Festival highlight is under wraps

Maryland mummy makes local debut at Port Discovery

November 22, 1999|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,SUN STAFF

Maryland's own mummy is back, tanned as ever after an 18-month stay on the West Coast.

In its first local public appearance, the body of a Baltimore-area man mummified five years ago at the University of Maryland School of Medicine was the star of a two-day Egyptian festival that ended yesterday at Port Discovery, the downtown children's museum.

Though most children's entertainment is "hands-on" or electronic these days, the mummy didn't have to do a thing to wow curious youths. Lying under a Plexiglas cover, the linen-wrapped body merely exposed one ankle and foot to show how brown and leathery its skin had become from the ancient embalming techniques used by Maryland and New York researchers.

"That's weird," Brittany Woytowitz, 10, said after reading a placard describing how the body's internal organs -- except for the heart -- were removed, using tools and techniques developed 2,500 years ago.

"Weird, but cool," added Stefanie Pfister, her 10-year-old classmate at Freedom Elementary School in Carroll County.

The mummy had been on display at the San Diego Museum of Man since July 1998 until being returned to Baltimore. Before then, its only public exposure had been as the subject of a "National Geographic Explorer" television show.

Ronald Wade, UM's director of anatomical services, was on hand during the festival to answer questions about the mummification, in which he participated with Robert Brier, an Egyptologist and philosophy professor at Long Island University's C. W. Post Campus.

"We tried to replicate exactly what the Egyptians did," said Wade, who provided a laboratory and a body, or cadaver, for the experiment. The body is that of a 76-year-old man who donated his body and died of a heart attack. His name has been withheld because of state privacy laws.

For 35 days, the cadaver was covered with 600 pounds of natron, a salt and baking soda compound used by ancient Egyptians to dry bodies for mummification. The New York researcher traveled to Egypt to obtain the natron, spices and 100 yards of linen used to preserve and wrap the mummy.

Wade said that besides proving the effectiveness of ancient embalming techniques, the modern mummy has been useful to scholars studying mummies recovered from Egyptian tombs. He said he plans to transport it to Pennsylvania next month, where researchers want to subject it to a high-resolution CAT scan that might help reconstruct how older mummies looked in life.

The festival, organized by a group promoting Baltimore's sister city status with Luxor and Alexandria in Egypt, focused on the Nile River civilization.

"We're particularly interested in having people appreciate different cultures," said Kathleen Lockhart, the festival's chairwoman. While U.S.-Egyptian relations might have been strained by controversy over the cause of the crash of an Egyptian airliner off the coast of Rhode Island on Oct. 31, Lockhart said she hoped the festival would promote more understanding between the two countries.

"We're thankful for the museum giving us this opportunity," said Nabil Makar, 57, of Wheaton, a festival organizer who served Egyptian tea to children and their parents. "Hopefully, it's like a seed, and it will blossom."

Pub Date: 11/22/99

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.