Officials with the Carnegie Science Center are hoping visitors will get all wrapped up in their newest exhibit that opened earlier this month.
“Mummies of the World: The Exhibition” is the largest exhibition of real mummies ever assembled and it will be on display at One Allegheny Ave., Pittsburgh 15212, through April 19, 2020. It features 40 real human and animal mummies and 85 related artifacts.
Nicole Chynoweth, manager of marketing, public relations and social media, said there are all kinds of production companies who make touring exhibits, and this particular exhibit was available an caught their attention when they were deciding what exhibit to bring in next.
“Our mission is to delight, inspire and educate through science and technology and we felt this exhibit was the perfect fit for us because it checks off education through both science and technology,” she said.
The exhibition provides a window into the lives of ancient people from every region of the world including Europe, South America, and Ancient Egypt, offering insights into past cultures and civilizations.
The exhibition includes displays of the mummies and their personal stories, as well as state-of-the-art multimedia stations that take visitors on a 4,500-year journey to explore the mummies’ history and origins as well as how they were created, both naturally and intentionally.
Chynowith said there are a variety of interactive stations, including a wall with a light-up map that shows where mummies have been found and a place where visitors can feel what mummies feel like.
Dr. Cassandra Kuba, professor of anthropology at California University of Pennsylvania, was on hand at the science center to participate in the recent opening weekend festivities to share her expertise and artifacts.
Although she’s an expert in biological anthropology and the study of the human skeleton, Kuba has her own collection of mummies.
On opening day, Kuba was joined by a team of Cal U Anthropology majors and alumni, Maxine Neiberg.
“We brought a small collection of naturally mummified non-human animal remains with us, in small containers that science center guests could pick up and look at more closely,” she said. “We wanted to highlight that, even in often-damp Pennsylvania, mummification can occur, if conditions were right.”
With her students helping, they talked about what it would take to have mummification occur locally and the importance this knowledge can play in understanding the archaeological past and forensic cases.
Having the exhibit at the science center is a boon for the area, from both a tourist aspect as well as an educational aspect, according to Kuba.
On opening weekend, she said she talked with people from Columbus, Ohio, who drove in just to see the exhibit.
Also she got to tour the exhibit prior to opening with a group of middle-schoolers who wanted to understand what they were seeing and know the process.
“The children were not totally creeped out by what they were seeing, but they did want to understand why and how did these mummies come to be,” Kuba said. “The exhibit challenges the center’s guests to think about the impact of socioeconomic status on health, death, and treatment after death.”
For example, while the Egyptian mummies were high status individuals, can the same be said for the individuals who became part of the the Burns anatomical collection?
“What about the health issues faced by several individuals in the exhibit?,” Kuba questioned. “People may be surprised to think of a dental abscess possibly contributing to a person’s death, as seen with one of the Egyptian mummies, though people, even in the United States, can die due to complications in oral health. And then one can also enter into a discussion on the ethics of how anatomical collections are formed, exhibition of human remains, and value of research of such collections.”
Kuba added that we often think of death as a topic to be avoided in our modern Western society, but it is one thing that we know that all people of all cultures and time periods have in common.
“Eventually, we all will die, and being able to talk about death, factors contributing to death, and what happens to bodies after death is a valid endeavor,” she said. “It helps to alleviate some of the fear and apprehension about the topic.
“It is also helpful to learn how other cultures deal with death, their belief systems, and world views,” Kuba added. “While we may not share those beliefs or views, getting to understand them helps to start a dialogue where other common threads may be found.”
Chynoweth said there are stations where visitors can learn about the CT scanning that is done to learn more about that particular mummy — their health, the way they lived, the way they died and even about the different cultures of ancient civilization.
“There’s a bust of King Tut where they used modern-day scanning of his mummy to create what he looked like when he was alive,” she said. “His face was not something that we were previously ever able to see.”
This time of year, with the Halloween season upon us, interest in the subject matter is growing, but Chynoweth said it’s such a great exhibit that they are sure the interest factor in the exhibit will continue through it’s run to April 19, 2020.
Kuba hopes the locals will take the time to visit the exhibit to learn something they might not have otherwise known.
“The Mummies of the World exhibit pulls on many branches of science to help tell the stories of the individuals whose remains are part of it, but, ultimately, it is the human story that captures us,” she said. “And when we see these mummies, think and talk about them, we bring them into our own life stories as well.”
Science center members can visit the exhibit for free. For non-members, tickets are $19.95 for adults, $14.95 for adults over 65, $11.95 for children under 18 and free for children under the age of 2.
Tickets can be purchased at carnegiesciencecenter.org or at the center.