The Mummy Congress
“Watching an ancient human emerge from thick bundles of tattered yellow cloth was, as I had discovered in Egypt, like attending a strange kind of birth. With each discarded coil of cloth, the unwrapper released someone into the world again. Delivered from the anonymity of its cloth womb, a mummy was a recognizable person again, a human being with a past, a present, and a future.” (p. 165)
In the first half of the historical nonfiction book The Mummy Congress, the author Heather Pringle tells several stories she learned about mummies from scientists who had attended the Mummy Congress is Arica, Chile. Each chapter discusses a different topic that relates to mummies and relates these modern topics to the ancient specimens. Topics that are discussed include using mummies to treat modern parasitic diseases, finding the origin of specific races, and the debate between whether these mummies should be dissected to discover the information they hold, or if the mummies should be left undisturbed. Whether or not mummies used drugs and the mysteries of what happened to bog bodies are other topics that are discussed. I think this book is very interesting and I relate my interest in Biology to the discussion of what medical information can be gained from the mummies.
Pringle is a very good writer because she uses very specific and vivid language to describe the scientists and specimens that she encounters. The way that she describes these mummies makes me feel like I am right there watching as the famed scientist Art Aufderheide carefully dissects a mummy. The way that she describes her colleagues makes me feel like I have known them for years because their personalities are similar to people that I know. This book does a very good job of emphasizing the impact that these ancient bodies have on modern society.
There are several questions in this book, but one of the major ones is “Does science have the right to destroy an ancient human body in its quest for knowledge for the living? Or should researchers respect a human’s inherent dignity, even after death, conserving and protecting ancient flesh?” (pg. 17) Those who support dissection include pathologists who think that dissection is important in solving many of the world’s modern medical mysteries. The knowledge of ancient parasites that infected mummies can help modern doctors treat parasitic diseases. People who opposed dissection include archaeologists, cultural anthropologists, and museum curators favor treating the mummies as actual people who had real lives long ago rather than samples and the mummies deserve more respect. Studies that are being conducted on mummies are helping to solve many historical mysteries as well as create new mysteries. Analysis of the hair of mummies shows that a majority to mummies in both South America and Egypt were exposed to similar types of drugs. But, how is this possible without any sort of trade between these continents? Mummies are also effecting people because they are being used to determine how certain races developed. These ideas helped me realize the such ancient specimens can still have a big impact on the human race today.
My overall opinion of this book is that it is wonderfully written so that parts of the topic of mummies that would be considered boring are extremely fascinating. There are very few problems I had with this book. One of the few things that frustrates me is that there are questions brought up in the book that still remain unanswered simply because science has not solved these problems yet. An example would be why there is similar forms of drugs found in both South American and Egyptian mummies. Also, the title is misleading because only the first chapter of the book discusses the Mummy Congress, and the rest of the book are instances that occur outside the Mummy Congress. I thought this was a great book and would recommend this book to anyone who is even slightly interested in mummies, even if this interest is a few questions after seeing a horror film. This book turns a topic that many people would consider boring to be very fascinating. I learned a lot from this book and it has made me interested in similar topics that have to do with archaeology or Egyptology such as how these people once lived.