Scientist opens mummy coffin, finds more than dust
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: 1250L

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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?

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Assigned 20 times

  • MadisonSch
    12/16/2014 - 01:55 p.m.

    That would be extremely cool to find a boy of fourteen years of age and was part of the Egyptian time. It is a nice artifact because it is very old and it actually has something inside of it.

  • MAnthony-Cas
    12/16/2014 - 03:59 p.m.

    I thinks its very amazing how the Egyptians were able to do whatever they did to make the bodies of the dead last so long. Their remedies or methods of how they prepare the body is very smart in my opinion.

  • JSteven-Sti
    12/17/2014 - 11:54 a.m.

    M - The Main Idea of this article is that this scientist now can relax knowing that he has found what he has been searching for years.

    E - The evidence is that he had people lift the casket case topping off the tomb and that scientist has found what he has been searching for.

    A - In my opinion is that if that was me searching for that tomb all my life i would be relaxing for a long time and i would be enjoying the rest of my life in happiness.

    L - The linking process of finding that tomb was really important to that guy now that he has found it he says he can rest for awhile.

  • GigiSylvester-Ste
    12/17/2014 - 01:02 p.m.

    Thats so cool that they ancient egyptian were able to preserve the body. I really don think that the scientist should have opened it though. Thats really cool

  • BAlyssa-Sti
    12/17/2014 - 10:46 p.m.

    The Field Museum opened up the mummy before shipping it to Los Angeles. When they opened it up they found a 14 year old boy in there. It was a wood coffin holding the 2,500 year old mummy remains of a Egyptian boy. I would be freaked out if i opened up a wood coffin and finding that.

  • MFrancisco-Sti
    12/18/2014 - 09:37 a.m.

    M - J.P Brown was looking for a mummy casket.
    E - Some people helped him lift of the lid of the casket.
    A - If I were him I would have started up were he found it.
    L - J.P Brown was looking for a mummy and he found it.

  • LukeM-5
    12/18/2014 - 04:49 p.m.

    this article is about a 2500 year old mummy of a 14 year old boy. the mummy was the son of a prist. beause he was the son of a prist the boy had speial markings on his wrapings. the mummy is being moved to la hisory museum in 2015

  • DawsonW-Ver
    12/19/2014 - 09:10 a.m.

    I think they opened it to see if there was any significance with the mummy, I also believe they should have kept it closed to keep it safe and preserve it a little while longer.

  • ShaniaWentz-Ste
    12/19/2014 - 01:33 p.m.

    Just imagine finding an old box in your attic and wondering what it is. Dolls? Pictures? Christmas Decorations? Nope! It's just your old, everyday mummy. Nothing new. Just kidding! That is so cool! Archaeology has always been a fascination of mine. Every summer my pap and I dig for fossils. We have found quite a few.

  • miaw-Ela
    1/09/2015 - 03:31 p.m.

    The Field Museum wanted to stabilize the mummy before they sent it to Los Angeles so that the mummy would be touched and messed with as little as possible.

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