Animal mummies

22 February 2016

What I love about studying textiles is that it frequently leads me down fascinating avenues of exploration which I never would have imagined. When I took my son to the “Gifts for the Gods” exhibition at Manchester Museum this half term (1), I was not expecting to be so enthralled by the display of animal mummies.

It became apparent that the mummies were wrapped differently and and in distinctive ways, some in ‘chevron-like’ strips of linen, others in elaborate designs similar to log cabin patchwork. As the example below demonstrates, it is obvious that the wrappings had more significance than simply a casual covering for the preserved animal body (photo taken with permission at the Manchester museum).

Animal_mummy.jpg

Animal mummies can be prepared for one of several reasons:

  1. Votive specimens (i .e. as offerings to the gods)
  2. As ‘provisions’ for the dead, accompanying human burials
  3. To preserve the bodies of cherished pets into the after life
  4. Because they were living representatives of the gods
I found an interesting article in the National Geographic online (2) and also purchased a book specifically relating to mummy wrappings in context to the special cultural value of linen in ancient Egyptian society (3). 
 
In the past, textiles were often disregarded during exploration of tombs and mummy wrappings taken off without being recorded in an effort to reach the (more interesting) corpse beneath. Animal mummies (of which at least several hundred thousand, maybe millions have been discovered), were often offered to tourists as mementos, or even sold to be burnt on fires. 
 
According to Riggs, understanding this cultural significance is essential in understanding wrapping of the dead body and other sacred objects (3). She argues that linen takes on a completely different meaning in this context, compared with that of our industrialised capitalist societies. She goes as far as to say that the cloth that wrapped the sacred image was analogous to it’s new skin, muscle and tissue, so that the textile object – or the textile and body, became a unity (3).
 
I have only just started exploring this topic, but I know it will be one which will offer a rich and varied source of ideas for textile projects, possibly starting as part of a sketchbook exploration alongside my investigation of skeletons and taxidermy.
 
  
References:
 
  1. “Gifts for the Gods, Animal mummies revealed”. Manchester Museum, 8 October 2015 – 17 April 2016. Available from: http://www.museum.manchester.ac.uk/whatson/exhibitions/giftsforthegods/
  2. Willian’s, A.R. (2009). “Animal mummies”. National Geographic, Nov 2009. Available from: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2009/11/animal-mummies/williams-text/1 [Accessed 25 February 2016]
  3. Riggs, C. (2014) “Unwrapping ancient Egypt“. Bloomsbury. London.
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