or artificially, and what they feel like. Visitors can even match DNA samples to see which mummies are related.

Mummies of the World runs until 23 October 2011.

[All photos courtesy American Exhibitions, Inc.]

Egypt’s newest public wonder: the temple of the crocodile god

Egypt, SobekLast week a new ancient site opened to the public in Egypt–a temple of the crocodile god Sobek.

Medinet Madi is located in Egypt’s Faiyum region, a fertile area around a lake at the end of a branch of the Nile called Bahr Yusuf (“The River of Joseph”).

The temple features a long avenue lined with sphinxes and lions, plus an incubation room for hatching the eggs of sacred crocodiles. You’d think these crocs would live the good life, splashing around the swamps and gnawing on a sacrificial victim or two. Instead they were mummified and sold to pilgrims. Check out the gallery for a couple of photos of crocodile mummies.

Sobek was one of the most important gods of ancient Egypt. He’s generally pictured with the body of a man and the head of a crocodile. He’s said to have created the Earth when he laid eggs in the primordial waters, and the Nile is supposed to be his sweat. He’s the god of the Nile, the Faiyum, and of course crocodiles.

In ancient times the Nile and the lush wetlands of the Faiyum were full of crocodiles. The people prayed to Sobek to appease them. Because he was a fierce god, he was one of the patrons of the ancient Egyptian army.

Sobek’s temple at Medinet Madi was built by the pharaohs Amenemhat III (c.1859-1813 BC) and Amenemhat IV (c.1814-1805 BC) during Egypt’s Middle Kingdom and expanded during the Ptolemaic period (332-30 BC) after Egypt was conquered by Alexander the Great.

The temple is also dedicated to the cobra-headed goddess Renenutet, who in some traditions was Sobek’s wife. Despite her appearance, she was a much kinder deity than Sobek, a sort of mother goddess who nursed babies and gave them their magical True Name. Farmers liked her because cobras ate the rats that would eat their crops.

%Gallery-123603%The new tourist site was funded by Italy, which coughed up €3.5 million ($5 million) to clear off the sand and restore the temple. Italian archaeologists have been working in the area for decades and in addition to the Sobek temple they’ve found a Roman military camp and ten early Coptic Christian churches dating from the 5th-7th century AD.

Medinet Madi isn’t the only crocodile temple. Not far away stands Crocodilopolis, where Egyptians honored the sacred crocodile Petsuchos by sticking gold and gemstones into its hide. There are several other Sobek temples along the Nile, the most impressive being Kom Ombo far to the south near Aswan.

Kom Ombo is one of Egypt’s most fascinating temples. It’s rather new as Egyptian temples go–being founded in the second century BC by the Ptolemaic dynasty. Carvings of Sobek and other deities adorn the walls and columns. There are also some scenes from daily life. On the inner face of the outer corridor keep an eye out for a carving showing a frightening array of old surgeon’s tools. Also check out the small shrine to Hathor in the temple compound where piles of sacred crocodiles from the nearby necropolis are kept.

[Photo courtesy Hedwig Storch]