The process of mummification may strike adults as macabre, but it is helping to nurture an interest in Egyptology among children visiting Hull's Hands on History Museum. Kevin Berry reports
"Now, I need a volunteer to be mummified," announces Jane Avison. There is no shortage of hands that go up. Jane is a senior museums officer at Hull's Hands on History Museum. She chooses Lewis Wilson and he is the immediate envy of his classmates. They are the Year Three class from Wilberfoss Church of England Primary School, which is near York, and they are in the museum's education room to sample some of the hands-on Egyptian activities.
Jane tells them that more volunteers will be needed if Lewis is to be mummified in the correct Egyptian manner.
Lewis is led away. When he returns he is wearing a bulky white plastic suit, rather like the suits worn by police crime scene officers. He is laid on a table and Jennifer Healey is chosen to be Anubis, the Egyptian god of death. Jennifer dons a ceremonial jackal's head and she stands at the head of the table, supervising the mummification process. Everything has to be done properly.
Children are chosen to embalm Lewis and then to slit open his upper body, ie pull the suit's zip apart. Out come Lewis's liver, kidney, lungs and so on - or, more correctly, a series of colourful replicas. Everyone laughs because each organ has been conveniently labelled. Each organ is then placed in its own special jar, which is just what happened in Egyptian times.
Bradley Wilson, no relation to Lewis, gets the job of pulling out Lewis's brain through his nose - with a hook! The brain is actually a mass of shredded paper and everyone giggles.
Gruesome but not scarily so. This is what happened when the Egyptians were creating a mummy and the children will remember what they have seen. The children move on to making papyrus - from real papyrus reeds. Tracy Pallett, a museums education officer, takes them through this process.
If they were not making papyrus the children would have been given an apple. The apple is sliced in two and a face is carved on each surface. One half is kept in the open air, the other is mummified by being placed in a bag containing a special mummifying solution (salt actually). Classes choosing this option get to take the apples back to their classroom.
The Wilberfoss children began the afternoon in two groups, one group visiting the splendid Egyptian gallery, where there is a real mummy in a darkened room. Jessica Cusick reported back that the mummy is "really freaky" and "your imagination plays tricks on you". She was pulling a horrified face and clearly enjoyed telling everyone. Children in the other group investigate Egyptian relics. The investigators, or more properly Egyptologists, are primed by Jane Avison. What should they be asking? She always emphasises listening to what the other "Egyptologists" have to say.
"Is it still fully made?" asks Reuben Cowl. "Where was it found?" says Jonathan Ingle.
The children gather in smaller groups. Each group sits around a large mat where they are given a box of replica relics with some suggested questions and lines of enquiry. The mats are made from Egyptian palm leaves so everyone feels like an Egyptologist. Their relics, which include an intriguing scribe's pallet, have to be labelled and then group members tell everyone in the room what they have found out.
The title Hands on History Museum means exactly that: only the most precious items are in glass cases. Ancient, red-bricked walls, big windows and absolutely enchanting lighting make it a very welcoming building.
Hull's Hands on History Museum also offers a range of Victorian activities.
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Hull Museums and Art Gallery
co Ferens Art Gallery, Queen Victoria Square, Hull HU1 3RA Tel: 01482 318733