October 22, 2008

Mysteries of Ancient Egypt

Guest Writer: Allison Deep, Archaeology Collections Assistant, Burke Museum

After a four year absence from public view, Seattle’s only Egyptian mummy, nicknamed Nellie, will make her way to the Burke Room for Mysteries of Ancient Egypt. As the archaeology collections assistant, I have been working behind the scenes to prepare the mummy, Egyptian coffin, canopic jar, shabtis, bird mummies and other interesting ancient Egyptian artifacts that will make a rare appearance this weekend. During this preparation time, I have learned a lot about Nellie and her 106-year history at the Burke.

Did you know that the mummy has an extra pair of feet? Or that the coffin does not belong to her? The mummy’s actual feet were removed some time after 1902 and were replaced with one real mummified foot from a male, and a cast of a foot. The coffin originally belonged to a male individual who lived 1,000 years before Nellie. The mummy and coffin are mismatched because the UW regent who bought them for the Burke in 1902 chose the best coffin and the best mummy from the National Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo. To me, the most interesting things about the coffin are the 3,000-year-old fingerprints in the varnish, and the discovery of an eyelash stuck in the paint.

The coffin and mummy will be displayed in their custom-made storage and display case made of stainless steel and UV-filtered laminated glass with fiber optic lighting. The UV-filtered glass and fiber optic lighting in the upper compartment protect the coffin from fading and deterioration. This compartment is also fitted with a passive air filtration system that regulates the relative humidity and air quality to prevent deterioration. The mummy’s lower compartment has separate environmental controls to help preserve its fragile linen wrappings and painted cartonnage, or mask.

To learn more about the Burke’s archaeology collections beyond Egypt, visit our page at http://www.washington.edu/burkemuseum/collections/archaeology/index.php.

Photos: (Left) This is a shabti, or funerary figurine, made of faience, a type of ceramic made from crushed minerals.

(Right) This is the custom-made case with the coffin (upper) and mummy (lower). (from Reverent Remembrance exhibit, 2004)