‘Lost Egypt’ exhibit arrives at CT Science Center

By Joan Hunt - ReminderNews Managing Editor
Hartford - posted Sat., Feb. 1, 2014
Scans of mummies Pesed, Djedhor and Neferiiine are included in the exhibit, including details that have been learned from studying the actual mummies. Photos by Sal Mangiafico.
Scans of mummies Pesed, Djedhor and Neferiiine are included in the exhibit, including details that have been learned from studying the actual mummies. Photos by Sal Mangiafico.

Have you ever wondered how we know what people ate and how they lived thousands of years ago? Most of us have a smattering of information about archaeological excavations and the technology used to interpret what they uncover – but the “Lost Egypt: Ancient Secrets, Modern Science” exhibit that opened Feb. 1 at the Connecticut Science Center brings the whole process to life.

In a video called “The Dead Speak” near the end of the exhibit, osteologist Jessica Kaiser says that she was in charge of all the human remains at the Lost City site and that she likes working with bones, “Because it is the connection with the individuals.” She explained that the earlier burials beginning around 5,000 BC at the Giza Plateau site ended after a time and then recommenced around 2,600 years ago. The more recent burials had to be removed before they were able to get to the older remains.

“Working with bones, we can tell where [a mummy like the one named Annie] came from, whether she was sick or not and what she ate,” said Kaiser.

The traveling exhibit shows exactly how that happens, in addition to offering hands-on opportunities to participate in a vicarious way.

One of the highlights is the mummy of an unidentified girl whose body was found floating in the Nile. A local embalmer prepared her for the afterlife in such a way that her mummy, having been discovered 2,000 years later, contained enough information for experts to put together many details about her life.

They have determined, for example, that she was between 16 and 18 years old and in good health. She came from the town of Akhmim, Egypt, about 200-300 BC, according to carbon dating. The body had started to decompose before it was mummified, which indicated that it had spent some time in the water. Because she died in the sacred river, she was given special burial treatment, even though the embalmer did not know her name.

In addition to CT scans of other mummies and details that experts have discovered by studying these scans, there is a display of facial reconstructions by forensic sculptor Frank Bender that suggest what these ancient Egyptians may have looked like when they were alive.

Visitors to the exhibit can reconstruct a pyramid using blocks that are color-coded. (There is a surprise located in the bottom of the pyramid.) Screens depict the construction of a pyramid and what the average day was like for the workers who built them. A reconstruction of a sled is on display to show how the workers moved the heavy 20-ton blocks of stone across the  ground. According to bioarchaeologist Tosha Dupras, people poured liquid in front of the sled to reduce friction.

An interactive hieroglyphics station gives visitors a chance to try their skill at forming and reading a sentence, in addition to the opportunity to hear what the spoken hieroglyphics may have sounded like when read by ancient Egyptians.  A copy of the Rosetta Stone sits in another display case.

In other displays, visitors will learn how archaeologists use low technology to very high technology means to discover where good sites exist. One way is to simply observe the landscape. (A hint: plants grown thinner above buried buildings.) The very highest technology method used is looking down from space – remote sensing.

Other parts of the exhibit show how a body was prepared for burial, which organs were preserved in the different kinds of Canopic jars, how pottery fragments are put together to reconstruct the vessels, what can be learned from animal bones and the mysteries of funeral art.

Installation coordinator of the exhibit Terry White said the unique traveling exhibit is “all about the people of their lifetime and their lifestyle, not about the pharaohs.”  The exhibit is booked through 2018, he said, and will proceed to Phoenix after leaving Hartford on May 4.

“The exhibit arrives in four 53-foot tractor trailers, and then the artifacts come a week later in one truck,” he said. It takes about eight days to put it up. At some of the venues the entire collection cannot be exhibited because they don’t have enough room, but White said most of the pieces are on display at the Connecticut Science Center.

In introducing the exhibit during its Jan. 30 ribbon-cutting, CT Science Center Vice President of Programs and Exhibits Hank Gruner described it as a melding of people and technology. He referred to Imhotep, who built the first pyramid as, “the world’s first true engineer.”

Continuing that message, Dr. David Parekh, vice president of research and director of United Technologies research center (the major sponsor of the exhibit), said the exhibit offers kids and adults an opportunity to see how things have changed over time. “All that visit “Lost Egypt” will discover something new about science,” he said.

The exhibit was created and produced by COSI (the Center of Science and Industry in Columbus, Ohio) and built by the Science Museum of Minnesota. It is located on the fourth floor of the Connecticut Science Center at 250 Columbus Blvd., in Hartford. Artifacts are on loan from the Brooklyn Museum and the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. The museum is open Tues. – Sun., 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The media sponsor for the exhibit is WFSB.

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