The Lost Mummies of Mannheim Meet The Public | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 29.09.2007
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The Lost Mummies of Mannheim Meet The Public

After years of being hidden in the bowels of Mannheim's Reiss-Engelhorn Museum, the world's largest exhibit of mummies goes on show Sunday, Sept. 30.

Two mumified heads from New Zealand, part of the Mannheim collection

These two mumified heads from New Zealand form part of the international collection

The museum's collection of 19 will be joined by 46 more for the opening as the mummies see the light of day for the first time in three years.

The collection first came to the museum at the beginning of the 20th century when Munich painter Gabriel von Max donated the mummies to the Mannheim museum. However, they were never put on display and were instead hidden away in the underground cellars.

During World War II, the mummies were thought to have been lost or destroyed but were rediscovered in 2004 during an inventory. The museum kept the discovery under wraps and began extensive research into where the mummies originated from, how they lived and how they died.

Now, after completing their work in May this year, the museum's experts are ready to go public with the mummies and their findings.

Mummies from all around the ancient world

A mumified dog from the Mannheim collection

The collection includes animals as well as humans

"We now know from our analysis that we have an Asian mummy, mummies from Oceania, Egyptian mummies and mummies from old America," said Dr. Wilfried Rosendahl, curator of the research project. "The collection covers a wide cultural spectrum."

During the past three years, the 19 mummies have been transported discreetly to clinics where they were analyzed using computer tomography. They were even taken to Mannheim's hospital for examination.

"We have collected a lot of information about the mummies," Rosendahl added. "We know that one, a woman, died between the ages of 30 and 50 after contracting tuberculosis. She didn't eat fish so didn't live near a lake or sea but in a mountainous region. We also know that she smoked."

The woman, who is thought to have died some 600 years ago in Peru, did not however die from the effects of smoking, Dr. Rosendahl said.

A unique, extensive collection

A member of the museum staff checks on oen of the mummies

Mummies from all over the world and throughout time

Dr. Frank Rühli of the University of Zurich, an expert who has analyzed the mummy of Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun and Ötzi, an Austrian glacier man, was called in to add his opinion to the project. "What we have is a very comprehensive collection," he said.

"We have mummies from many different cultural areas. It's quite unique. No single mummy stands out but the collection as a whole is remarkable. The whole range of mummies and mummification has been covered extensively by this project."

Show slammed as "mummy pornography"

But the mummies' show has also sparked criticism in some quarters with some saying it's in bad taste.

Dietrich Wildung, director of the Egyptian Museum in Berlin said in a radio interview this week that the exhibition could be described as "mummy pornography."

"If you say sex sells, then you can also say the mummy sells. The publication of something that shouldn't be published has a certain attraction," Wildung told Deutschlandradio.

The exhibition was an invasion of privacy rights that exist even thousands of years after the death of a person, he said, adding that his museum in Berlin had not publicly presented its own mummy collection. The mummies of the Egyptian Museum are to be sent back to Egypt and buried there, he said.

From Sept. 30, the 19 Mannheim mummies will be exhibited with 46 other mummies and preserved bodies. A week later, 10 Egyptian mummies from the wider exhibit will travel to Stuttgart to become part of an Egypt-specific exhibition.

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