The culture of ancient Egypt holds a universal appeal and fascination for adults and children alike. The Museum of Man is fortunate to have one of the most important ancient Egyptian collections in the United States.
This is due to the rare gift of over 400 objects from the Egyptian Exploration Society and the generosity of Ellen Browning Scripps in the 1920s and 1930s. These artifacts are from the ancient city of Amarna, where the Pharaoh Akhenaten and Queen Nefertiti reigned, and the young King Tut spent his boyhood. This collection features hieroglyphic stone carvings, jewelry, pottery, amulets, and everyday objects, all documented by archaeologists.
The exhibition also includes the recent addition of the Smith collection of funerary objects, including coffin masks, figurines, and mummified falcons. Seven painted wooden coffins are currently on display. The most extraordinary of these is an extremely rare Ptolemaic child’s coffin—only six others are known to exist worldwide. Because of the expense of mummification, children were rarely mummified for the afterlife. This young girl’s coffin is a cultural treasure reflecting the devotion ancient Egyptians had to their religious customs and beliefs.
Displaying the Dead: Changing our Practice
Within the next few months, we will be taking the remains of six people in this gallery off display.
They will be moved next door, to a sanctuary space, where they will be cared for along with the remains of more than 5,000 other people currently held in the Museum’s collections.
Many of these human remains were taken decades ago from excavated cemetery sites for the purposes of research, education, and display. This was generally done without permission from the deceased, their family, or descendant community—the standard practice at the time.
The Museum of Man recognizes that all people should have the right to decide how their bodies, and those of their relatives and ancestors, will be treated after death. For each of the individuals whose remains are held at this museum, we will seek out descendants with whom we can consult on how to best care for the remains of their forbearers.
Please visit museumofman.org/human-remains for more information about how the San Diego Museum of Man’s policy about human remains is changing.
Photo at top by Stacy Keck.