‘Centuries-Old Mummies of the World’ Unwraps History’s Horrifying Stories

by 29lab 26-05-2023

Among the collection of centuries-old mummified remains at the Cincinnati Museum Center’s “Mummies of the World” exhibit, it’s a modern-day marvel that stands out.

The Mummy of the University of Maryland at Baltimore, affectionately called MUMAB, is the world’s first contemporary mummy, created in 1994 using ancient Egyptian methods. The body, wrapped in cloth with one foot poking through, was donated to science and is now one of 45 mummies traveling with the exhibit.

And MUMAB isn’t the only mummy on display that’s pushing the boundaries of science and simultaneously contributing to the field. Partnering with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, the Museum Center took the exhibit beyond Union Terminal to study the mummified remains of a small Peruvian child from over 500 years ago.

Using X-rays and CT scans, experts were able to determine the remains were those of a 3-year-old girl. The scans also showed that the shape of the girl’s skull had likely been manipulated for beautification purposes, something akin to the practice of foot binding in ancient China.

“We approached [Cincinnati Children’s Hospital] and we asked them if they would be willing to do this scan for us and they were on board immediately,” said Cody Hefner, the museum’s media relations manager. “Because for them it’s not just doing a favor for us… There is still so much that they can learn by looking at this scan that they can apply to medical technology today and that they can apply to future research.”

A 3D model of the Peruvian girl is now on view and will continue traveling with the exhibit.

The rest of the exhibit’s mummies span centuries and hail from places like Europe, South America and Africa. Some, like the Peruvian girl, were mummified naturally in dry climates, while others were intentionally mummified as a part of cultural or religious practices.

It’s that kind of variety that makes this exhibit unique. There are nods to the mummified Egyptian we’ve all come to know and love, but for the most part, “Mummies of the World” is much more than anything you may have seen on your elementary school field trips. Still, the more revealing and graphic versions of the mummy the Museum Center offers attracts the same wide-eyed curiosity from all ages.

“As an institution it’s really great for us to see that kids are so interested in this exhibit and they’re so in tune to what the exhibit has to offer,” Hefner said. “They’re walking away feeling really inspired to learn more.”

Imagine yourself at 8 years old, eye level with the leathery, hollowed-out skin of a woman preserved in a bog hundreds of years ago. Or staring into the tiny eyes of a shrunken, decapitated head that was once worn as a battle trophy. A decorated sarcophagus suddenly isn’t so impressive (though it is much easier on the stomach).

An even more twisted, family-friendly highlight on display is the Orlovits family. Michael and Veronica Orlovits, and their infant son Johannes, were discovered in a crypt in Hungary and date back to the 1700s.

Each of their bodies rest peacefully and fully clothed in separate glass cases. The lighting, eerie music and staging make the Orlovits family appear defiant in death, strong in unity.

And that’s what happens at “Mummies of the World:” Stories come alive and imaginations run wild.

“The exhibit is really put together to tell those stories and learn more about their cultures,” Hefner said. “And that’s the beauty of mummies. We have more evidence, we have more to go on to learn those stories, but there’s still very much that we don’t know and that they can’t tell us.”