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UMU Goes To The Museum To Dig Up Mummy Facts!

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How does The Mummy film compare to the real thing?

On Wednesday, Steven and I paid a visit to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City to check out their newest exhibit, “Mummies.”  With the release of The Mummy less than three months away and the iconic 1932 version and the 1999-2008 Brendan Fraser trilogy in our DVD collections, it was a no-brainer that we had to visit the exhibit and see real mummies with our own eyes.  While the movie took creative license, it stuck rather well to what life in Egypt and the mummification process was like.

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Coffin #30023 dates back to the late 25th Dynasty or early 26th Dynasty of ancient Egypt, (approximately 700–600 BC). © 2015 The Field Museum, A115218d_003C, photographer John Weinstein

In both the 1932 and 1999 versions as well as The Mummy Returns, the mummy was Imhotep.  In both movies, he is buried alive for a heinous crime against the pharaoh, who was considered a god.  In real life, Imhotep was a scholar, scribe and architect to the pharaoh Djoser and built the Djoser pyramid which had steps.  He is closely associated with the sun god, Ra.  In certain parts of the movies, tombs were represented as dark and dreary.  While this is partially true being the tombs were underground, they were often lavishly decorated with hieroglyphics on the walls and filled with gifts and other objects associated with the deceased.  Those who were wealthy had a sarcophagus made of limestone because grave robbers would not be able to lift them out of the tomb (yes, grave robbing was a big problem back in ancient Egypt).  Just like in the movies, the sarcophagi were ornate and decorated in hieroglyphics along with the death mask of the departed.

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Limestone canopic jars whose forms—human, baboon, hawk and jackal—represent the four Sons of Horus.
© 2015 The Field Museum, A115240d_002A, photographer John Weinstein

For those of you who have watched the movies frequently and paid attention to the background details, you may have noticed lots of jars in the tomb.  These jars contained the internal organs of the dead.  They were buried in the sarcophagus because they would be needed in the afterlife.  Unfortunately in both movies Imhotep is mummified alive so we never get to see the proper process in full.  During the mummification process, a hook was placed through the nose to remove the brain.  Then, a slit was made through the side of the abdomen to remove the rest of the organs.  The heart was kept in place because ancient Egyptians believed it to be the center of wisdom and the soul.  The body was embalmed with salts, spices and oils.  It was even stuffed to restore its original shape and form.  Then it was bandaged with linen and put into the sarcophagus.  Some sarcophagi had inscriptions from The Book of the Dead.  The Book of the Dead has been translated and has now been mass-produced in paperback format.  Whether it makes mummies come back to life by reading it like in the movies, we’re not sure but hey, what harm can come from reading a book?

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Fragment of a sarcophagus of Middle Ptolemaic Egypt (225–175 BC).
© 2015 The Field Museum, A115213d_017A, photographer John Weinstein

Mummification in ancient Egypt dates back over 5,000 years ago.  When Howard Carter reached King Tut’s sarcophagus on February 16, 1923, it set off a fervor of exploration in Egypt and the study of Egyptology.  It even inspired The Mummy (1932).  Remember the end of The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor when it says “Mummies were found in Peru?”  It turns out ancient Peru had mummies before ancient Egypt.  Their mummies go back over 7,000 years ago.  As fans of the movie franchise, it was great to see the real-life inspiration for the films.  It was even a bit humbling to see priceless pieces of history up close and personally and learn new things about them.  It has certainly changed the way we will watch these films.  While they will always be Universal Monsters films, there will be something extra now that we’ve seen the real thing.  We hope you enjoyed “March of Mummies” 2017 and are looking forward to the June 9th release of The Mummy!

(Joe Grodensky – @JoeGrodensky)

 

 

About the author

Joe Grodensky

Joe is a man of paradox. Joe is mysterious yet an open book. Joe is outgoing yet introverted. Joe is part wolf and man. Joe's favorite monster movie? Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992).

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