UK museums are ashamed of using the word ‘mummy’ to describe ancient Egyptian antiquities: it’s ‘humanism’

“A dead Egyptian corpse, or a live British mother,” reads the guide provided by Alex Trebek for Jeopardy! Contestants in the February 2015 episode.

“What is a mummy?” One of the contestants answered.

Although Trebek accepted the response, Museum director In the UK today you might study this exact wording.

Visitors see some Egyptian mummies at the British Museum in London.
(Brian Chan/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

National Museums of Scotland in Edinburgh and the Great North Museum: Hancock in Newcastle decided to avoid using it term “mummy” They preferred the “mummified remains” or “the mummy”.

A spokeswoman from National Museums Scotland explained to the Daily Mail: “The word ‘mummy’ is not correct, but it is dehumanizing, while using the term ‘mummified person’ encourages our visitors to think of an individual.”

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“When we know the name of an individual, we use it. Otherwise, we use the phrase ‘man, woman, boy, girl, or mummified person’ because we refer to people, not things,” she added.

Jo Anderson, assistant keeper of antiquities at the Great North Museum, explained the language change in a lengthy blog post in 2021. The blog focused specifically on Ertiru, an old woman who had been on display in Newcastle for a long time.

“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 “real human beings who were once alive and had very specific beliefs about how they work.” Bodies must be processed after death.”

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The British Museum in London refuting the Daily Mail’s claim that they had banned the term themselves but agreed with the approach of their colleagues in Edinburgh and Newcastle.

Museum staff view Moonstuff's mummy mask and Moonstuff wreath at the National Museums of Scotland in Edinburgh.

Museum staff view Moonstuff’s mummy mask and Moonstuff wreath at the National Museums of Scotland in Edinburgh.
(Photo by Jeff G. Mitchell/Getty Images)

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Linguistic controversy aside, displaying human bodies in this way remains vital.

Anderson described several ways in which Erteru’s remains were desecrated, including the loosening of her bandages by three surgeons in front of a ticketed audience and the use of shellac.

Anderson wrote: “A large nail and loop was threaded through the skull to enable it to be hung vertically. At the same time, a large metal brace was inserted into Ertiro’s spine, which secured it to the boards at the bottom of the coffin.”

Even mummies that are not handled in this way are shown out of their original context, which is another point of contention.

Meanwhile, archaeologists at Saqqara, Egypt It has unveiled a pharaonic tomb containing what may be the oldest and most complete mummy not yet discovered in the country, according to a statement issued by the head of the excavation team on Thursday.

The 4,300-year-old mummy has been identified as a man named Hekashepes. It was found at the bottom of a 15-meter-long hole in a recently discovered pit Group of tombs of the Fifth and Sixth Dynasties.

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It remains to be seen if Hekashepes will be shown.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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