The Egyptian mummies

The museum's collection of antiquities includes Norway's oldest and largest collection of Egyptian artefacts.

mummie from the exhibition

Photo: The Museum of Cultural History , UiO / Lill-Ann Chepstow-Lusty and Ellen Holte

Most of them were a gift from King Oscar II during the period of Norway's union with Sweden. They were originally a gift from the Egyptian State in 1893, and comprise mummy cases and other dynastic objects. King Oscar II divided the gift between the Museum of Mediterranean and Near Eastern Antiquities in Stockholm and the Ethnographic Museum in Oslo. The Egyptian objects that were given to Norway were then stored in various places until they were given their proper place as part of the Antiquities Collection at the Museum of Cultural History.

From different eras

Four mummy cases form a permanent exhibition in a hall with dim lighting, which is reminiscent of an Egyptian burial chamber. The mummies represent different historical eras, from the beginning of the 11th century BC to the 3rd century BC. They bear witness to the long tradition of mummification that was introduced in the early 4th millennium BC, when the first Pharaoh united Upper and Lower Egypt into one kingdom. The tradition was abandoned when Egypt was absorbed into the Roman Empire.

From the 21st dynasty

The two oldest mummy cases date from the early 21st dynasty, which existed from 1069 BC to 945 BC, when the Pharaoh's empire collapsed. The capital was then moved from Thebes, in the south, to the delta in the north. The Amonite priesthood that remained in Thebes to guard the temple complex of Karnak soon became as powerful as the Pharaoh had been. Despite the fact that this was a period of decline, religion and art flourished, and even non-royal mummy cases from this period are of high artistic quality. They are decorated with hieroglyphics and intricate symbols, each with specific religious significance.

Life after death

These symbols represent the idea that life begins after death, and emphasize the importance of preparing oneself for the next life, which would be eternal. This can be seen on the two cases from the 21st dynasty, which contained the mummies of a priest from Deir el-Bahri and an unidentified person. The cover of the latter case is decorated with a portrayal of Nut, the goddess of the sky, and the bottom with Imentet, the goddess of the west.

The mysterious Nofret

The most recent mummy case on display is from the Ptolemaic dynasty, approx. 200 BC, when ancient Egypt had become a part of the Hellenistic Greek world. The woman has not been identified, but is called «Nofret», which means «she who is beautiful». A CT scan has enabled us to estimate her age at 40-50 years. Her bones and teeth are well preserved, indicating that she had had a nutritious diet. The scan also shows that her brain had been removed and replaced with resin, which was a common method of mummification. It is possible that Nofret was from Akhmin, which was the cult centre for the fertility goddess Min, and she may have been connected with the temple there. The foot of the case is decorated with a picture of the jackal god Anubis, who opened the gates of the kingdom of death, flanked by the other jackal god, Wepwawet.

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Published Apr. 14, 2008 1:51 PM - Last modified July 12, 2018 10:20 AM