«A dead Egyptian body or a living British matriarch», read the clue that Alex Trebek gave to Jeopardy! contestants on a February 2015 episode.
“What is a mummy? replied one of the candidates.
Although Trebek accepted the answer, a museum administrator in the UK today might overlook this exact wording.
The National Museums Scotland in Edinburgh and the Great North Museum: Hancock in Newcastle decided to avoid using the term «mummy», preferring instead «mummified remains» or «mummified person».
«The word ‘mummy’ is not incorrect, but it is dehumanizing, while the use of the term ‘mummified person’ encourages our visitors to think of the individual,» a spokeswoman for National Museums Scotland explained to the DailyMail.
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«When we know an individual’s name we use that, otherwise we use ‘man, woman, boy, girl or mummified person’ because we are talking about people, not objects,» she added. .
Jo Anderson, assistant keeper of archeology at the Great North Museum, explained the language change in a lengthy blog post in 2021. The blog specifically focused on Irtyru, an ancient woman who has been on display in Newcastle for a period considerable.
«The word ‘mummy’ now often conjures up the image of a supernatural creature or monster,» Anderson explained, adding that she hopes these ancient men and women will be treated as «actual humans who were once alive. and had very specific beliefs about how their bodies should be cared for after death.»
The British Museum in London refuted a claim by the Daily Mail that they themselves had banned the term, but endorsed the approach of their colleagues in Edinburgh and Newcastle.
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Regardless of the linguistic debate, the question of whether it is ethical to display human bodies in this way remains a live issue.
Anderson described several ways Irtyru’s remains were desecrated, including the unwrapping of his bandages by three surgeons in front of a paying audience and the application of shellac.
«A large bolt and ring was fastened through the skull to enable it to be hung upright. At the same time, a large metal staple was inserted into Irtyru’s spine, which secured it to the plinths of the coffin below,” Anderson wrote.
Even mummies that haven’t been manipulated in this way are displayed outside of their original context, another point of contention.
Meanwhile, archaeologists in Saqqara, Egypt, have uncovered a pharaonic tomb containing what may be the oldest and most complete mummy yet to be discovered in the country, according to a statement released by the team leader on Thursday. of excavations.
The 4,300-year-old mummy has been identified as a man named Hekashepes. It was found at the bottom of a 15-meter shaft in a recently discovered cluster of Fifth and Sixth Dynasty tombs.
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Whether Hekashepes will ever be exhibited remains to be seen.
Reuters contributed to this report.