Wednesday, 18 February 2009

The Life of Meresamun

by Kathryn Hadley
The exhibition ‘The Life of Meresamun’ opened last week at the Oriental Institute Museum of the University of Chicago. Meresamun is believed to have been a singer priestess in 800BC at a temple in Thebes. Her remains are preserved in an unopened casket bearing an inscription of her name that was bought in Egypt in 1920 by the founder of the Oriental Institute, James Henry Breasted. In preparation for the exhibition, the casket was recently examined by CT scans to reveal its contents and over the past week, the Egyptian mummy consequently made the front pages of many newspapers.

Previous attempts to scan the contents of the casket in 1989 and 1991 were disappointing, only producing fuzzy images. The latest scans, however, revealed exceptionally clear and detailed images of the mummy, still wrapped in linen bandages. Scientists were notably able to view her remaining organs and what appear to be stones or pottery placed in her eye sockets. She was approximately five foot five inches tall and was in her late 20s or early 30s when she died. Her body showed no signs of childbearing and although her teeth were worn down, she appeared to be fit and healthy.

The American radiologist Professor Michael Vannier, who led the scanner team, described the results of the scans:
‘The pictures of the mummy are breathtaking, we could see subtle things - wear
patterns on the teeth, a clear view of the embalming incision, precise
indications of her age - that were not apparent before.’

‘The Life of Meresamun’ provides an insight into what her life would have been like both inside and outside the temple. The display includes objects that she would have used in the temple, such as a sistrum, an ivory clapper, a harp and cult vessels. The second part of the exhibition, which considers her life outside the temple and the social and legal rights of women in ancient Egypt, includes a display of dishes, jewellery and cosmetic vessels that may have been in her home, as well as objects related to religious rituals and cults. The exhibition includes a video reporting on the examination of the mummy and offers a virtual unwrapping and as well as 3D reconstructions of her face and body.

Above, are some of the objects on display in the exhibtion: the casket, a sistrum and a harp, similar to those that may have been used in the temple.

1 comment:

J. O. Miller said...

In conjunction with the Oriental Institute's exhibit, last week the University of Chicago Magazine launched an interactive feature that allows you to take an virtual peek into Meresamun's coffin and hear stories from Vannier and Teeter about their findings.

Check it out here:

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