Sunday, February 13, 2011

Back from the dead: Mummies at Philly exhibit

Artifacts pulled from a display at the University of Pennsylvania's Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology after a dispute with Chinese officials who loaned them will once again be part of the "Secrets of the Silk Road" exhibit.

According to a release from the museum, the landmark exhibition, which was previously shown in its entirety in Santa Ana, Calif. and Houston, will include the full complement of artifacts beginning Friday.

The exhibit opened Sunday in modified fashion, with photos of the artifacts, a re-creation of the excavation site and multimedia display. The museum will continue the abridged exhibit until Sunday, when it will prepare the full display.

"We are delighted to be able to present the complete range of this spectacular material," Dr. Richard Hodges, the museum's director, said in a statement.

The Los Angeles Times speculated last week that the Chinese exhibition may have been curtailed due to ethnic clashes in the region where the mummies were discovered.

"The two mummies and accompanying artifacts . . . were dug from (a region) . . . where there is ethnic tension between the indigenous Uighurs and the Han Chinese newcomers," the Times report read.

The mummies that were to be displayed appear to have Caucasian features, as Uighurs do, "and they have become part of the larger ethnic argument . . . as evidence of ancient claim to the land," the Times goes on to say.

"Chinese authorities were reluctant to allow Western researchers access to the mummies, until more recent DNA studies showed their origins were European, not Uighur."

The collection offers insight into the daily lives of ordinary people in the region 3,000 to 4,000 years ago, including clothing, health, diet and culture.

"They're totally different kinds of human remains than found in the past," consulting curator Victor Mair told the Courier-Post. "They're not wrapped up in bandages. They're just lying there, just like they're sleeping."

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