Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Eternal Body Guard

Environmental & Science Edication
Edward Hessler

Have you heard the story of the frail old man who emerged from a university lavatory with wasp nests in his skull? He couldn't ask who had led him there because someone had stolen his jaw. He wouldn't stand up for himself because he had lost his back bone. He didn't wave for help because part of both of his arms had gone missing. He couldn't even point an accusing finger--those bones were lying against his left foot. If you are waiting for a punch line, don't. I assure you this is not joke. I witnessed this firsthand. In fact, I blame myself for all of it. I was his protector, his bodyguard, on duty for all of eternity.--Frank L. Holt

It is unfair to ask who the protector is without a little more information. Holt introduces an article  about ancient Egypt, known then as the Kemet, which is lavishly illustrated with watercolors from that time.

Does this help? It didn't help me (I made the standard guess) and I had the article by Professor Frank Holt in hand. The answer followed.

It is the coffin speaking and Dr. Holt tells us abut that coffin and what it perceives as its failure, its consignment (mummy, known then as a sah), and some details about the preparation of the body for burial and the afterlife. The term mummy is due a misunderstanding of Arabic--"word mumiyah, a kind of bitumen that was used at the time in preparing bodies for burial. Calling my charge "a mummy" is like calling the remains of your uncle "an ointment."

The essay and the watercolor illustrations captured me and I highlight a few details. What follows are direct, paraphrases or rephrasing from the essay.

--Everyone aspired to be a so-called mummy, with the five essential attributes of a living person--a birth name, heart, soul, shadow, personality, and life force.

--The famliar jackal-headed Anubis is the god of embalming.

--The coffin, an elaborate and painstaking construction was made to safeguard the work of the priestly embalmers.

--The brain was not prepared, a nonessential, largely because the priests couldn't find a way to remove it and decomposed too rapidly. Holt describes how the brain was removed, replaced by a perfumed resin.

--At about ten weeks the body was wrapped and adorned. Natron, incense and unguents were used to fight the effects of the relentless heat.

--Insults to me include loss of its ceremonial beard,  tip of nose, smoke and water damage, the stabbings of modern metal tacks, displayed in classrooms, and stuffed with modern newspapers.

--And Ankh-Hap (Apis bull lives), the occupant? Most of his skeleton is missing/displaced/replaced (two false hands with parts of real hands/cloth) and, of course, a head filled with the work of mud wasps) and wooden braces buttressing missing body parts.

--I was subjected to the interrogation of a tribunal, the Houston Mummy Research Program, "its members practice rituals they call research and conservation" (I loved this description.) to learn more about me and Ankh-Hap as well as what happened to us. Was Ankh-Hap attacked by a crocodile, the victim of tomb robbers or more recent by others with profit in mind?

--A CT scan revealed that the wood I was constructed from was felled between 1210 and 890 BCE, long before the burial of Ankh-Hap, estimated at 300 and 30 BCE (based on the design). The bracing was recent, sawn between 1560 and 1840 CE. Ankh-Hap or his replacement, died in late 30s/early 40s, was 163 cm tall and suffered from arthritic degeneration.

--In addition, a mailing label dated May 12, 1914, addressed to Ward's Natural Scientific Establishment and crumpled newspapers, the Rochester Herald (NY) dated between March 25 and May 29, 1914. Henry AugustusWard collected thousands of mummies, including crocodiles for export, sale, even rent. Some of these mummies were finely ground to make a paint known as Mummy Brown and some was used for medicine known as mumiya--a purported cure for what ails you.

--When Ankh-Hap was vandalized cannot be determind, "a secret I choose not yet to share."

--We were sold to a professor at Texas A&M and subjected to many alleged claims, souvenir hunters, and nonsense, in addition to being stored in men's restroom. In 1970, we were moved "to a properly curated home in the Houston Museum of Natural Science. I am now known as ANH-HR-H3CPJ

Frank Holt is at the University of Houston. The artist is Norman MacDonald.

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