Keepers’ Corner – Egyptian mummy bandages

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With a theme of “Creativity Unwrapped” this month, I’ve decided to focus on “unwrapping”.


This strange object, about 25cm long, and 10cm wide, is a roll of Egyptian mummy bandages, probably around 3000 years old. They were acquired by the museum almost 100 years ago from the collection of Dr John Lee, who lived at Hartwell House, just outside Aylesbury (now a luxury hotel, and owned by the National Trust).


Aside from being a respected astronomer who built an observatory at Hartwell house, Dr Lee also had a huge and varied collection of objects, including coins, manuscripts, ethnographic items, Egyptology, geological specimens, statues, paintings, and much, much more, all in his own private museum at Hartwell house. Lee died in 1866, and the collection was split up, some of the Egyptology ending up with us.


Victorian times, Egyptian mummies were seen as many things – exotic curiosities, museum exhibits and souvenirs, but were not really considered as people, or treated with respect. Although it would not be done by museums today, Victorian antiquarians would sometimes perform public mummy unwrappings, that people could pay to go and see, and it was a very popular entertainment! This bundle of bandages has a note from Dr Lee saying that they were taken from a mummy unwrapped by T.J. Pettigrew in July 1836. Pettigrew was a surgeon, famous for doing unwrappings at parties to entertain the guests!


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