Thorny Ethics for Public Display of Egyptian Mummies

Exhibits are common, but officials have to deal with issues of cultural and ethnic sensitivity. In 1823, Massachusetts General Hospital Chief Surgeon John Warren prepared an autopsy on a 2,500-year-old cadaver. Warren advances ancient knowledge by examining an Egyptian mummy - a gift from a patron who was placed in a hospital surgical ward to collect burials. He carefully began to cut the old cloth and then stopped. He revealed a black but well-protected head: long cheekbones, extra brown hair, and shiny white teeth. As Warren later said, this person "didn't want any more trouble," stop there.

Fast forward to last October, when the press was active, Egyptian archaeologists unearthed a rather intricate body as the first repository of 59 mummies discovered around the world. A video of the event went viral, followed by a message on Twitter: “Even in the death of POC, eccentric and opportunistic advances to eggs cannot be escaped,” one user tweeted, garnering nearly a quarter of a million likes. The question of whether displaying ancient corpses was indecent, cryptic, disrespectful, or even racist, or a great contribution to science and education, since Warren took up his scalpel, mummy displays are unpleasant. The Black Lives Matter movement's focus on issues of cultural property and its appropriation has fueled the ongoing ethical dilemma for museums and experts who study the mummy.

This is a topic of discussion in academic forums and scholarly articles, but the consequences are real, both in Egypt and abroad. “Current time is a huge issue in our field,” said Pamela Hutchfield, former president of the American Institute of Conservation, a professional association of art conservationists.

In April, onlookers who had been viewing 22 mummies were taken to a new museum for a lavish display on the streets of Cairo. It is estimated that at least 350 institutions around the world display Egyptian mummies, and the continuing fascination with the ancient kingdom of the pharaohs has made it a vital role for museums.: Have packages been removed for delicacy repackaging? Should the body, the tissue, and everyone else be in the coffin again? Should this sarcophagus be opened or closed, or should its display be stopped altogether? For Cairo-based Egyptian researcher Heba Abdel-Gawad, the idea of ​​displaying human remains is "disturbing". However, he said he could not speak on behalf of all Egyptians and different viewpoints must be taken into account. "Being an expert or an expert does not mean that I have to instill in people how they should feel about their ancestors, even if they see them as their ancestors or not," he said. Among the American museums that have reviewed the display of mummies in recent years is the Museum of the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence. Since 1938 the museum has housed a 2,200-year-old mummified priest named Nasmin. Wrapped next to his coffin, he was noticed on his field trips in the sixth grade. But in April 2014, he moved to a more prominent central hall and quickly became the focus of debate about how to deal with ethnic and cultural history. The ad

Some critics described the show as disrespectful or even offensive. In 2016, the museum held a public debate. "I was forced to expose one of my grandparents in this way," said an Egyptian-born scholar. He sang hymns and moments of silence, saying he "wanted to bring flowers to an old mummy." After much deliberation, museum staff gently took Nesmin to their coffin in August 2018. Then, closing the door, they returned the mummy to eternal darkness. Crocodile

Shy fans are likely to say that mummies do not agree that their bodies should be displayed in public, and that cultural respect requires them to be removed from view. Other experts argue that the ancient Egyptians welcomed the union of life and death, and that the dead were embalmed to give body to the soul, and thus welcomed some modern interactions with the living. But these arguments run counter to the current desire to increase cultural sensitivity. "Everyone is afraid to speak," said Yasmine Day, a scientist and president of the Ancient Egyptian Society in Perth, Western Australia. The protest against the display of mummies is being carried out by "intrigued and fashionable people". "He is concerned about hearing a wave of conservatives and risk aversion in the museum world," he said.

Some critics believe that racism injects a white-dominated set of effects. White excavators, collectors, and archaeologists brought mummies to hundreds of Egyptians in the 19th and early 20th centuries, although many were excavated by tomb raiders or purchased from Egyptian authorities.

A French tourist mentioned that returning from Egypt in 1833 "without a mummy in one hand and a crocodile in the other" would be difficult to respect.

At the entrance to the Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum in Baltimore is some unpacked item called Gaucher's mummy, his hands resting on his chest. In 2008, Sanchita Balachandran, assistant director of the center and county, said she had been working for weeks to install the mummy. "I've spent a lot of time on my own, and I've developed a personal relationship with a human being and a person," Balachandran said. “As a result, he said, he developed feelings about public exposure to the mummy.

“I think people get very upset when they come across a real person sleeping there. “He’s ambivalent about the screen and gradually protecting Gaucher’s mummy.” Before the pandemic closed the museum, “People came and took selfies of him, right? And I’d say, You know what, he doesn’t give you his consent to take a picture. So you can’t do that.”

Activists and scholars advocating for change say mummies have long been considered an artifact by museums. Indeed, despite Warren's moderation in the 19th century that the mummy under his care, Padershef, was A human being, the body remained under a glass box in the old hospital surgical ward, his head still open. It wasn't and the sky stared forever. After the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, and its reflection on Native Americans, the moral view of mummies in the United States changed in 1990. , the Native American Grave Preservation and Return Act required that Native American remains be returned to tribes in the U.S. After that, museum officials began to look sadly at the Egyptians on their property.” When you start to think about it, do you know the difference between Native American remains and for Egyptian remains?” said Gina Borromeo, director and curator of ancient art at the Rhode Island College of Design Museum.


“Do mummified human remains belong in an art museum? It is not an art thing. Ingrid Neumann, one of the prominent conservatives who sits next to Borromeo when students begin to criticize Nesmin in one meeting. Packaged in 2016 said:” He is a human being.” “I think the human body is different from the painting on the wall in the museum. "

The controversy creates a dilemma for museums. When choosing how to display the mummies, vote who is important: the desires of the ancients? Modern Egyptians? Scholars and scholars? Or museum patrons? Abd. In a Skype interview, Elgood said the opinions of modern Egyptians Like him it is often overlooked because of the “racist colonial perception” that “human remains from ancient Egypt are unclaimed and unparalleled.” “We are not seen as the ancestors of the ancients. The Egyptians said, ".

Others think that what the ancient Egyptians—who desperately seek immortality—wanted, or who should speak, is unthinkable." Museums now agree that the mummies deserve respect, but he believes their destruction causes modern disgust at seeing the dead, he said via Skype. Show them as individuals, not "that's an art museum thing," he added, but museums could use the ancient Egyptians. Human warning signs of 'human remains', silent rooms, dark light and limited access to mummy shows, humanization. Peter Lacovara, former chief curator at the Carlos Museum in Atlanta and current director of the Ancient Egyptian Heritage and Antiquities Trust in New York, described the protest against the display of mummies as "unfamiliar" with the religion of ancient Egypt. "Above all, the Egyptians wanted to be seen, and they wanted to see their similarities. They wanted to be remembered." "They wanted to be a part of the world of the living. Of course, that's what museum displays do."

Mummies can be deeply repaired if dealt with, said Mimi Luke, a conservative counselor in Boston who has inspected or preserved more than 40 mummies. with it properly. "If we are treated with respect, the body has a lot to tell us," he said. Lavac said he often worked on mummies in the museum's laboratories open to the public, which increases the number of museum visitors. "People wanted to see it."

Loeck also said he believed it was adopted by the ancient Egyptians, and in fact museums help you create an ancient and unforgettable dream in the future. "From the point of view of the person being excavated, what they wanted was for their personality to be remembered and their name to be repeated," he said. “The ancient Egyptians said that if your name is remembered, even if your body is not remembered, do it, you will have eternity.”

From this point of view, it is better to put a mummy in a museum? "[The mummies] are actually a wonderful cemetery," he said. "Aren't these museums like this?"

Even if this is true, Abdel-Gawad points out that at least some of the ancient wishes are known and not open to interpretation. He said there were very clear instructions about what the ancient Egyptians wanted to happen to their bodies after death, "and this does not include opening mummies or showing mummies from coffins." Doug Strack is a veteran reporter covering the Middle East for The Washington Post and The Baltimore Sun. He teaches journalism at Emerson College in Boston.

This article was originally published on the Undark. Read the main article.

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Thorny Ethics for Public Display of Egyptian Mummies
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