An exhibition guiding visitors through the complex rituals surrounding death and the afterlife in Ancient Egypt has opened at the National Museum of Scotland.
Fascinating Mummies features hundreds of treasures from two of the world’s top Ancient Egypt collections, some dating back as far as 4000BC.
The exhibition boasts material from the Rijkesmuseum van Oudheden in Leiden, the Netherlands, as well as a selection from National Museum Scotland’s own collection.
Dr Gordon Rintoul, director of National Museums Scotland, said: “This is the first major Egyptian exhibition that has been in Edinburgh, indeed Scotland, in three decades. It is the only opportunity to see this wonderful material from the Rijkesmuseum, together with our own material that has previously been unseen.
“Both collections sprang from the same source in the early and mid 19th century of people who were intellectually enquiring and outward looking, and collected things from Egypt and took them back to their homeland.
“The public have an enduring interest in Egypt, whether it is children interested in the more macabre aspect of mummies or adults interested in seeing the beauty of the wonderful decorations. There is something for everyone here.”
The National Museum of Scotland is the only UK venue for the exhibition, the first major one since it reopened following its £47.4m refurbishment. It is split into two parts with the first looking at the rituals surrounding death and the afterlife.
The concept of dying only to be born again included the need to preserve the body, which acted as an anchor for the spirit. An array of painted coffins, amulets, jewellery, papyri, embalming equipment and ornaments shows how mummification changed across the centuries.
The second part looks at how the Egyptian way of death was been researched over the last few centuries.
Scientific breakthroughs have allowed scientists to examine mummies in non-evasive ways, including the museum’s own Rhind mummy. Named after Alexander Rhind, who brought it to Edinburgh, it has never been unravelled.
Dr Jim Tate, head of Conservation at National Museum Scotland, said: “She was excavated in Thebes in 1857 and then brought back to Edinburgh. In a very advanced way, Rhind didn’t unwrap her.
“Using new technology, we can look inside and find out more about the body itself.
“It is a way of humanising the artefacts. They are seen as wonders where in actual fact they are human beings. We can find more about their health, lifestyle and age really makes them live in a more comprehensible way.
“We have about 11 mummies in the collection. They all have different intriguing questions.
"What is really amazing is the amount of skill the ancient Egyptians possessed. One of the museum’s artefacts is a gold necklace consisting of 2000 5mm diameter rings.
“You can’t see the joins, even under a microscope. It was only when we looked at a segment under an electron microscope that we could see that it is soldered together.
“The solder they used is the same alloy as the necklace with a melting point of about 30 degrees less than the gold. So 3500 years ago they soldered this - it is astonishing.”
The mummy of Ankhhor, a priest serving in Thebes around 650 BC is showcased in the exhibition. There is a selection of animal mummies as well, including a crocodile, cat and ibis.
The Fascinating Mummies exhibition runs to May 27 at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.