Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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New Life for the Dead Volume 54 Number 5, September/October 2001
by Peter Lacovara, Sue D'Auria, And Thérèse O'Gorman

Atlanta's Emory University unveils a unique collection of Egyptian mummies and decorated coffins.

Abraham Lincoln, General Grant, Edward VII, and Theodore Roosevelt were among those who once admired the ancient Egyptian coffins and mummies displayed at the Niagara Falls Museum in Ontario. Brought to Canada in the mid-nineteenth century, the collection languished as fewer and fewer visitors patronized the museum, which in its final incarnation included the "Daredevil Hall of Fame" and was housed in an old corset factory. Despite the apparent quality of the individual coffins and mummies, no Egyptologist had ever studied them comprehensively and they were never published. Now, after nearly 150 years in Niagara Falls, the collection, reinstalled at the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University, has been rescued from public obscurity and scholarly neglect.

The collection--over 145 items, including ten coffins and mummies along with funerary figures, canopic jars, amulets and jewelry, bronze sculptures, pottery, basketry, wooden objects, and relief fragments--dates from the 21st Dynasty (1070-946 B.C.) to the Roman period (31 B.C.-A.D. 395). Particularly well represented in this group, the 21st Dynasty was a period of great artistic achievement in funerary art. It marked the beginning of the Third Intermediate Period (1075-656 B.C.), a time of political turmoil and economic decline that saw control of the country split between pharaohs reigning in the Delta and the priesthood of the temple of Amun at Karnak ruling in Thebes. All the effort that had once gone into creating elaborately decorated tombs was now concentrated on coffins, the designs on which have been justifiably compared to stained glass windows in medieval cathedrals for their complex rendition of theological concepts in intricate, jewel-like colors.

After their long journey, the coffins and mummies will be unveiled in new galleries opening on October 6. Emory's museum is fondly known by many Atlantans as the "Mummy Museum." With these new acquisitions, the Michael C. Carlos Museum is indeed worthy of the name.

Peter Lacovara is curator of ancient Egyptian, Nubian, and Near Eastern art at the Michael C. Carlos Museum. Sue D'Auria is assistant curator at the Huntington Museum of Art in West Virginia and an expert on mummification. Thérèse O'Gorman is head of conservation at the Michael C. Carlos Museum.

© 2001 by the Archaeological Institute of America