The Presence of Genitalia on Ancient Egyptian Mummies
In the summer of 2011, I was hired at Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute for a traveling exhibit called “Mummies of the World”. The traveling exhibition contained some of the most fascinating human and animal mummy specimens on the planet! The mummies were part of a larger research project known as ‘The German Mummy Project’.
The brilliance of this exhibit was that it brought together technology, culture, environment, medicine and fun to provide a holistic view of mummies and mummy research. I was a ‘Mummy Expert’. We received training and talking points from the curators, but we were there to provide plain English explanations, curious anecdotes and our own expertise to the the overall exhibit.
Week after week, I roved the exhibit giving visitors all my awesome mummy knowledge, and it never failed- the giggles, shrieks, blushing, and any other myriad of emotional responses that would occur as visitors would make it to the half way point within the exhibit and spot a proud, beautifully preserved Egyptian mummy, literally, sporting wood. That’s right, this mummy had a wooden penis.
I would hear visitors begin to speculate whether or not it was real, be offended, feign modesty, show curiosity. The responses were fascinating! As a mummy expert, I needed to get some knowledge regarding the significance of the mummy’s prosthetic piece. So, I hit the iBooks.
Backstory: Although the mummy had been well preserved, his bandages had been removed, and all other material indicators of who he was was missing. The presence of a penis was a very important clue to decoding the mystery of who the mummy had been during his lifetime. It meant whoever he was, he was muy importante.
The cultural practice of mummification was highly important to the belief structure of the early Egyptians. Divine right, lineage, social hierarchy permeated every aspect of their lifestyles. They began planning for their death as early as they could. Mummification is a lengthy practice and the creation of the burial riches and objects that were believed to be an essential component to afterlife comfort, were equally as crucial.
The High Status mummy was radiating importance, and telling a wonderful story even without his bandages and objects of the luxury.
- – The quality with which the mummy had been preserved indicated that he could afford burial treatments characteristic of individuals with high social status. (Side note: He had amazing teeth and you could see a beautifully preserve tongue! It was crazy!)
- – His arms were laid across his chest, as opposed to down at his sides. This also would have been typical of a high ranking official.
- -The big tip off? A penis!!! The actual penis shrivels as it is not real bone. However, the wooden penis would symbolize virility, and the expectation that he would produce offspring to continue his legacy and prestige in the afterlife.
So, the Case of the Mummy Appendage has been solved! But the visitor responses were actually what interested me most. Why is that the presence of a sexual organ turns even otherwise reasonable adults into giggling buffoons? That is another article completely!
(This is a recent article written about King Tut’s “royal scepter”- http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/03/king-tut-mummified-erect-penis-religious-struggle_n_4537321.html)