Empires of Mystery

At (approximate) age 1,500, this mummy is 4-foot-9, has a bird tattoo on her left arm and more than 6 feet of hair.
Times photo: Fred Victorin)
Despite their rap, mummies are really very chummy

Times staff writer

We don’t understand mummies. We make no allowances for their little quirks.

Brought up on old horror movies, we think mummies are big, strapping guys who look like Boris Karloff and would just as soon slurp a human’s vital juices as give him the time of day.

This is wrong. This is stereotyping.

What’s more, the stereotype is misleading, as visitors to the Florida International Museum will discover as they view the three Peruvian mummies in the “Empires of Mystery” exhibition.

In the first place, there’s no reason to fear a mummy. He’s probably a shrimp of a man or woman, lucky to be 4 feet 10 if Egyptian, not much more if Peruvian.

Weight? He’ll never see 100 pounds again; 70 pounds is more like it. In Egypt, they cut out his interior organs and drained his fluids. How strong can a hollow man be?

In Peru, they dry out mummies under hot sands until the creatures come out looking and feeling like somebody’s leather jacket.

This may be a face only a mummy could love, but those among the living should forget stereotypes and accept mummies for who they were.
[AP file photo]
No mummy is all bad. Still, they are not a species that softly turns the withered cheek.

Reach out for an emerald in his forehead, and if you manage to get away with the stone, he’ll put a curse on you and 10 generations of your offspring.

Steal the mummy himself and take him back for X-rays at your museum in, say, Columbus, Ohio. The mummy will destroy the joint and kill the volunteer docents.

U.S. professors have joined the hunt for mummies and the attempt to bring them home for X-ray and study. They are still trailing knowledge, as can be seen from this excerpt from an article by professor Edward F. Wente of the University of Chicago. It appeared in the winter 1995 issue of the prestigious “Oriental Institute News and Notes” and is both fascinating and nearly unreadable:

The Seventeenth Dynasty line (of Pharaohs) was characterized by a series of consanguineous marriages, the major queens being full-blooded sisters of their husbands -- a practice that accounts for the prevailing homogeneity in the craniofacial morphologies of members of this family whose mummies have survived. Although the mummy of King Ahmose was discovered resting in its original coffin, (the scientists) had considerable reservations about this identification because its craniofacial morphology was quite unlike that of King Seqnenre, who was Ahmose’s father or uncle and diverged significantly from that of his sister-wife Ahmose-Nofretari and that of his son Amenhotep I.

All this proves that it is less fun to read seriously about mummies than to watch them in the movies or see them in person at Florida International Museum.

graveyard dating to 1400
Movies, media and popular opinion aside, mummies are a priceless find in the archaeological world. When a graveyard dating to 1400 was uncovered in Peru in 1996, scientists such as these scrambled to the site.
[AP file photo]

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