Scientist opens mummy coffin, finds more than dust The mummified body of Minirdis, a 14-year-old Egyptian boy and his burial mask lie in his opened coffin at the Field Museum. His exposed toes appear at left (AP photos)
Scientist opens mummy coffin, finds more than dust
Lexile

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.

The conservator at Chicago's Field Museum and three other scientists had just used clamps and pieces of metal to create a cradle to raise the fragile lid. Wearing blue surgical gloves, they slowly lifted the contraption containing the coffin lid and carefully walked it to a table in a humidity-controlled lab at the museum.

"Sweet!" Brown said, after helping set the lid down, later adding, "Oh yeah, I was nervous."

The well-planned routine came as scientists started conservation work on the mummy of Minirdis, the son of a priest. The mummy needs to be stabilized so it can travel in the upcoming exhibit, "Mummies: Images of the Afterlife," which is expected to premier next September at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. It is expected to travel to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science in fall 2016.

The Field Museum has had the mummy since the 1920s, when the institution received it from the Chicago Historical Society, and it's part of the museum's collection of 30 complete human mummies from Egypt.

"There's always a risk of damage," said Brown, who did the work in a lab filled with plastic-covered examination tables set behind a large window to let schoolchildren watch his daily work, "so we like to handle these things as little as possible."

Inside the coffin, CT scans, which make X-ray images that allow scientists to see inside the coffin before opening it, showed the boy's feet were detached and partially unwrapped with his toes sticking out. His shroud and mask were torn and twisted sideways. They will be repaired.

Brown didn't worry that the mummy would scatter to dust when opened something common in the movies. Pieces of the coffin had previously gone missing, exposing the mummy to the elements.

"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.

Walking around the opened coffin, Brown pointed and explained the significance of a certain marking, the colored resin on the linen wrappings or the gilded gold on the mask. If Minirdis had lived, he would have been a priest like his father, Brown said, although scientists don't know why he died so young.

"The fascinating thing about any mummy is that it's survived as long as it has," Brown said. "They're actually amazingly fragile."

This kind of work is always painstaking, filled with pre-planning and tests so scientists are prepared for the unexpected, said Molly Gleeson, who works with mummies as project conservator at Penn Museum's "In the Artifact Lab: Conserving Egyptian Mummies" exhibition in Philadelphia.

"These are unique individuals, unique objects," she said. "There's nothing else like them. If damage were to happen, we can't put things back together exactly the way they were before."

Critical thinking challenge: Why did the Field Museum bother with opening the mummy before shipping it to Los Angeles?

Assigned 20 times


COMMENTS (35)
  • sl2000soccer
    12/12/2014 - 08:39 a.m.

    The Field museum opened the mummy before shipping it to Los Angeles because they had to make sure that all of the pieces could be repaired and would not fall apart at the seems. They have to fix everything before the mummy is shipped so the mummy in the exhibit would be okay.

  • NW2000Basketball
    12/12/2014 - 08:41 a.m.

    the field museum bothered to open it because they wanted to know what was inside of the mummy. they might've thought there was something special inside.

  • gliderz4life@yahoo.com
    12/12/2014 - 11:59 a.m.

    I really like this article. When i was in 6th grade our whole class went to a science museum because we studied mummies and Egypt and saw a mummy. It was so cool.

  • maxwell.rosenberg54
    12/12/2014 - 12:46 p.m.

    I think it's amazing that an Egyptian priest can preserve a body so long and how careful a scientist has to be with the body I don't understand why he died at such a young age, he might have been poisoned or he could have died of starvation ,but scientists don't know why he died at the age of 14 . He could have had a stroke or even cance , but I wouldn't think that it would effect him that early in his life.

  • taylor.johnston93
    12/12/2014 - 12:53 p.m.

    This is so interesting. Finding a 14 year old boy mummified for 2,500 years. The scientist said that the X-rays showed the bandages on his feet were torn and his mask was twisted sideways, maybe when they were shipping it to the museum it wasn't treated well?

  • tw2001marvel
    12/12/2014 - 01:02 p.m.

    The Field Museum bothered with opening the mummy before shipping it to Los Angeles because they wanted to make sure the mummy was in there. As strange as it sounds, they might have had to fix the injuries that happened to the mummy.

  • IM2000food
    12/12/2014 - 01:07 p.m.

    The field museum bothered with opening the mummy before shipping it to los Angeles because they wanted to see if it was just dust. Because if it was just dust would be no need to send it to California

  • jarredc-Koc
    12/14/2014 - 12:40 p.m.

    For ancient human relics to survive without decomposing, it is every scientists dream find. These relics show and tell a lot more than people realize. Not only does it show incredible processes at work, it tells parts of a story. While scientist do find great historical and research value in these relics, some might question the story behind these individuals. Why was a fourteen year old boy mummified?

  • brandonj-Koc
    12/14/2014 - 11:27 p.m.

    The field museum in Los Angeles opens up with a twenty-five thousand year old coffin that has nothing but dust as a result of someone being mummified.

  • alexisr-Koc
    12/14/2014 - 11:56 p.m.

    Nobody, even scientist shouldn't open up a coffin or even have them on display. Their bodies are laid to rest for a reason. Not to impress others.

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