Mu­seum shows por­traits of two mum­mies

The Dominion Post - - World -

A team of re­searchers is giv­ing the world a chance to see the faces of two Egyp­tian women who walked the earth about 2300 years ago.

The Bal­ti­more Sun re­ports that de­tailed por­traits based on mum­mi­fied re­mains form the core of ‘‘Who Am I? Re­mem­ber­ing the Dead Through Fa­cial Re­con­struc­tion,’’ the new­est ex­hi­bi­tion on dis­play at the Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity Mu­seum of Ar­chae­ol­ogy at least un­til the end of next year.

Ex­perts in fields rang­ing from fine art, os­te­ol­ogy, com­puter to­mol­ogy, and cran­io­fa­cial re­con­struc­tion worked to­gether to cre­ate the like­nesses from two mum­mies ac­quired abroad and brought to Bal­ti­more more than a cen­tury ago.

San­chita Balachandran, the mu­seum’s as­so­ciate direc­tor, sees the ex­hibit as an op­por­tu­nity to say, ‘‘These peo­ple have been with us since the 1880s, and we’re only now able to see them as real peo­ple.’’

The vet­eran of ar­chae­o­log­i­cal digs, was fa­mil­iar with Western col­lec­tors’ treat­ment of an­cient arte­facts, par­tic­u­larly Egyp­tian mum­mies. In the early to mid1800s, Amer­i­cans of means col­lected what they saw as ex­ot­ica in Egypt, where the cer­e­mo­ni­ally pre­served bod­ies were plen­ti­ful.

Men­des I. Co­hen, a War of 1812 vet­eran, ac­quired a mummy in Egypt in 1834, brought it back to Bal­ti­more, and left it to the univer­sity when he died in 1879. John F. Goucher, a lo­cal min­is­ter, mis­sion­ary and ed­u­ca­tor, ac­quired a mummy in 1895 and brought it to Bal­ti­more, where he do­nated it to the school he had founded, the Bal­ti­more Woman’s Col­lege, later re­named Goucher Col­lege. It ended up at the Bal­ti­more Mu­seum of Art.

‘‘They were of­ten seen as cu­riosi­ties that be­longed in sideshows, freak shows and dime mu­se­ums,’’ said Meg Swaney, a doc­toral stu­dent in Near Eastern Stud­ies at Hop­kins and cocu­ra­tor of the ex­hibit. ‘‘Peo­ple weren’t sure whether to dis­play them in nat­u­ral his­tory mu­se­ums, or in art mu­se­ums for the arte­facts they came with. But there was so much cu­rios­ity, ev­ery mu­seum wanted one.’’

Balachandran’s team, a group that in­cluded Swaney and six un­der­grad­u­ates, worked with Caro­line Wilkin­son, the direc­tor of Face Lab, a re­search group at Liver­pool John Moores Univer­sity in Eng­land that car­ries out foren­sic and ar­chae­o­log­i­cal re­search. Dr El­liot K. Fish­man, a pro­fes­sor of ra­di­ol­ogy and the direc­tor of di­ag­nos­tic imag­ing at Johns Hop­kins Hos­pi­tal, per­formed a CT scan on the bod­ies, and those im­ages pro­vided in­for­ma­tion for three­d­i­men­sional rep­re­sen­ta­tions.

Re­searchers con­trib­uted other de­tails, in­clud­ing pelvic marks that showed both were fe­male and tooth con­di­tions that sug­gested ages of about 45 or 50. Face Lab built its il­lus­tra­tions out over two years.

The team faced a range of eth­i­cal ques­tions along the way, vot­ing for two-di­men­sional por­traits over three-di­men­sional busts.

‘‘Ev­ery­one felt it would risk be­ing too ma­cabre or cre­at­ing too much of a spec­ta­cle,’’ said Swaney, who spe­cialises in the ethics in­volved in dis­play­ing Egyp­tian re­mains. They also agreed to ren­der the por­traits in grays since no re­li­able ev­i­dence ex­ists re­gard­ing skin tone.

For Balachandran, the ex­hibit is a new way of look­ing into the an­cient past.

‘‘These women look at you the mo­ment you walk in the door; you’re look­ing at them, and they’re look­ing at you,’’ she said. ‘‘It feels as though they’re right here with us.’’ –AP


San­chita Balachandran, As­so­ciate Direc­tor of the Johns Hop­kins Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Mu­seum, left, and Meg Swaney, grad­u­ate stu­dent in Near Eastern Stud­ies, dis­cuss the new ex­hibit, Who Am I? Re­mem­ber­ing the Dead Through Fa­cial Re­con­struc­tion, in Bal­ti­more. FaceLab, Liver­pool John Moores Univer­sity, worked with Hop­kins to cre­ate fa­cial de­pic­tions of the Goucher mummy, ca. 4th c. BCE, and the Co­hen mummy, ca. 664-525 BCE.


The up­per por­tion of the Co­hen mummy at the new Johns Hop­kins Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Mu­seum ex­hibit.

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