The afterlife took a different turn this week for one of two mummies that calls Shawnee home.

The afterlife took a different turn this week for one of two mummies that calls Shawnee home.
The 2,300-year-old mummy at the Mabee-Gerrer Museum of Art, encased in its ancient Egyptian sarcophagus, was carefully packed and driven to Idabel, where it will be on display through August at the Museum of the Red River. Professional art handlers were on site to ensure safe storage, and a hearse from an Idabel funeral home added some humor to the process by transporting the mummy to its temporary home.
The mummy, a female, doesn’t have an official name because the reading of her hieroglyphics is not complete, but she hails from the Ptolemaic period of Egypt, around 300 B.C., said Delaynna Trim, the Mabee-Gerrer’s curator of collections. The person was probably from the middle class because her sarcophagus is not as elaborate as the coffin of a royal family member, and it doesn’t have a chest plate showing a family name.
But an ancient Egyptian mummy is still a prize for any museum, Trim said, and the Mabee-Gerrer owns the only two mummies in Oklahoma.
“We are fortunate that something like that has survived all this time,” Trim said. “It’s really amazing.”
The mummies made their way to Shawnee thanks to the museum’s founder, Father Gregory Gerrer, known for collecting art and artifacts around the world. Dane Pollei, director of the Mabee-Gerrer Museum, said Fr. Gerrer obtained the mummy Tutu in 1921 while he was helping at a New York art auction. The other mummy may have come from an auction as well, though the history of its acquisition is unknown.
Tutu is still on display in the museum’s gallery, and the other mummy was last seen by the public several years ago. It was put into storage when the Etruscan exhibit took center stage and galleries were reconfigured.
During Tuesday’s packing process, museum staff explained more about the sarcophagus and unveiled the mummy inside. The mummy’s teeth are visible, as is the desiccated brain at the bottom of the skull. The rest of the body is wrapped in linen. Trim said the mummy’s arms are folded down across her pelvis, which is a sign of lower-class status; a royal person would have been mummified with her hands crossed on the upper part of the body. Other signs of lower-class status are that the woman’s brain and organs were not removed, as would have occurred for a wealthy Egyptian. At that time, a deceased person’s brain was removed because it was thought to be of no worth, Trim said. The other highly prized organs were taken out and mummified separately.
Preliminary X-rays also showed that the person experienced some periods of malnutrition in life, evidenced by a bone density look at the tibia, the longer of the two bones between the knee and ankle.
Pictures of the sarcophagus have been sent to the Oriental Institute in Chicago, Trim said, and she hopes to have more details on the hieroglyphics by the time she returns to Shawnee. Although the in-depth analysis is unknown, Trim said the symbols are typical imagery for the dead. Toward the end of the Ptolemaic Period, sarcophagi were mass-produced and, for the lower class, the imagery was more generic.
This mummy has been on the road before; in 1998, it was loaned to the Museum of Man in San Diego. Loaning pieces from their permanent collection is both exciting and a little nerve-racking, Trim said, especially because the Mabee-Gerrer has the only two mummies in the state.
“It’s exciting because you get to share something close to you with other people,” she said. “Of course, it’s always a little scary what might happen, what act of God might occur during that time. But for the most part, it’s exciting for people in another town to get to see it in person and learn more about it.”
In Idabel, the mummy will be displayed in two specially built cases: the top part of the sarcophagus featuring the hieroglyphics in one case, and the mummy in the bottom half in the other case. Other smaller Egyptian artifacts were loaned as well, and the Museum of the Red River is holding an Egyptian camp for young people this summer.