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Ancient Egyptian Wisdom ... Daily Practice

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Scientific Research or Sacrilege?: Should Ancient Egypt's Mummies be Studied?

The 2,000-year-old mummy of a child from Ancient Egypt's Greco-Roman period was CT scanned in Sydney, Australia this week. The child, named Heru, is one of 3 mummies "owned" by the University of Sydney's Nicholson Museum for nearly 150 years. Archaeologists and museum authorities were anxious to learn more about the child's past. "I'm amazed to actually discover that it is a seven-year-old male, for 140 years we thought it was a girl!" stated Michael Turner the museum's Senior Curator. All 3 of the mummies were given to the museum by one of its founders, Sir Charles Nicholson. Nicholson probably purchased the mummies during his trip to Egypt in 1856.

The story of the mummies in the Nicholson Museum raises several concerns that will probably not be discussed anywhere other than on The Udjat. Who did Charles Nicholson purchase these mummies from? What gave the seller or the purchaser the authority to engage in this transaction? When we acknowledge that most of Egypt's current inhabitants are probably not directly descended from the Ancient Egyptians, this question becomes even more galling. Many modern-day Egyptians even view the ancient religious practices of our Kemetic ancestors as bizarre or inappropriate. For those of you who have travelled to Egypt and purchased ankhs or shenu (misnamed cartouches), ask yourself how many of the Egyptians you purchased these items from wore them themselves?

While many historians, anthropologists, and archaeologists will hail the use of CT scans as the continuation of the new era of research on Ancient Egypt, I must ask: Is the research on these ancient bodies sacrilege? I know ... many of our readers who are versed on the development of the field of Egyptology will rightfully state that mummies were often used for the most vile, disrespectful purposes. Due to West's "fetishistic" beliefs about Ancient Egyptian mummies, mummies were ground into powders for "medicinal" use, burned as an inexpensive fuel for trains, and even used as fertilizer. Mummy bandages were also used for gift wrapping paper. I am aware that X-rays and CT scans of mummies are exclusively used for research into the lives of people who lived thousands of years ago, but my concerns are unabated.

Let's look at this issue from another perspective. Can we all actually say that we would allow archaeologists to exhume the body of a parent, or a prematurely deceased child? Aren't these mummies someone's relatives? I mean, who speaks for deceased Africans? Especially when most people of African decent today are so maligned and down-trodden that we can't even lay claim to our own communities. Would the United States government allow the government of Ghana the ability to exhume the body of George Washington for research? Would the Vatican permit the historically black higher educational institution, Howard University, to study the body of Pope John Paul II if requested? Of course not! Some of you might think that referring to a Pope is inappropriate. Trust me, I cite this hypothetical example not to offend, but to draw an interesting parallel. Just think, the Nsw-Bitiuw (Pharaohs) who led Ancient Egypt were also their nation's chief religious leader. Would the body of a popular leader from the United States be removed from their tomb to be placed on display? Who speaks for ancient Africans?

I also recognize that the underdevelopment of Africa through enslavement, colonialism, and neo-colonialism have created a situation where African descendants know very little about their ancestors. I am a practitioner of Kemetic spirituality. I know that without some of the intrusive studies on ancient Africans conducted by Europeans and others, I would not have had the knowledge to follow the ways of the ancients. However, when I travel to Egypt each year it feels very awkward to enter tombs in the Valley of the Kings or descend into the tombs of ancient kings through a hole cleaved in the side of a pyramid. These were meant to be vessels sealed into eternity.

Does the study, storage, and "ownership" of these mummies make you uncomfortable? Have I gone off the deep end? Had you ever thought of these issues in this manner? What are your thoughts? Post a comment. Vote in our poll. Until next time, shem em hetep (Go Forth in Peace)!

http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2009/06/17/2600929.htm (The quotation used in this post was taken from this article).

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