Preview NCMA's Golden Mummies of Egypt exhibit
The North Carolina Museum of Art provides a preview of the new exhibit, Golden Mummies of Egypt, which opens March 6. The live virtual tour will be led by Carolina M. Rocheleau, NCMA curator of ancient art.
I would like to remind people that if they have any questions, please put those in the chat. We will answer questions, um, at the end of the tour. So one of the things that is maintained in ancient Egypt, um, is that funerary tradition of preserving the body of the deceased? Um, and that's that's always been very important and doesn't really change much. The funerary beliefs are still rooted in fairy onek tradition, despite the fact that we are in the Greco Roman period, which is about, uh, time span of 600 years, about 300 years of Greek rule and 300 years of Roman pre Christian rule. So the traditions themselves don't really change. What does change is the aesthetic, the art style of how the mummies are represented on the outside, how you identify a human money with a portrait of that person in fairy onek Egypt. It is, um, very abstract. In a way, um, it is very idealized. It is, um, sort of like what you have just behind me on the wall. Um, this is what people expect the look that people expect on mummies from Egypt during this period. There are other options, and you get more naturalistic. Looks like the ones here in the vitrine. And it's not just the style, the artistic style, whether it's a plaster portrait or a cartoon image, which is sort of paper mache, ancient Egyptian style. It's made with plaster and linen or plaster and papyrus. But what you see is that fashions have also changed and people are represented with Roman hairstyles, for example, and wearing Roman close. Um, so that is one big difference here. I should also mentioned that the people that you see represented in the exhibition are actually five or 10% of the population were really talking about the wealthy Egyptians who can afford to be mummified in this way so you can tell very different in terms of style. How, uh, the face covering for the mummy changes. Fashions have changed, but the traditions are still there. So let's go take a look at more changes and reasons why people were doing this. So here we have a lovely lady called is a you probably coming from the name Isis. Uh, and what? You see the difference between what we've just seen in this particular, uh mummy, and this is a real mummy. The other ones were either cartonnage pieces or cartonnage covers. Um, is the gold gold face, gold hands, even gold hair? What does that mean? This use of gold? The excavators who found these mummies in the late 18 hundreds early 19 hundreds thought it was this ostentatious display of wealth. But it's actually more than that. It's not just showing people that you can afford this. There's actually a religious belief associated with the money being covered in gold. In ancient Egyptian religion, gods are said to have bones of silver, skin of gold and hair of lapis lazuli. Lapis lazuli is a semi precious blue stone. So the goal here is for the person to resemble as much as possible a god. Because gods in ancient Egyptian mythology are actually eternal. They do not die. They can become old and frail, but they do not die. So the point of having gilding on the covering of the money is to be likened to a god so that you have that divine power of resurrection, if you will, um, sometimes there is gold hair. You find this typically with the more fairy onek, um, looking the early Ptolemaic Greek dynasty. Sort of what you see on the back, just behind me. Um, you have different possibilities when it comes to this. Um, but this gold on the body is just one of the aides that people use to be launched into this afterlife. Um, you do need also different motifs. Um, and these are represented either directly on the shroud that wraps the money or they could be cartonnage pieces. And you will see a broad color that has, um, protective powers. You'll see wing dates that have also protective powers, a new biss embalming the body, a new base being the god of mummification. So these symbols that are typically ferry onek symbol I also needed on the money to aid the person achieve the afterlife. Now, I would like to come, go and show you a different type of portraiture. That is very, um, realistic is not even the right word. You will see in a minute what I'm talking about. We'll go look at Fayoum portraits or encaustic portraits. These portraits, um, when they were discovered, basically were thought to be sensational. Um were very well regarded by, um the Europeans, um, they felt that suddenly you could actually gaze into an ancient person's eye, so to speak, because the portraits are so incredibly realistic. Um, this is, uh, an art style that comes from Greece. So it's a Greek tradition, and it's basically painting, uh, with hot wax pigmented hot wax, um, to create these very realistic portrait. Um, And if you look around when you're in the exhibition, um, you will feel that these people, you know, these people, they look like people you have met before, for example, and very often we think that these are exact likenesses of the people who were modified. These portraits were really placed on the money like the other masks that we've seen before. But are there really the exact likeness of a person? What is the purpose of those portraits? It is, yes, to put a face to the money. But also you have to remember that it is to be likened to a god. So you are beautiful. You were young, and this is what we see on these in mind. When looking at these artifacts, that is actually very important. We mustn't put our own modern um ideas onto them. We do not know if these portraits were painted in life or after death. Um, there's still a lot that we have questions about, Um, but people really enjoy these portraits because they feel a connection to them. And that's really because we can identify with the people that are being depicted here. So let's go talk about mummification. A lot of people, that's what they're interested in. Let's go talk about mummification. So we've mentioned earlier that there was this cultural artistic exchange between Egypt, Greece and Rome. This blending of cultures. One thing that did not did not ever cross the borders of Egypt into the Roman Empire, for example, was mummification. That was something that remained in Egypt. Um, the Romans were not really interested so much in mummification. So typically, what you find in the Roman and the Greek world is cremation, for example. And here we have a lovely for science vessel that is thought to be a scenery. Earn. Now, this may be available to the Greeks and the Romans who live in Egypt. Should they choose, um, that particular ritual for the human remains, however, this to an ancient Egyptian is absolutely unthinkable. Their whole entire belief in the afterlife rests on the fact that the body must be preserved hence mummification. The Egyptians have been practicing modifications for millennia at this point. And, um, because of how the mummies look with these, um, portraits that are gilded. They're very lavishly decorated. Uh, for a long time, archaeologists and Egyptologists thought that it was to sort of cover up the fact that Romans were really not good at mummify ng at this point. Um, and that is actually not true at all. Uh, mummification if you look at C T scans or mummies that may have been unwrapped in the past, you know, they've been mummified exactly the same way. And very well, um, so that's not an excuse to have these gold gilded golden mummies. That is not an excuse to cover up bad mummification. That is not the case here. We have a lovely example. It is one of my favorites. Um, and it shows something that is, um, sort of disappearing a little bit. Um, in the Greek and almost gone by the Roman period is the use of coffin, which we associate with fairy onek. Um Egypt. Uh, the money goes inside a coffin. The coffin goes inside a sarcophagus, and the sarcophagus is in the burial chamber. So here we actually have a mummy still inside its coffin. Um, and you will see that the same motifs that we talked about at the earlier money that we saw are represented both on the coffin as well as on the mummy. Um, with the cartoon Nagy pieces, those Egyptian paper mache, um, pieces with, um, the helmet mask for protection and the other symbols included on there, um, as well that we call these helmet masks. But really, they're not masks in the sense of hiding the features, Um, at all. I think the words that we use in Egyptology to refer to these portraits and masks are a little bit confusing because a portrait is sort of revealing. And a mask is the opposite is hiding. But that is not the case. It is not meant to hide anything. It is meant for protection. Um, certainly, in this case of these, really, it's like a helmet. You put it over. Um, your head. Now with these mummies, this one is a little bit more fairy Onek in style, if you will. But what you notice with Roman mummies, um, is the bandages have fancy patterns, um, as well. And you'll see this on at least two or three mummies in the exhibition. Now, if you want to know more about the mummies and, um, what's going on underneath the wrappings? We actually have three interactives in the exhibition, Um, including the mummy of to Sherry if I remember her name correctly. So when you visit the exhibition, be sure to grab your little stylists to be able to navigate through the touch screens. Um, and you simply tap and you get information of to sherry, you click explore, and then you have the different levels. Uh, that you can explore the outer layer, the inner layer, bandages, the flesh and the skeleton. And on each of these, you have hotspots. That gives you more information about that part of the money. If you click bandages, for example, you can actually rotate the money. Now, these are all based on digital three D scans, which means that you're not actually seeing the remains. You are seeing the scanners interpretation of the various densities inside the bundle the wrapped up bundle. So you're not actually seeing any human remains at all? Um, and it was very important for us that all the mummies in the exhibition be fully wrapped. Uh, keep their various acute treatments. Um, because that's how they were made. That's how they've been preserved. And that's how the Egyptians intended them to be. So they have not been touched at all. Uh, they remain like they were 2000 years ago. Um, in addition to these, uh, interactives, we also have three movies, uh, three short video clips in the exhibition, and one is about temples in ancient Egypt. Uh, the other one about gods. And the third one is about the modern reception of this archaeological material. No, we're not there anymore. So this particular video I find very interesting because it talks about the excavations. Um, and it talks about how the archaeologist at the time interpreted the material. Um, but also, how people in that time and sometimes still today, unfortunately, how we have racial biases towards the, um, material the population, modern or ancient? Um, and Flinders Petrie, who is for Egyptologists, Sort of. The father of ancient of Egyptian archaeology. Um, he is renowned for his scientific methods. Unfortunately, his legacy has been marred because he was also a proponent of eugenics. So while he was looking at these portraits and masks, he was trying to identify in quotes, um, racial types. Um, and of course, as you might imagine, that his ideas favoured European traits over modern Egyptian ones. Now, this is rather, um, interesting, in a way, because when he looked at the archaeological material, he preferred fairy onek, um, expressions of art, not the Greco Roman Egypt. Um, so there is this weird bias there that he favors the Egyptians on one side, but in modern times, he he favors the European trades. Um, so that's very interesting. There's just a little clip here that talks about that talks a little bit about, um, Petrie's work and bring Egypt being part of the British Empire. At the time that discovery was made. There is an accompanying publication with the exhibition, and you really dive more into these topics in the catalog more than the exhibition, and it is absolutely, uh, it's a fantastic read. Um, and I think this really when you realize when you walked through the exhibition, Um, you'll realize that Golden mummies is not just about mummies. It's about learning about period of history that is not as well known, very often pushed to the side because it is not carry on it. It is a mix of different cultures. And, um, you also have these old believes that the excavators had that are completely outdated, sometimes outrageous, um, that are being revised by scholars. Um, today and basically the exhibition is a step in the right direction to exploring these, uh, notions and basically improving the field of Egyptology. Thanks to that. So I would say kudos to Manchester Museum for making an exhibition more just than about mummies. So if you have any questions, we will cat will be feeding them to me. And well, I'll try to answer your questions, Josh. I might be wrong, but it seems I've seen mummies displayed outside of the sarcophagi and other museum setting. Why not here? I'm not sure I get, um, there's only one that is in a coffin. In the exhibition. All the other ones are displayed in this. We call it a tray with a little cushion, so that's not actually part of the mummies. Um, burial? Well, no. What? Yeah. So, um, in the Roman period, you don't really have coffins anymore. So it's just mummies that are placed in, um, crypts and things like that. Um, you don't really have the tradition that sort of teetering out. It's, uh, not out of service, but it's disappearing. So the one that we just saw that had its coffin that's actually early on in the Greek period. Um, but as you progress over 600 years, it is something that falls out of use. Um, you have catacombs in Egypt at that point. Like in Alexandria, for example, which you wouldn't have in fairy onek period at all. So the mummies were not necessarily removed from their coffins or their sarcophagus because they weren't in favor anymore. It wasn't in style to have that. And that is why the decoration is all on the money. Because you don't have the coffin to put the declaration on anymore after so many years. How are these mummies maintained them from breaking down over time. Uh, well, mummification clearly worked really, really well. Um, and if you maintain, um, like the right humidity um, the right temperature. These will continue to be preserved. So in the exhibitions in any museum, um, as well. Who has mummies? Um, the cases are made to accommodate that. You will have, like, silica gel, for example to prevent humidity. Um, temperature is always constant in a museum. So the museum setting is actually good because everything is monitored and constant, um, in the ground in Egypt because it is very dry. Uh, the sand and the the heat actually preserved the mummies. Um, but if you have, like a flood in a tomb, for example, or something like this where the conditions those dry conditions change, then you do have unfortunately, uh, mummies that will, um, rot. So not all mummies are as well preserved as the ones that Manchester has in their collection. Some have not survived quite as well. Josh has also asked in the wrapping. Are those bandages like, is it Lynn? What is not? Yeah, So, basically, throughout ancient Egyptian history, they use linen. If you think Egypt cotton, that's a modern thing. You have linen in ancient Egypt and the wrappings, the linen is actually the most expensive part of the mummification. process, which is quite remarkable considering there's gold on some of them. Linen is more expensive because you need a lot of wrappings, um, and then their bandages of varying sizes. But they do create, um, that crisscross pattern. Sometimes there's a little gold studs in there, um, as well, and the layers could be as thick as like, a foot of bandages wrapped around the body. So that's why it's very expensive, because you need a lot and a lot of bandages, a lot of women. So if you don't have any further questions, I hope I will see you this afternoon. Um, we have both an exhibition store where we sell the wonderful catalogue written by my colleague Campbell Price at Manchester Museum, and we also have an exhibition cafe where you can sample or sorts of delicious, uh, Egyptian inspired food or Mediterranean inspired food. The exhibition, as Valerie mentioned, opens on March 6. So on Saturday runs through July 11th, and we hope that you will do like the mummies. Put your mask on and, um, come visit the exhibition so that's gone. Cheers