“A dead Egyptian body, or a living British matriarch,” read the clue Alex Trebek gave to Jeopardy! contestants on a February 2015 episode.
“What is a mummy?” one of the contestants responded.
Although Trebek accepted the answer, museum administrator in the UK today you could tut-tut this exact wording.
The National Museums of Scotland in Edinburgh and the Great North Museum: Hancock in Newcastle have decided to avoid the use the term “mummy” preferring “mummified remains” or “mummified person” instead.
“The word ‘mummy’ is not incorrect, but it is dehumanizing, while using the term ‘mummified person’ encourages our visitors to think about the individual,” a spokeswoman for the National Museums of Scotland told the Daily Mail.
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“When we know the name of an individual we use it, otherwise we use ‘mummified man, woman, boy, girl or person’ because we are referring to people, not objects,” he added.
Jo Anderson, assistant caretaker for archeology at the Great North Museum, explained the language change in a lengthy blog post in 2021. The blog focused specifically on Irtyru, an ancient woman who has been on display in Newcastle for a considerable period.
“The word ‘mummy’ now often conjures up the image of a supernatural creature or monster,” Anderson explained, adding that he hopes these ancient men and women are treated as “actual humans who were once alive and held very specific beliefs.” about how their bodies should be treated after death”.
The British Museum in London refuted a Daily Mail claim that they themselves had banned the term, but agreed with the approach of their colleagues in Edinburgh and Newcastle.
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Linguistic debate aside, whether it is ethical to display human bodies in this way remains a live issue.
Anderson described various ways in which Irtyru’s remains were desecrated, including the unwrapping of his bandages by three surgeons in front of a ticketed audience, and the application of shellac.
“A large bolt and ring were placed through the skull to allow her to be hung upright. At the same time, a large metal staple was inserted into Irtyru’s spine, securing her to the plinths of the coffin below.” Anderson wrote.
Even mummies that haven’t been handled in this way are shown out of their original context, another point of contention.
Meanwhile, archaeologists in Saqkara, Egypt have discovered a pharaonic tomb containing what may be the oldest and most complete mummy ever discovered in the country, according to a Thursday statement from the excavation team leader.
The 4,300-year-old mummy has been identified as a man named Hekashepes. He was found at the bottom of a 15 meter shaft in a recently discovered well. group of tombs of the fifth and sixth dynasties.
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Whether Hekashepes will ever go on display remains to be seen.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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