WTF Fun Fact 12700 – Dr. “Mummy” Pettigrew

During England’s Victorian period, people were obsessed with ancient Egypt. But this fascination led them to plunder pyramids, disturb the dead, and desecrate sacred artifacts. Of course, they didn’t see it this way, they were just having a good time.

A surgeon and Egyptologist (back in the days when you could be both), Thomas Pettigrew, took advantage of this “Egyptomania” to aid in his research on mummies.

According to Tasha Dobbin-Bennett on behalf of Yale’s Peabody Museum:

“…During the spring and summer of 1833, Pettigrew conducted his research for this manuscript while leading three mummy “unwrapping” parties, where members of the British social elite would gather to observe the unwrapping of ancient Egyptian mummies. Although no longer under the employ of the Duke of Sussex, Pettigrew effectively parlayed his introduction to the social elite into patronage, riding on the wave of Egyptomania sweeping the British Isles. While the majority of these private parties were produced for entertainment value alone, Pettigrew utilized these events as another line of investigation complementing his education and access to extensive libraries. The material included within the manuscript testifies to his detailed and serious methodology, particularly in the chapters concerning the mummy as a drug, the embalming procedure and paraphernalia, and the comparison of classical authors with his research. Ten illustrated plates by the satirist George Cruikshank, the result of careful observation, complement the extensive text.”

Tomb-raiding was so common that Egyptian mummies could be procured by wealthy people for just about any purpose.

Apparently, mummy unwrapping parties sometimes involved the hosts giving away the objects people were buried with as party favors. – WTF fun facts

Source: “Mummy-Mania” – Yale Peabody Museum

WTF Fun Fact 12680 – The Mummy In The Closet

Archaeologists often get permission to dig at a site that includes permission to take whatever they find under the assumption that they will treat it well and restore it and hopefully make a discovery that tells the world a bit more about the history of that site.

But archaeologists often take more than they could ever handle, and things get stored away. Or, in some cases, people donate items to universities, and how they got these items is…how shall we say…somewhat fishy. The problem is that the home countries of these items don’t often get a chance to repatriate the objects that archaeologists ignore (and in some cases, they don’t have anyone with the expertise or desire to do that).

However, no one at Cornell can actually figure out how the mummy got there. Did someone from Cornell bring it back from Egypt? Was it part of a donation? Whoever does know has been dead for years.

But we do know that the little 2-pound mummy had been sitting around for about 100 years ago. They assumed it contained a mere hawk, which is presumably nothing special. And like so many things, it got stored away – in this case, in a closet (but perhaps it was a nice closet – we’re not judging the organizational strategy).

Recently, an archaeology graduate student at the university, Carol Anne Barsody was researching a project on how we can use technology to study objects without destroying them and how we can integrate these objects – which may look like nothing much on the outside – into museum exhibits that people can learn from. It sounds very cool (and would allow many more people to see objects that have been hidden away).

Frederic Gleach, the curator of Cornell’s Anthropology Collection, offered Barsody two little mummies that had been stored away. One contained twigs and the other the “hawk.”

Barsody and Gleach reached out to Cornell’s renowned College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM) to get a CT scan of the mummy so they could learn more about the bird inside. And it was only then that they discovered it was not a hawk at all, but an ibis, a long-legged bird that thrives in marshlands.

This is important because the ibis was worshipped in Egypt in relation to their god Thoth, who was often depicted with the head of an ibis. That means the mummy was likely worshipped as a sacrificial object. It wasn’t just some bird. Thoth was the god of reckoning, learning, writing, and the moon.

The ibis mummy is between 1000 and 3000 years old (with some of its tissue still intact).

Not only was this once a living creature that people of the day may have enjoyed watching stroll through the water,” Barsody said to the Cornell newspaper. “It also was, and is, something sacred, something religious.”

She also told the Cornell Chronicle: “The goal is to gauge the public’s readiness for exhibitions without the artifacts. That gets into bigger questions about repatriation, institutional collecting practices, access, and education in this post-COVID world, where you might not be able to actually get to a museum. I’m really interested in the multisensory aspects. Using not just your sight, but also feel, smell, hearing.” –  WTF fun fact

Source: “Cross-college researchers unravel mummy bird mystery” — Cornell Chronicle

WTF Fun Fact 12662 – Cleopatra Was Not An Egyptian By Birth

Some think of Cleopatra as the quintessential Egyptian. After all, she ruled for 21 years, and both her skills of seduction and political prowess on behalf of her territory were known throughout the world.

However, Egypt belonged to the empire created by Alexander the Great (who, incidentally, had a sister named Cleopatra) and was subsequently ruled by a family called the Ptolemys. The Ptolemaic dynasty was Macedonian, so while Cleopatra was born in Egypt, she likely had no Egyptian blood.

In the end, her ethnicity makes very little difference other than to note that the Egyptians were not being ruled by their own people at the time. There is at least some slight chance that because the ethnicity of mothers was not recorded after the time of her great-grandfather, Cleopatra could have conceivable had some Egyptian blood in her if she had been born of a concubine to the king. But we will never know for sure. The recorded wives of Macedonian kings were all of Macedonian descent.

Among the many amazing things about the powerful ruler is that Cleopatra was the only ruler of the Ptolemaic dynasty ever to bother to learn the Egyptian language.

Cleopatra herself did not maintain the Macedonian bloodline since her children were fathered by two famous Romans, Julius Caesar and Mark Antony.

Egypt became part of the Roman Empire shortly after Cleopatra’s death. – WTF Fun Facts

Source: “Cleopatra’s true racial background (and does it really matter?)” — Oxford University Press Blog