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Unrolling Egyptian mummies in nineteenth-century Britain

  • GABRIEL MOSHENSKA (a1)
Abstract
Abstract

The unrolling of Egyptian mummies was a popular spectacle in mid-nineteenth-century Britain. In hospitals, theatres, homes and learned institutions mummified bodies, brought from Egypt as souvenirs or curiosities, were opened and examined in front of rapt audiences. The scientific study of mummies emerged within the contexts of early nineteenth-century Egyptomania, particularly following the decipherment of hieroglyphics in 1822, and the changing attitudes towards medicine, anatomy and the corpse that led to the 1832 Anatomy Act. The best-known mummy unroller of this period was the surgeon and antiquary Thomas Pettigrew, author of the highly respected History of Egyptian Mummies. By examining the locations, audiences and formats of some of Pettigrew's unrollings this paper outlines a historical geography of mummy studies within the intellectual worlds of nineteenth-century Britain, illuminating the patterns of authority, respectability, place and performance that Pettigrew and his colleagues navigated with varying degrees of success.

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36 Edward William Lane to Thomas Joseph Pettigrew, 12 May 1838, British Library Additional Manuscripts (subsequently BL), 56230, 3.

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41 Dawson's study of Pettigrew is for the most part descriptive, characterized by a diligence in research and a near-total lack of critical reflection on any aspect of the work. While I do not wish to denigrate Dawson's efforts in the study of Egyptology, mummification, the life and work of Pettigrew or any other aspect of his work, his notebooks demonstrate that he was clearly aware of the many problematic aspects of Pettigrew's character, and must have chosen to omit them from his study.

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44 Francis Palgrave to Dawson Turner, 20 June 1845, BL 56288, 251.

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50 Dawson, op. cit. (49).

51 Minney, op. cit. (43).

52 Pettigrew, op. cit. (46).

53 Dawson, op. cit. (49).

54 Evans, op. cit. (43), p. 227; Hall, op. cit. (43).

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56 Dawson, op. cit. (49).

57 Pettigrew Thomas Joseph, ‘Account of the examination of the mummy of PET-MAUT-IOH-MES, brought from Egypt by the late John Gosset, Esq. and deposited in the Museum of the Island of Jersey’, Archaeologia (1838) 27, pp. 262273; Pettigrew , ‘Observations on the practice of embalming among the Ancient Egyptians, illustrated by the unrolling of a Mummy from Thebes, Presented to the Association by Joseph Arden, Esq., F.S.A., for the Worcester Congress’, Journal of the British Archaeological Association (1849) 4, pp. 337348.

58 Dawson Warren, ‘Pettigrew's demonstrations upon mummies: A chapter in the history of Egyptology’, Journal of Egyptian Archaeology (1934) 20, pp. 170182, 171.

59 Pettigrew, op. cit. (1), p. xvi.

60 ‘Varieties’, New Monthly Magazine and Literary Journal (1833) 38(149), pp. 111–113.

61 ‘Arts and sciences’, Literary Gazette (13 April 1833) 847, pp. 233–234, 234.

62 Pettigrew, op. cit. (1), p. xvi.

63 ‘Arts and sciences’, op. cit. (61), p. 234.

64 Lyon Playfair to Thomas Joseph Pettigrew, 17 March 1852, BL 56230, 92.

65 ‘Arts and sciences’, op. cit. (61), p. 234.

66 ‘Antiquarian researches’, Gentleman's Magazine (April 1833), pp. 355–358.

67 Dawson, op. cit. (58), p. 172.

68 Dawson, op. cit. (58), p. 173.

69 ‘Spirit of discovery’, Mirror of Literature, Amusement and Instruction (1 February 1834) 23, pp. 74–76, 74.

70 Clift quoted in Dawson, op. cit. (58), p. 173.

71 ‘Spirit of discovery’, op. cit. (69), p. 75.

72 ‘Spirit of discovery’, op. cit. (69), p. 75.

73 ‘Spirit of discovery’, op. cit. (69), p. 76.

74 ‘Egyptian mummies’, op. cit. (4), p. 110.

75 ‘Proceedings of societies’, New Monthly Magazine and Literary Journal (1834) 40, 158, pp. 254–258, 258.

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77 Warren Dawson papers, BL 56271, 3, 57.

78 John Lubbock to Thomas Joseph Pettigrew, 28 June, BL 56230, 46.

79 Charles Ferguson Forbes to Thomas Joseph Pettigrew, 26 May 1833, BL 53604, 117.

80 Ferdinand dal Pozzo to Thomas Joseph Pettigrew, 29 March 1837, Beinecke Rare Books and Manuscripts Library, Osborne Collection (subsequently OSB), Box 19, Folder 985.

81 Charles Bennet to Thomas Joseph Pettigrew, 11 June 1833, OSB 11, 521.

82 Dawson, op. cit. (49), pp. 72–73.

83 Pettigrew, op. cit. (1), p. xix, original emphasis.

84 Pettigrew Thomas Joseph, ‘Account of the unrolling of an Egyptian mummy, with incidental notes of the manners, customs, and religion, of the Ancient Egyptians’, Magazine of Popular Science and Journal of Useful Arts (1836) 2, pp. 1740, 40.

85 George Squibb to Thomas Joseph Pettigrew, n.d., OSB 19, 1043.

86 Pettigrew, op. cit. (84), p. 17, my emphases.

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88 Pettigrew, op. cit. (84), p. 17.

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90 Charles Barnwell to Thomas Joseph Pettigrew, 26 May 1836, BL 56229, 16.

91 Samuel Birch to Thomas Joseph Pettigrew, 1 September 1837, BL 56229, 27.

92 Samuel Birch to Thomas Joseph Pettigrew, 8 September 1842, BL 56229, 38.

93 Warren Dawson papers, BL 56271, 9, 229.

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96 Dawson, op. cit. (58), Plate xxii.

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110 Pettigrew, op. cit. (1), p. xvii.

This paper has benefited from the critical attentions of a number of colleagues, friends and relatives. I am extremely grateful for the comments, criticisms and suggestions generously provided by C. Stephen Briggs, Richard Bussmann, Zoe Crossland, Chris Lawrence, Stephanie Moser, Chana Moshenska, Joe Moshenska, Tim Murray, Mike Parker Pearson, Sara Perry, Stephen Quirke, Raf Salkie, Tim Schadla-Hall, Michael Seymour, Kate Sheppard, Pamela Jane Smith, John Tait, John Taylor, Amara Thornton and David Wetherall, as well as two anonymous referees. This research forms part of a wider project on the history of public archaeology, generously supported by the Leverhulme Trust through an Early Career Research Fellowship.

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