Who's the mummy?

4th June 2010 at 01:00
On show to the public for the first time, a 3,000-year-old high priest is taking museum visitors in Kilmarnock on a journey into the next world

It is highly unlikely that anyone nowadays would be given a 3,000- year-old mummy as a gift, but that is what a grateful Egyptian government presented to distinguished engineer Sir Colin Scott-Moncrieff in the late 1800s, as a "thank you" for leading a major hydraulic project on the Nile.

Sir Colin gifted the mummy to his old school, Edinburgh Academy, and it, in turn, donated it to the Royal Museum of Scotland in 1907.

Now the linen-wrapped artefact and its decorated coffin form the centrepiece of The Journey Beyond, an exhibition running at the Dick Institute in Kilmarnock, which explores the ancient burial customs of Egypt and south-west Scotland.

The identity of the mummy, rarely displayed in the past 100 years, was unknown until the late 1990s. Extensive work by museum experts and a forensic anthropologist revealed the preserved body was that of Iufenamun, the high priest responsible for reburying the remains of Rameses II and other pharaohs.

This is the first time since his identification and new conservation that the mummy, along with a computer-aided image of what Iufenamun would have looked like, has been exhibited to the public. Next year, it will go on permanent display in the refurbished Royal Museum, Edinburgh.

Meanwhile, the cadaver has been placed in a temperature-controlled perspex case behind 10 foot-high screens at the back of the Kilmarnock gallery, where printed notices warn visitors: "Please be aware there are human remains on display."

Iufenamun's linen-wrapped body, lying on its richly-decorated coffin base, is proving to be a magnet for primary schools, with classes being offered guided tours followed by workshops in pottery, dance, jewellery-making or art.

Other ancient Egyptian artefacts on display, borrowed from National Museums Scotland, include a 4,000-year-old coffin with two eyes painted on the outside, to allow its occupant a view into the next world.

Visitors learn that, at one time, the mummies of rich people were covered from head to toe with tiny, turquoise-coloured beads, threaded to form a net. The less well-off made do with a beadless net fashioned from string, while the poor got a fake net painted onto the wrappings.

About 2,500 miles away in prehistoric south-west Scotland, "persons of esteem" would not have been buried in a pyramid, but in a stone-sided cist with "grave goods" to serve them (like ancient Egyptians) in the next world. A replica of the cist uncovered in Ayrshire, held in East Ayrshire Council's extensive collection, includes a replica of the skeleton inside, lying on its side with knees and arms bent.

Nearby are a skull and bones from a chambered cairn in Darvel (the largest discovered in Scotland so far); fragments of burial urns from 1400BC, found in Stevenston, and pieces of ancient human remains, sealed in plastic bags marked in red ink and variously described as: "Human bones, cremated, pelvis" and "Human bones, cremated, upper limb".

Newmilns Primary teacher Mary McCallum says The Journey Beyond has provided her class of 18 P4s with "a brilliant experience": "We were shown around and our guide, Jason, explained everything to us, comparing burials in ancient Egypt to what was happening in south-west Scotland at the same time."

At their ceramics workshop, the pupils made coil pots which they really enjoyed, according to Mrs McCallum. "We were impressed with the results and it's given me a lot of ideas for the pottery work we already do in the classroom. We did ancient Egypt as a topic earlier this year and seeing actual objects from that time brings the subject to life."


Exhibition is at the Dick Institute until August 2; T 01563 554902.

For information on Iufenamun, ancient Egyptian burials or funeral customs in south-west Scotland, go to: www.futuremuseum.co.uk; www.nms.ac.uk.

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