Monday, September 22, 2014

British Museum Members' Night

I have just had an excessively delightful evening. Thanks to my new Membership at the British Museum, I - and a guest! - are invited to monthly Members' Nights at the Museum. Doors open at 6:15 for "Night at the Museum"-esque experiences. The dinosaurs don't come to life, but the Rosetta Stone is sitting all by its lonesome so you can actually see it:

The special exhibits are free to Members, and they do an evening of special lectures and crafts around the exhibits. 
Craig, my mentee from Michigan State who has just arrived in Cambridge as. 2014 Marshall Scholar, trained over to join me. We had a lovely catch-up over dinner at the Museum Tavern and then went to catch an exhibit on the art of the Ming Dynasty in China. And, even more epic for me: "Ancient Lives, New Discoveries"...eight Nile area mummies and Egyptology!!!
From about 200 years ago, the British Museum stopped unwrapping mummies in its collection, recognising the inevitable destruction of the scholarship. Thanks to that foresight, we now have a decent collection of mummies as preserved as they can be. And we now have the technology to examine those mummies, in quite amazing detail, without unwrapping. The physical anthropologists at the Museum are working with CT scanning technologies and then some serious modelling software to scan the mummies at really high frequency and create 3D models of the insides. They're able to distinguish and peel away layers - so we can see the bones, soft tissue, bandaging, amulets, etc. all separately - and make conclusions about the life and health and occupation etc. etc. about each. 
Craig and I got to poke around in an interactive exhibit on the mummies for a it and then attended a fascinating lecture from the Museum's Head Physical Anthropologist on how they developed the exhibit, key findings, the way they collaborate with other teams and labs to do this kind of intense work, the moral issues inherent in studying and displaying human remains, and what he hopes they'll be able to do in the future. Truly amazing stuff going on. 
Perhaps one of the coolest: They discovered that one of their unwrapped mummies is buried with gorgeous amulets. Rather than unwrapping to get at them and thus destroying the body, they were able to do detailed enough scans to make 3D prints of the amulet. So they now have the objects for study and display without actually damaging anything. So, so cool. 

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