Saturday, May 24, 2008

Ghost toddler from ancient Egypt on show as art

A new exhibition sheds light on a family tragedy that took place almost two thousand years ago. Roger Highfield reports.

  • Egyptian mummy exhibit is son of Ramesses II
  • The ghost of an Ancient Egyptian toddler now haunts a London gallery, after scans of his mummy were fashioned into a work of art.

    "Mummy boy 3" exhibition
    "Mummy Boy 3" is on display at Waterhouse & Dodd in the West End of London until June 12.

    Artist Angela Palmer has already turned Carol Vorderman's brain, and even her own, into eerie artistic representations, formed from layers of glass that have been engraved with contours based on scans of their brains.

    Now she has used the same method to bring the remains of the toddler into view and shed new light on a family tragedy that took place almost two thousand years ago in Egypt.

    Her reconstruction of "Mummy Boy 3" is now on display at Waterhouse & Dodd in the West End of London, until June 12.

    She had originally wanted to scan the head of the boy king Tutenkhamum, but was told that request was out of the question.

    However, the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford allowed her unprecedented access to the mummy to shed new light on the toddler's death in Roman times.

    "It is an exquisite mummy," says Ms Palmer. Working with Dr Helen Whitehouse of The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, 2500 images of the little mummy were taken with an CT X ray scanner in the John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, to create the stacked glass sculpture.

    "As you move around it, the mummy disappears from view, in an ethereal effect," she says.

    As a bonus, the effort has revealed to archaeologists new details of the mummy. The remains were of an 18 month old and it was a boy, as shown by his mummified penis.

    Unusually, he lacked his baby side teeth. His brain had also been removed, in common with standard funerary practices of the day.

    A CT X ray scan of the toodler's mummified body
    A CT scan of the toddler's mummified body

    The scans show that the elaborate bandages that wrap the remains, forming an elaborate lozenge pattern, are typical of the approach used in AD 80-120.

    The presence of gold studs of gilded plaster, bound near his lap, suggest that the little boy was the son of a noble or an official.

    Exhibited alongside the resulting see through sculpture, built up from glass engraved with the scans, are the mummy itself, along with films and photographs taken by the artist of local boys from the village of Hawara, south west of Cairo.

    It was there that the mummy was found in 1888 by the British archaeologist W. M. F. Petrie, while excavating around the royal pyramid of Pharaoh Amenemhet III (1818–1770 BC).

    Poignant relics from a 100 acre cemetery there, from toys to tiny shoes and clothes, testify to how around quarter of children at that time did not survive beyond their first year, comments Dr Whitehouse, adding that diseases, insects, malaria and parasitic worms were prevalent until the 20th century.

    The precise cause of death are not clear, though the child had a problem with his right hip, and had an inflamed lung, consistent with pneumonia.

    Original here

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