Review: Fascinating Mummies, National Museum of Scotland

The Mummy of Ankhhor, a priest serving in 650 BC.

The Mummy of Ankhhor, a priest serving in 650 BC.

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Meeting an Ancient Egyptian who has been dead for two thousand years is unnerving. Everything about Fascinating Mummies has been planned to make this a dramatic and educational experience.

*****

This is not just a mummy, it is Sensaos-Tasherytdjedhor, who looked like a young Elizabeth II and had toothache.

The slanted lighting, sandy canopies and Egyptian wall paintings immediately put us in the mood for mummies and create a sense of tension.

Before the main thread of the exhibition, visitors are treated to a series of general introductions to Egyptian culture and history, including a timeline of the dynasties of Ancient Egypt and an explanation of the different types of tomb and why they were used.

The concise and powerful text explaining the mummification process and its spiritual significance is beautifully written and designed. Impressive though the exhibits are, it is this context i that makes them interesting.

The mummies, when we come to them, are as creepy as they are alluring. The CT scanning and 3D modelling used to show us what’s inside them gives them a tangible extra dimension.

The fake mummified kitten is particularly fascinating. Scanning has shown that the mummy – no bigger than a baby’s bottle – contains no animal matter and was probably made specially to sell to ancient tourists.

The history of Egyptology and the West’s attitudes to Ancient Egypt is summarised clearly, showing the significance of the scan technology used to study the mummies.

Scottish connections to Ancient Egypt are well represented. Charles Piazzi Smyth’s sacred thermometers and tape measures based on the proportions of the pyramids are an eccentric-seeming highlight.

Fascinating Mummies certainly puts the National Museum of Scotland back on the map after its redesign. The Museum’s permanent Ancient Egyptian exhibition is close to the exit, but you may have to come back for that as the mummies are more than a day’s worth of viewing on their own.

Runs until May 27