Kolkata: One of the most enduring attractions of the historic Indian Museum — the 4000-year-old Egyptian mummy that had been shipped to Kolkata in 1882 — is set to be restored in collaboration with experts from the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS) in Mumbai.
Displayed at the museum’s Egyptian gallery, the mummy is placed inside an insulated cabinet, which, the museum authorities claim, has prevented its degeneration. But no effort has ever been made to assess its condition or to review the conservation facilities. The gallery needs immediate renovation and the mummy could be preserved better with inputs from experts, the museum authorities admitted.
Minister of state for external affairs M J Akbar visited the Egyptian gallery of the museum on Saturday and expressed his dissatisfaction about the way the mummy has been preserved. He left a series of queries for the museum authorities to answer.
The museum has planned a two-pronged approach to protect the mummy. First, it will seek assistance from the National Museum and the National Research Laboratory for Conservation, Lucknow, to give the Egyptian gallery a much-needed facelift. Then, it will join hands with CSMVS experts to ascertain the real condition of the mummy and explore the possibilities of preserving it better. Museum director Jayanta Sengupta said, “The mummy rests inside an insulated cabinet which has a micro-climate of its own. It is in no way exposed to the atmosphere. But the gallery needs to be repaired for it had been left out of the bicentenary renovation work two years ago.”
Wrapped in cloth with arms tied down to the sides, the mummy looks fragile.The flesh of the face and the head has crumbled, leaving the bones exposed. The mask has been taken off and placed on the chest.
The mummy was a gift to the Asiatic Society of Bengal, which founded the museum, from a British officer, Lt EC Archbold of the Bengal Light Calvary , in 1834.
“The mummy was obtained with some difficulty from the tombs of the kings at Gourvah,” the society reported in its minutes. “The native crew on board the ship … having objected to receive the Mummy in his baggage, he had been under the necessity of requesting one of the officers of the Sloop of War Coote to bring it onward to Bombay, whence it will be forwarded to Calcutta by the earliest opportunity,” the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal states.
Incidentally, India is one of the few countries outside Europe and America that houses Egyptian mummies in six museums.
Explaining the reason behind joining hands with CSMVS experts, Sengupta said the museum is the only one in India to have held an exhibition of mummies a few years ago. “They had organized it jointly with the British Museum. Even though we believe that the Kolkata mummy is fine, they might be able to spot flaws in conservation and recommend measures to make it last longer,” said Sengupta. The museum authorities didn’t rule out the possibility of seeking technical expertise from abroad. “It is a long-process and we haven’t yet mooted the proposal, we will consider it once the Mumbai collaboration takes shape,” he said.