In 1999 research on the human and animal mummies in the Division of Anthropology’s Egyptian collection produced some surprising results.
One of the highlights of the renovated exhibition Daily Life in Ancient Egypt on the Yale Peabody Museum’s third floor is the reconstructed Late Period tomb and the newly restored mummy and wooden sarcophagus that reside there. In preparation for its reinstallation, the mummy, its cartonnage and coffin, originally a gift from Harold Phelps Stokes to the Yale University Anthropology Department in 1938, were the subjects of extensive scientific examination that has revealed some interesting information.
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The mummy itself was examined by researchers Ron Beckett, Bill Hennessy and Gerry Conlogue of the Bioanthropology Research Institute at Quinnipiac University. Because of the special handling that it required, the mummy was photographed with a portable X-ray unit and the radiographs taken at various angles to reveal as much information as possible as to the condition of the remains inside. The report of this research contained some unexpected findings—it suggests that the individual may have been murdered.
Cartonnage masks and body covers, decorated linen cloths covered by plaster, were often used in the Late and Ptolemaic Periods in Egypt. The markings on the cartonnage of the Peabody’s mummy and on the sarcophagus contain the prayers and deities the Egyptians often evoked to aid the dead in their journey to the afterlife, but give no information as to the identity of the occupant. Significantly, the central column of text on the sarcophagus has been removed, perhaps an effort to erase the name of the deceased. These texts were researched by Assistant Professor John Darnell of Yale’s Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, whose translations are included in the exhibit.
Yale University was one of the first institutions in the United States to collect Egyptian antiquities, with the purchase in 1888 of more than 1,000 artifacts from Victor Clay Barringer, a probate court judge in Egypt. The Barringer Collection still constitutes one of the finest and largest segments of the Peabody’s Egyptian holdings. Yale also obtained artifacts as a member, from 1899 to 1915, of the Egypt Exploration Fund, supporting expeditions to the important sites of Luxor, Abydos, Deir-el-Bahari and Oxyrhynchus. In the 1960s and 1970s Professor William Kelly Simpson, Professor of Egyptology at Yale and co-director of the Pennsylvania–Yale Expeditions to Egypt, contributed many objects from Nubia and Abydos.
The Yale Peabody Museum’s collection of more than 4,000 objects ranging in date from the remote, prehistoric Stone Age to the Roman period has grown to be one of the oldest and most extensive university collections of Egyptian artifacts in the U.S.
We thank Dr. Ronald Beckett, Jerry Conlogue, and William Hennessy of Quinnipiac University for their continuing efforts in analyzing our mummies, Dr. Joseph Slade for interpretation of the radiographs, and Dr. Sanjay Saluja for coordinating access to the diagnostic imaging equipment at the Yale–New Haven Hospital.