Tjeby in open sarcophagus.
Image: Rodney Start
Source: Museum Victoria
Question: Why is the Museum’s Egyptian mummy part of the Human Body exhibition?
Answer: Museum Victoria specialises in the collection and research of the natural and social history of Melbourne and Victoria in particular, and as such, we have a very small collection of Ancient Egyptian antiquities.
Museum Victoria does however have in its collection a significant Ancient Egyptian artefact: the mummy, or mummified body, of Tjeby, an Egyptian man who worked as an official of the Egyptian government around 4000 years ago. Rather than being displayed as part of an archaeological or ancient antiquities exhibition though, Tjeby is actually displayed in the Human Body exhibition in the Mind & Body Gallery at Melbourne Museum. This is because he provides a great deal of information about the history of the study of human anatomy.
Knowledge of human anatomy existed as long ago as Ancient Egypt. Ancient Egyptians learned about the inside of the body through the practice of mummification, the preservation of a dead body. They believed that after death, a person’s body would be restored in the afterlife, and so it needed to be preserved for burial.
In order to mummify a dead body, priests would make an incision in the left side of the body and remove the internal organs (but leave the heart in place) and store them in Canopic jars. The brain was removed through the nose using a thin, sharp instrument. The body cavity was then packed with dry materials like leaves or sawdust, and the outside of the body was covered in natron, a moisture-absorbing substance. The body was then wrapped in resin-soaked linen bandages. Finally, the mummy’s burial in the dry sandy deserts of Egypt ensured that it would not decompose.
Through the practice of mummification, Ancient Egyptians were able to learn about the structure and internal organs of the human body.
Tjeby’s mummy is on display in the Human Body exhibition at Melbourne Museum. The best places to see other collections of Ancient Egyptian antiquities in Victoria are the National Gallery of Victoria Antiquities collection and the Monash University Centre for Archaeology & Ancient History. There is also a substantial collection of Egyptian artefacts at the University of Sydney’s Nicholson Museum.