June 28, 1999
Volume 51, No. 34
In match made in 'afterlife,' Egyptian art comes to Emory
Like many perfect unions, this one was consummated in Niagara Falls. While the rest of Emory busied itself with commencement, Carlos Museum Curator of Ancient Art Peter Lacovara and four staff members prepared to head north to bring the Egyptian collection of Canada's Niagara Falls Museum back to Emory. A feverish fund-raising drive in February netted the $2 million needed to buy the 83-piece collection, formerly housed in a dark and dusty second-floor room atop Niagara Fall's Daredevil Hall of Fame.
The Emory and greater Atlanta communities will have a chance to preview some of the collection for one day only on July 19, when articles will be on display from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. in the Egyptian Gallery. Thereafter, they'll be taken away for conservation for about two years.
The collection consists of nine coffins and 10 mummies, dating from 1000 B.C. to the second century A.D. and including what may be the only royal mummy outside Egypt. Scientific analysis will be used to determine if one of the mummies is that of Rameses I, the father of Seti I, whose mummy is currently on display at The Cairo Museum in Egypt.
"A royal mummy could be a terrific draw for our museum, but if this really is Rameses I, there is absolutely no question that we will do the right thing. We will send him home where he belongs," Carlos Director Tony Hirschel told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution earlier this month. While there are many mummies on display outside Egypt, the royal mummies are considered sacrosanct and stay in that country under lock and key.
Quite a bit of circumstantial evidence points to the possibility of the Carlos mummy's royal heritage, including its crossed arms ("usually reserved for royalty," Lacovara noted) and its age. The mummy is unusually well preserved-also a typical sign of royalty-and its features bear a strong resemblance to Seti I.
Other objects in the collection include shawabtis (little figures buried along with the mummies and thought to be the deceased's stand-in in the afterlife), canopic jars used to hold the mummies' body organs, amulets and jewelry, bronze sculptures, pottery, basketry, wooden objects and relief fragments. Despite being on display for so long, the coffins have never been published or studied and are largely unknown, even to the scholarly community.
"We found overall that the condition [of the artifacts] was extraordinarily good considering the age and current conditions," Hirschel said. "That doesn't mean there isn't a lot to do. But the most important ones are in quite beautiful shape." Conservators with extensive experience in Egyptian artifacts will be assisting with the more complex treatments, but all of the work will provide a unique opportunity for students and interns to learn about Egyptian art and conservation, museum officials said.
Other one-day rotational displays of the collection will take place on Jan. 17 and July 17, 2000, and again on Jan. 14, 2001. Beginning in April 2001, the museum will present the exhibit "Mysteries of the Mummies: The Art and Archaeology of Death in Ancient Egypt" featuring all of the objects in the new collection.