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From Egypt, with mummy love
by Clara, Chow

TALK about the pharaoh sex.

At the start of the year, the Supportive Spouse and I took the family to the National Museum’s latest blockbuster exhibition, Quest For Immortality – The World Of Ancient Egypt, which is on until April 4.

I explained to our son Julian, almost four years old, that we would be seeing some mummies.

To this, he replied, genuinely curious: “But where are the papas? I want to see some papas!”

So much for being worried that the boy would be afraid of the dark – both literally, as the 230 artefacts dating back to between 4,000BCE and CE950, were displayed in dim light to protect them; as well as metaphorically.

He romped around the exhibition space, staring at the painted mummy cases and hieroglyphics with openmouthed wonder.

A pyramid shaped sanctum was like a giant playground to him – forget about letting the departed rest in peace.

It’s easy to forget that children’s
attitudes to death and
corpses are learnt cultural responses.

For now, before exposure to Hollywood mummy movies and ghost stories, Julian is fearless in the face of death.

I find myself still fascinated by the ancient Egyptians and the way they created elaborate rituals around dying.

To me, their royalty and aristocrats’ desire to be preserved perfectly for the afterlife is about egotism, manifesting a supreme confidence in transcending and cheating physical demise and decay.

Pop culture’s recycling and milking of the mummy code of immortality and potential resurrection is still ongoing.

The latest is a controversial TV documentary project in Britain that is advertising for a terminally ill person to volunteer to be mummified and filmed for a reality series on Channel 4.

The volunteer will not be paid, but his or her body may eventually be exhibited in a museum.

While the project has been dubbed tasteless by some, a channel spokesman defended it as giving a unique insight into ancient Egyptian embalming methods and history, with possible benefits for medical science today or in future.

One can see the appeal of such a documentary, particularly in developed countries with rapidly ageing populations.

As a person begins to feel less invincible in his present, he may increasingly turn to a fantasy of an infinite hereafter.

There is a beautiful double meaning in the idea that the documentary volunteer’s mummified remains becomes whole and part of a body of knowledge.

Back at the National Museum, I came unexpectedly upon a display of a woman named Nes-Khons. X-rays and CT scans of her mummy have shown that there are two smaller bodies, placed between her legs, which experts think may have been her twins, who died at birth or shortly after.

I still think about Nes-Khons and her desire to be reunited with her babies in the forever that she believed in, and of how she continues to snuggle with them in the big sleep.

She has become an icon of eternal motherhood for me: mesmerising and no longer macabre.

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Quest For Immortality – The World Of Ancient Egypt is on at the National Museum (93, Stamford Road, tel: 6332- 3659), from 10am to 6pm daily.


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