Mummies at the British Museum

BM 1

Since I started working on my next Draw It! book I’ve been finding out even more wonderful and strange things about London, and meeting people who have specialist jobs here, for mini-interviews to be included in the book.  I’ve chatted to the Ravenmaster at the Tower of London, talked to a firefighter called Louisa who’d just saved someone’s life, and been on patrol with the river police on the Thames.

Yesterday I visited the British Museum to find out something about mummified animals.  There are plenty of human mummies on display, twenty four at the moment, but there are also wrapped animals, including cats and even a tiny fish.  The ancient Egyptians were very keen on mummifying cats as offerings to their goddess Bastet.  Room 62 also had more mysterious wrapped objects.

Notebook BM Sept 10th 2013

Apparently temple visitors chose a ready-wrapped cat,  paid a priest for it and hoped the goddess would appreciate their offering, but maybe it was a sacred gift-shop scam as X-rays show there’s not always a whole animal in these mummies, sometimes just a a couple of bones or even a piece of wood.

I was lucky enough to talk to John T, assistant keeper of the Egyptology department, who kindly let me see one of the BM’s temperature-controlled storage rooms, where rows of mummies rested on racks, exuding a strong scent of resin and spices from their ancient wrappings. A beautiful curly wig made from glossy human hair rested on a stand in a glass case.

John told me he’s worked at the BM for twenty-five years, and I asked him about some of the more unusual things that have happened during that time.  “Sometimes people make an appointment to talk to us because they believe they were ancient Egyptians in a past life.  A woman who claimed she was Nefertiti visited one of my colleagues.  I had a visit from a man who believed he’d been a particular Pharoah.   When I mentioned this Pharoah was unusual as his front teeth were missing,  my visitor promptly shot a pair of false front teeth out of his mouth.  As far as he was concerned, this proved his point.”

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