Scientist opens mummy coffin, finds more than dust
Once the lid was off the wood coffin holding the 2,500-year-old mummified remains of a 14-year-old Egyptian boy, scientist J.P. Brown could relax.
Brown is the conservator at Chicago's Field Museum. He and three other scientists had just used clamps and pieces of metal to create a cradle to lift the lid. They wore blue surgical gloves. Slowly they lifted the contraption containing the coffin lid. Then they carefully walked it to a table in a lab at the museum.
"Sweet!" Brown said, after helping set the lid down. He later added, "Oh yeah, I was nervous."
It was a well-planned routine. It came as scientists started conservation work on the mummy of Minirdis. He was the son of a priest. The mummy needs to be stabilized so it can travel. It will appear in the exhibit, "Mummies: Images of the Afterlife." It's expected to premier next September at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.
The Field Museum has had the mummy since the 1920s. That's when the institution received it from the Chicago Historical Society. It's part of the museum's collection of 30 complete human mummies from Egypt.
"There's always a risk of damage," said Brown. "We like to handle these things as little as possible."
He did the work in a lab filled with plastic-covered examination tables. They were set behind a large window to let schoolchildren watch his daily work.
Inside the coffin, there was expected damage. The mummy's feet were detached. They were partially unwrapped with his toes were sticking out. His shroud and mask were torn and twisted sideways. Those will be repaired.
Brown didn't worry that the mummy would scatter to dust when the coffin was opened. That's something common in the movies.
"The last bit of 'Indiana Jones' and all that," Brown explained before opening the coffin. "That's not going to happen."
And it didn't.
Brown walked around the opened coffin. He explained the significance of a certain marking. If Minirdis had lived, he would have been a priest like his father, Brown said. Scientists don't know why he died so young.