Mummies & medicine

27 September, 2009

Tjeby in open sarcophagus.
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.

Comments (8)

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Astyn Trecate 20 March, 2010 13:45
To whom it may concern, I am a year seven student at Kew high shool and I am currently doing a project on ancient egyptian medical procedures and mummification. I was just wondering if you have any relevant information on this topic, as I am having trouble with it. sincerely, a year seven inspired by your findings
Discovery Centre 22 March, 2010 12:58

Hi Astyn. We are so glad that you like what we do! There are some really good references on mummification, including the history and process, on the internet. Two great sites are The British Museum's Ancient Egypt site and Spurlock Museum at the University of Illinois. You might like to see if it's okay with your parents to look at this interesting YouTube video by an expert at the Cairo Museum, all about mummification.

Astyn Trecate 22 March, 2010 21:51
Thank you for responding. I have looked at the references that you have recommended for me and I think they will be most useful for my project. Thanks again, I will refer to your site more often for future projects. Much appreciated.
Lachlan 8 October, 2010 12:18
I am a student in year nine currently doing a project about the curses of the Pharaohs. I was just wondering if you could give some discussion points and opinions on the theories about the curse connected to King Tut and the overall curse myth. thanks
Discovery Centre 9 October, 2010 14:11

Hi Lachlan, the British Museum in London is a great place to begin your research, details of an upcoming exhibition called Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead are on their website. You might also want to check out the National Gallery of Victoria website, there is information about the various objects they have in their collection available online.


Oscar Levi 3 August, 2011 21:10
I am a Year 5 student currently doing a project on mummifacation. I was wondering if you have any relevant information as this project is quite hard. I love what you do. Sincerely, Oscar
Discovery Centre 8 August, 2011 10:05

Hi Oscar, thank you for the question - we assume you wanted references to ancient Egyptian mummification; and this subject is discussed a lttle in the Tjeby information sheet which you can find in the link above. In addition you might want to have a look at the following resources on the Internet:

Hope these help and good luck with your research.

Oscar Levi 8 August, 2011 21:03
Thanks for responding! I have looked at your references and they are very helpful. Thankyou again. Much appreciated.
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