Mummies of the World: The Exhibition at Arizona Science Center has all of the Egyptian mummification artifacts you learned about in grade school: sarcophagi, brain-extracting hooks, entrail vessels and, of course, mummies.
But it also contained things I wasn’t really expecting, like mummified cats, a naturally mummified family who’d died of tuberculosis and several real-life shrunken heads from South America. (Fun fact: people wore the heads around their necks to obtain the deceased’s life essence.)
One of the docents pointed out a thousand-plus-year-old woman who was preserved in a bog so well scientists were able to recover the berries still undigested in her stomach. Whoa!
There was a whole collection of mummies used to educate people entering the medical profession.
“I really didn’t expect to see a modern mummy,” my husband mused after viewing MUMAB made in 1994 from a man who donated his body to science.
Also part of the exhibit, interactive stations showing how science helps piece together the clues from the past, like investigating how a mummy died, how decomposition works and where mummies come from.
Parents take note. If you have children who are really sensitive or frighten easily … perhaps this is not the exhibit for them. Many of the mummies are babies and children, a few have been dissected and preserved for medical research. They are not gruesome, but they are disturbing. Others look a bit like lawn zombies you might get at the Spirit Halloween stores. Some just look creepy. Regardless, parents should be prepared to answer some questions.
After my family and I completed the tour, I asked my 7-year old history-loving son how he felt about the exhibit. “It’s good. It felt a little unsettling,” he said, “but it wasn’t scary.” Which, I think, is a good summation. I might also add, and contemplative.
On the walk to the car we all wrestled with the logistics of turning a human head into the size of a Honeycrisp apple … and felt grateful to be alive and hydrated.
See “Mummies of the World: The Exhibition” at the Arizona Science Center in downtown Phoenix through Sept. 3.