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North Carolina Museum of Art shows mummy exhibit for the first time


Visitors at the North Carolina Museum of Art explore the Golden Mummies of Egypt exhibit. Photo courtesy of the NCMA.

For the first time ever, visitors at the North Carolina Museum of Art can see mummies and related objects from the Greco-Roman period in Egypt.

The Golden Mummies of Egypt exhibit, a travelling exhibition originally from the Manchester Museum in England, is showing at the NCMA until July 11. NCMA in-house curator Caroline Rocheleau said this is the first time the exhibit has been shown in an art museum in the United States.

The show features eight mummies and over 100 other related objects including jewelry, ceramics, papyri and depictions of deities. These objects tell stories of beliefs about the afterlife during the period between 300BCE and 200CE, when Egypt was ruled by the Macedonian Greeks and subsequently by the Romans.

“What I like about it is that it's much, much more than just mummies,” Rocheleau said. “It's really about people: about their religious beliefs, their hopes in trying to achieve the afterlife, being reborn in the afterlife.”

Rocheleau said the Greco-Roman era in Egypt was marked by cultural and artistic influence coming in from the Mediterranean, which differentiates the artifacts of this period from those of Ancient Egypt and Pharaonic Egypt.

“You get this melting of these different traditions together and it creates this wonderful sort of almost new ancient Egyptian look in art and funerary art,” Rocheleau said.

She said the objects are all excavated material, which gives context to archaeologists and allows more stories to be pulled from the objects.

Haven Ross, a sophomore studying psychology and exercise and sport science, bought tickets the first day they were available along with her sister, mother and grandmother. She eagerly anticipated her visit on Saturday, and looked forward to learning more about the fascinating culture.

“It was honestly better than I even expected and I was already pretty excited,” Ross said. “My favorite thing was probably a collection of necklaces and anklets that they found. They were just really cool and look like something we would wear right now.”

Ross enjoyed walking through the exhibit, seeing the mummies and artifacts and reading and watching videos about the time period. 

Screens displayed CT scans showing what the bodies of the mummies looked like. There was also information about the meanings of the hieroglyphs on the coffins and the artwork in the coffins. 

The exhibition is accompanied by associated programming, including a virtual lecture on April 17 about archaeologist Flinders Petrie, who discovered the golden mummies. A lecture on May 13 will discuss the funerary beliefs and traditions of the Greco-Roman Egyptians. There will also be a dialogue series on May 19 about topics relating to art, death and rebirth in culture and society.

Additionally, the NCMA has worked to partner with local restaurants, bars and coffee shops to create special teas and cocktails to promote the exhibit — and help support local businesses that have been impacted by the pandemic. 

Honeysuckle Lakewood has a gold-themed cocktail, Honeysuckle Tea House has an “Egyptian Sunset” tea, and Epilogue Books & Chocolate Brews has a special honey-based drink, as well as a selection of Golden Mummies-inspired books. 

“We like to bring the excitement of the exhibition out into the community as much as we can,” NCMA Public Relations and Social Media Manager Kat Harding said.

Rocheleau said this is the first time that human mummies will be on display at the NCMA, after being requested by visitors for the more than 15 years that she has been working at the museum.

“This is probably your one and only time where we will have mummies at the NCMA,” Rocheleau said. “If people feel safe coming, we have something to show them that they might never see again.”


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