Exhibitions & Displays: Past
Unwrapped: The Story of a Child Mummy
26th November 2011 to 4th March 2012
To coincide with the opening of the Ashmolean’s new galleries of Ancient Egypt and Nubia on 26 November, the Museum will host an installation of contemporary work by artist Angela Palmer, inspired by the collections. Unwrapped: The Story Of A Child Mummy will be shown in the Ashmolean’s Cast Gallery, offering visitors a unique and intimate glimpse beneath the wrappings of an Egyptian child mummy.
The exhibition is the culmination of Palmer’s extraordinary four-year journey to discover the story of the boy who died between AD 80–120, almost 2,000 years ago when the Romans ruled Egypt. In 2006, following conversations between the artist, the Ashmolean, and a team of radiologists, the mummy was taken to the high technology scanning unit at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford. The results revealed the body to be that of a boy aged about 2 years old, who most likely died of pneumonia. The 2500 CT-scans also showed that he had hip dysplasia and a rare dental condition affecting 0.4% of children today.
Palmer has developed a highly unusual technique to create three dimensional representations of the mummy. By drawing details from the scans onto multiple sheets of glass, she has recreated the internal architecture of the human form. One of the sculptures of the mummy child will go on permanent display alongside the mummified body and films of the scanning in the new Egypt Meets Greece And Rome gallery.
A glass sculpture showing the child from three angles will form part of the display Unwrapped, along with plaster replicas of the boy’s skull and toes, produced by Cavendish Imaging , a medical imaging and modelling company, using the same scans.
Following a copy of a map drawn by archaeologist W M Flinders Petrie, who excavated the mummy 81 miles, south-west of Cairo in 1888, Angela visited the burial site near Hawara village. There she filled her water bottle with sand which she brought back to Britain to reunite the child in a tangible way with his homeland. The sand will be shown with a film and photographs she took of the children who now live in the village – the modern descendants of the community which the boy knew during his short life.
To represent the virtual unravelling of the mummy as he made his way through the CT scanner, the exhibition will also feature circular bales of tightly wound flax linen, the same material used to wrap the child mummy. They have been dyed yellow, blue and red, using the traditional methods from the Roman Faiyum by the plant-dyes specialist Penny Walsh.
“Over the past few years I have watched the child’s body slowly and intriguingly turn into a three-dimensional shape in my studio using details from the 2,500 scans from the John Radcliffe,” said Angela. “I began to feel an eerie closeness to the child and felt compelled to visit the tomb where he had lain for nearly 2,000 years before being taken to Oxford.”
“Angela Palmer’s recreation of the Ashmolean’s mummy is a magnificent combination of art, science and archaeology. We are extremely grateful to her for enabling us to present this exciting display in the Cast Gallery at the same time as the opening of the new galleries of Ancient Egypt and Nubia”, said Dr Christopher Brown CBE, Director of the Ashmolean.
Watch the following podcast to find out more:
Unwrapped: The Story of a Child Mummy
Interview with Angela Palmer, Artist
Display | 26 November – 4 March 2012 | Gallery 14 | Free Admission
Further reading about Roman Egypt:
M.L. Bierbrier (ed.), Portraits and Masks: Burial Customs in Roman Egypt (London 1997)
C. Riggs. The Beautiful Burial in Roman Egypt. Art, Identity and Funerary Religion (Oxford, 2005)
Medical Analysis of CT scan
Linen Bales information