Atonu Choudhurri | Jul 29, 2019 | 4 min read
The authorities of Indian Museum in Kolkata are unwilling to involve experts from Egypt for the upkeep a mummy which is rotting steadily owing to the lack of preservation measures and neglect.
A museum official told 101Reporters there is fear that the 4,000-year-old Egyptian mummy, one of the six in India, may soon be "decayed beyond recognition" if it is left unattended further. Egypt's ambassador to India Hatem Tageldin had expressed his displeasure over its maintenance at the museum in 2017 and had expressed a desire to send a team to the train the museum staff on the preservation of ancient mummies. While the Indian Museum showed interest initially, they backed out later.
The museum authorities have often been blamed for the mishandling of its rare collections, financial irregularities and mysterious disappearance of its priceless artefacts. However, the negligent way to handle the resident mummy, its most prized possession, has often invited ire from the Union Ministry of Culture.
The body is wrapped in cloth, the arms tied down to the sides. The face and head have eroded, leaving the bones exposed. The mask which lay over the face has been removed and laid on the chest.
The mummy's arrival in India, reportedly from "the tombs of the kings at Gourvah [in Egypt]" to Mumbai via sea and then to Kolkata, can be traced back to the 1800s.
Records of the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal (Vol III, dated 1834) mentions that the mummy was a gift to the Society, which founded the museum, from a British officer in the same year.
In 2014, chief heritage conservationist Sunil Upadhyay was presumably abducted by some miscreants after he had raised voice against irregularities by a section of authorities at the museum. He has been missing since then.
Renowned museologist Sachindranath Bhattacharya blamed the museum authorities for its unscientific upkeep. He told 101Reporters that everyone was aware of the substandard care the resident mummy has been receiving since the disappearance of Upadhyay.
“It must not be an isolated case; we must get into the root of the problem. If Egypt is keen to provide us expertise, then what’s our problem,” he argued.
Bhattacharya, who headed an expert panel to look after the preservation at the museum, said time-tested scientific methods were followed in the ancient days during mummification, which is exclusive to Egyptians and the museum staff across the world get training from the experts.
He also called for the formation of an expert committee for the preservation of mummies in the six museums across the country.
For mummification, Bhattacharya explained, the experts make a hole and insert a hook through a hole near the nose and pull out a part of the brain. Then they make a cut on the left side of the body near the abdomen to remove internal organs—intestines, stomach and liver—and put it inside jars, then place them back inside the body. Additionally, the body is covered with salt before applying the bandage and placing it in a coffin. He added that the mummy's physical degradation could have been averted had the authorities taken a cue from Egyptian experts.
He said the standard steps of preservation stipulate that the mummy be kept in a proper climate with regulated temperature as mummies are not only fragile but also temperature and light-sensitive. Assessment of the bones of mummies should also be carried out at regular intervals. However, he claimed that these steps are not being followed by the museum.
He lamented the fact that no status report is available, even though he had demanded it during his stint at the museum.
Bhattacharya said one of the primary reasons for the decay could be the unregulated evaporation rate of the calcium from the bones of the mummy. Improper upkeep could pose health hazards to visitors, he added.
He also claimed that there is a possibility of the presence of radioactive material inside the body. “If there is any radioactive material, it is sure to pose a serious threat to visitors’ health as such metals cause cancer,” he added.
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