I have just released a short story, Death on Display, on Amazon Kindle. The premise: “An archaeologist and physician recreate an Egyptian mummy using a modern cadaver and ancient embalming methods. Then they put the finished mummy on display at an international conference reception...what could possibly go wrong?”
This story is a tribute to the most fascinating conference I ever attended, the World Congress on Mummy Studies. Where else can you hear about a waxwork on display out west that turned out to be a mummy, or “piggies in peat” (experimental animal mummification using piglets in peat bogs in Europe)? I can truthfully say I attended more papers than I usually do because I was absolutely mesmerized with the subject matter.
The first session was on the ethics of mummies—both the study of dead bodies and the display of them. The concept of stakeholder theory was introduced: who are the stakeholders in a mummy display? The scientists, the museum staff, the public, the mummy itself…and the descendants of the mummy, if they can be identified. And here is a lesson for the unwary: a protest about a “stuffed Eskimo” in a museum case incensed Greenlanders until a DNA analysis proved that the body in question was of Dutch origin. Then, the protesters said it was okay to call it a “stuffed Dutchman,” just not an Eskimo. But, as we all agreed, it was clearly not respectful to label any mummy, a dead human being, a “stuffed” anything.
Another session told the story of Mumab, a human cadaver embalmed Egyptian-style in modern times. This project, a collaboration between Dr. Bob Brier, an Egyptologist, and Dr. Ronn Wade of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, tested everything we thought we knew about Egyptian embalming. The two scientists had a heck of a time getting the necessary permissions to eviscerate the cadaver, embalm it, and preserve it for posterity. The finished mummy was eventually loaned to the San Diego Museum of Man, just in time to become the centerpiece of an exhibit and the star of our Mummy Congress conference reception.
The bizarre experience of observing a freshly made mummy in a museum case while sipping white wine with other mummy fans inspired my story, Death on Display. I’m giving away ten copies on Amazon here over the next two weeks. After that, it will be only 99 cents.