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MOSI mummy exhibit unwraps thousands of years of mysteries

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Published:   |   Updated: March 19, 2013 at 04:24 AM

The cherubic-faced baby sits frozen in eternal repose, arms crossed on its knees, trimmed hair, tiny fingernails and a small amulet around its neck.

Researchers don't know the infant's gender, but they believe the baby's battle for life ended at 10 months old from a heart defect. But this infant is much older than that — it's 6,420 years old to be exact.

The child is a mummified corpse from Peru known as the "Detmold Child."

It's 1,000 years older than the earliest known Egyptian mummy and predates King Tut by more than 3,000 years.

The Detmold Child is on display at "Mummies of the World, The Exhibition," which opens today and continues through Sept. 9, at Tampa's Museum of Science and Industry.

The exhibit is billed as the largest traveling collection of authentic mummies ever assembled for public viewing, with some 50 human and animal mummies, and 100 related artifacts. The items are on loan from 20 international institutions and museums in seven countries for a limited three-year U.S. tour. Since 2010, the exhibit has been traveling the country's science museums, drawing huge crowds. Tampa is the exhibit's fifth stop.

"People have always been fascinated by mummies," said Marc Corwin, president of American Exhibitions, Inc., which is presenting the exhibit. "(With this exhibit) you will feel and realize that these mummies were people just like you and I and had lives, just like you and I. There's nothing scary about mummies."

While most people associate mummies with the regally wrapped bodies of Egypt, they come from all over the world, said Corwin, and the process has taken place from the hot desert sands of South America to remote European moors and bogs.

The exhibit includes mummies that have been intentionally preserved and those that have been naturally kept, as a result of the temperature and humidity of the environment.

In addition to the Detmold Child, visitors will see the Orlovits family – Michael, Veronica, and son, Johannes – a mummified family from Vac, Hungary that died from tuberculosis in the 18th century. Their bodies were discovered in 1994 buried beneath floorboards of a church that were sealed with pine oil. The dark, cool environment was perfect for preservation.

There is also the Baron von Holz, a 17th century nobleman, believed to have died in Germany during the Thirty Years' War (1618 to 1648), who was found tucked away in the family crypt of a 14th century castle wearing his best leather boots; and an ancient Peruvian woman naturally mummified in the warm desert air, with long black hair and mysterious markings on her face and chest.

Besides human mummies, there are animal mummies including an Egyptian cat mummy elaborately wrapped in painted linen bandages; a lizard mummified in the Sahara desert; and what Corwin calls one of the most dramatic animal mummies ever found, a howler monkey from Argentina adorned with a feather skirt and headdress.

Through DNA analysis, mummies are able to tell their stories, said Corwin.

Researchers can learn about their origins, diseases they suffered, their diets, religious practices and customs, how they lived and how they died.

The exhibit will offer interactive and multi-media exhibits to educate visitors on the science of mummification, how it occurs and the stages of decomposition.

And visitors will have the opportunity to unwrap a mummy, so to speak, by traveling through the body of a mummy in three dimensions.

"People are going to be fascinated," Corwin said. "We want to teach people about real mummies and answer their questions. "But sometimes, instead of getting answers, you get more questions."

The exhibit got its start in 2004, after 21 mummies were discovered in the basement of the Reiss-Engelhorn Museum in Mannheim, Germany. Researchers began analyzing the mummies to learn more about them, and teamed with 21 museums and organizations to make the exhibit happen.

Following the exhibit, the mummies and artifacts will be returned to their respective museums and will not be shown together again, Corwin said.

Corwin said despite the "awe" factor of the mummies, the exhibit is meant to respectful of the past lives that are on display.

"We're dealing with preserved human beings," he said. "And when we do that, we are required to present the exhibition with great dignity, reference and respect for the people and cultures they represent. We're able to learn from them and at the same time we get to learn about ourselves."

'MUMMIES OF THE WORLD, THE EXHIBITION'

When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, starting today; 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday through Sept. 9

Where: Museum of Science and Industry, 4801 E. Fowler Ave., Tampa

Tickets: $18.95 adults; $12.95 children age 2 to 12; $16.95 for seniors 60 and over; this is a timed-entry event so reservations are encouraged; www.MOSI.org and (813) 987-6000


ccabrera@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7656

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