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Big respect for mummies unwrapped

Moving mummies can be a bad idea. Ancient dead bodies, preserved to take their place in the afterlife, are fragile and soon decompose when unwrapped.

But for a few months this year, visitors to the National Museum of Scotland can see the mummified bodies of people who died in Egypt more than 2,000 years ago, and have since travelled halfway around the world.

"It's a touring exhibition from the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden, where they have a world-class collection," says exhibition officer Maureen Barrie.

"It has been to Japan and Canada and is going to Spain. We are the only place in Britain you can see it."

One of the most exciting advances, she says, is that mummies can now be investigated without unwrapping or damaging them. "We use non-invasive techniques from science and medicine, such as DNA analysis and CT scans."

The visitors' route through the exhibition is a 5,000-year journey, she explains. "We take you through the Middle Kingdom, the New Kingdom, the Roman period. We show how mummification developed from a natural process, in the arid conditions of the desert, to an artificial one of preparing bodies and helping people to the afterlife."

Although the main attraction, the mummies are only part of the exhibition, which also covers history, culture, myths, religion and reasons for mummifying.

More than 35 years of working with mummies has given Ms Barrie a unique perspective on them. "They are people," she says. They deserve respect."

GOING PLACES: KEY FACTS

- Fascinating Mummies, National Museum of Scotland, 11 February - 27 May 2012

- Exhibition: bit.lywdvY7o

- Schools programme: bit.lyw0ot3E.

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