Mummy Cloth at the Klamath County Museums!!!
What do mummy wrappings have to do with Klamath history and the Klamath County Museums?
Geographically speaking, the topic of this edition of Curator’s Corner is far-removed from Klamath County. The topic focuses on two pieces of cloth that were supposedly taken from an Ancient Egyptian mummy dating to 800 years BCE. The mummy cloth pieces sit in an old frame, and they were donated to the Klamath County Museum by a Mrs. Bert (Helen) C. Thomas in 1964.
A note on the back of the frame gives some context to this story:
“MUMMY CLOTH, --This cloth was removed from a mummy on exhibition, in the Egyptian Exhibit, World’s Fair, St. Louis, April 29, 1904, by Dr. J. E. Quibell of Cairo, Egypt, assisted by William C. Mills. The mummy, from which the cloth was taken, represents the period 800 years B.C.”
Are the mummy wrappings real? Why were they removed from the mummy? Why were they donated to the Klamath County Museums? There are a host of questions sparked by this museum object. Unfortunately, many of the answers to these questions are most likely lost to time. However, what might be even more interesting in this story is the fact that these mummy wrappings reveal more about the people who collected them at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis than about the culture that supposedly created them.
Many individuals typically assume that objects can “tell stories” or reveal information about the people who created these objects. But the lives of artifacts and other objects often extend far beyond the life-spans of their creators. The act of collecting, exhibiting, and researching gives renewed meaning to these objects. Not only do they represent an era of time long since passed, the fact that contemporary individuals chose to collect or research these objects reveals a wealth of information about our own society and its values.
So what do these mummy wrappings tell us about the history of our own society?
The late 1800s and early 1900s represent a period of “collecting frenzy” among the elite classes. The general idea was to display your wealth through the collection of rare and exotic objects. Ancient Egyptian artifacts fit this role perfectly and became subject to the elite thirst for exotic objects. Often these objects would end up in personal displays in the houses of the elite, which are now commonly referred to as “curiosity cabinets.”
The Egyptian Exhibit at the 1904 World’s Fair was most likely a result of this desire for rare antiquities from the opposite side of the world. Mummies were specific targets of many of these treasure hunters. The stories associated with Ancient Egyptian mummies from the late 1800s to the early 1900s are interesting in and of themselves. There is speculation, and sometimes proof, that mummy remains were used for many different things including “medicinal” products (as seen in products like “mummy powder”) and as raw material for the creation of newspapers.
The presence of the mummy wrappings at the Klamath County Museums represents the far-reaching impact of this early twentieth century collecting paradigm.
What does a “curator” do?
…A question asked of me many times throughout my work in museum collections. It is not an easy question to answer, however, as “curators” exist at the cross-section of multiple disciplines. This is especially the case in institutions like the Klamath County Museums, which contain a wide variety of collections. Some days it might mean work with artifacts, and on others it might mean the creation of new exhibits. Still other days might require work with archival materials or even library materials.
The definition of “curator” is complicated even further with its use in popular culture. There are now “curators” of music, videos, and content in general all over the internet. These individuals collect and present information on many different topics.
However, the museum curator’s job is really focused in collections management. The term “curator” comes from the Latin curare, which means “take care.” Museum curators “take care” of the museum’s collection. This includes preservation, conservation, and a myriad of collections management tasks.
You may see the work of a curator in exhibitions, however, there is a large amount of work that takes place in the back rooms, in collection storage areas, which many people never get to see or even know about.
“Curator’s Corner” is a weekly blog about curatorial work at the Klamath County Museums. It features curiosities, artifacts, and other objects found in the museum. The purpose of “Curator’s Corner” is to provide a glimpse into the vast collection of the Klamath County Museums and to provide an historical and anthropological perspective on past and present topics.
Coming soon…Mummy wrappings at the Klamath County Museum!!!