The impact of historical post-excavation modifications on the re-examination of human mummies

Heather Gill-Frerking

Abstract


Many museums and institutions have collections that include human mummies. Although some of the mummies may have been analyzed prior to or since acquisition, many have never been scientifically studied or have not been re-examined in decades. The rapid development of technology for the analysis of ancient human remains affords researchers the opportunity to gather new data about mummies that were discovered and examined decades, or even centuries, ago. The implementation of technology for the analysis of human mummies has become routine and provides substantial new information about the individuals being studied. During the re-analysis of a mummy, early post-excavation modifications, often previously unknown to current museum curators and staff, are identified and will, in some circumstances, affect the analysis and accurate interpretation of data. There are also ethical and professional guidelines that should be applied to the use of technology for the study of human remains, including mummies. Museums make the protection of all human remains a priority and any plans for research using human mummies must be carefully considered and planned. New data from any research based on mummies in museums can be, and should be, applied to both academic analysis and interpretation and public presentation. This paper reviews some of the effects of past post-excavation efforts on the re-analysis and interpretation of three Iron Age bog mummies from northern Germany and a child mummy from South America, and highlights issues for museums who are considering undertaking or permitting analysis of mummies in collections.

Keywords


mummies; museums; post-excavation; evidence-based methods; computed tomography; radiography

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.12697/poa.2014.23.1.05

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ISSN 1406-0140 (print)
ISSN 1736-7646 (online)
Journal DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.12697/issn1406-0140