Angela Stienne
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Mummies unrolled
in Mummified
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This chapter begins at the Exposition Universelle de Paris in 1867, where archaeologist Auguste Mariette conducted the public unrolling of a mummy. The displaying of human remains gained a new level of popularity in nineteenth-century Europe, and there was particular interest in bodies that differed from the norm of the able, white body. A notable example is Julia Pastrana, who was first exhibited alive as ‘the ugliest woman in the world’, and then dead as an example of preservation techniques.

Two men who advanced the display of mummies as a form of entertainment in this period were Giovanni Battista Belzoni and Thomas Joseph Pettigrew. Belzoni organised an exhibition at the Egyptian Hall in London in 1821, using atmospheric reconstructions of the tomb of Seti I and clever marketing techniques to draw massive crowds. In the 1830s, Pettigrew, a doctor by training, became the first celebrity mummy unroller, presenting numerous sell-out events in London.

The chapter closes by looking at a more recent unrolling: a televised dissection conducted at the Manchester Museum in 1975. Although presented as cutting-edge science, this event was not so different from the unrollings of the nineteenth century, and raises similar ethical questions.

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The stories behind Egyptian mummies in museums


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