Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Book of the Mummy

In the center of the capital Zagreb sits a beautiful Neo-classical yellow and white stone building on Zrinski square which is the home of Croatia's National Archaeological Museum. A museum with nearly half a million objects of Prehistoric, Greek, Roman and Medieval cultures is a must visit when in Zagreb. The museum also boasts one of Europe's most impressive numismatics collections featuring more than 50,000 coins.

From the museums holdings can be found around 2,100 objects that make up its small and attractive Egyptian collection represented mostly by Late Period objects, though there are artifacts including stelea from Egypt's ancient Middle Kingdom and objects of the New Kingdom period as well as an impressive red granite head of a king, perhaps Amenhotep II?

Though the Egyptian collection is one of Eastern Europe's most impressive Egyptian collections it is relatively unimportant in its contents as most of the museums artifacts are without provenance as to find spots. This is partly due to that two thirds of the Egyptian collection came to the museum in April of 1868 as a purchase of objects from the heirs of the late Baron Franz Koller, who seems to have built his collection while living in Naples during the last decade of his life.

This collection was added to the museums small holdings of Egyptian artifacts where the museums most important piece was already present. The Egyptian collections star is a mummy of a Late Period lady well preserved and though she is a fine mummy it is her wrappings that have become one of, if not the museums greatest artifact, certainly a unique object of world cultural importance.

The lady's wrappings consist of a linen book, a singular surviving example of a linen book from classical antiquity. The bonus being that the book is heavily inscribed in Etruscan writing, a language which remains mostly undeciphered and of which this document is the longest surviving extent text in the ancient Etruscan language known in the world, a singular object in this small collection that any of the worlds far more important museums would envy to posses.

The mummy was purchased in Alexandria sometime around 1848-9 with her wrappings, an injured book of the dead, a sarcophagus, and a mummified cat head all of which enjoyed the "parlor life", the lady standing up with the aid of an iron rod within a glass case. The owner took off the mummies wrappings and displayed them nearby, though it is reported the owner did not notice the writing on the wrappings.

These artifacts were donated to the forerunner of Zagreb's Archaeological Museum sometime after the owners death in 1859 by his family. The damaged Egyptian book of the dead belonged to Nesi-Khonsu the wife of a Theban tailor.

The carbon 14 dates for the mummy, its linen wrappings and papyrus are all dating to approximately 390 BC., though there is some debate about the date of the book of the dead which contains inscriptions in both hieroglyphic and hieratic, it must be said with no corroborating evidence it is only be an assumption that the Zagreb mummy is Nesi-Khonsu.

Studies of the linen book have revealed the names of certain gods and dates suggesting it to be a liturgical calender, there can be no doubt that the book is a world treasure .In the future with translation the full intent of the document will no doubt be helped by still yet to be discovered sources.


(KMT Journal, Summer 2010, Vol. 21, #2, Egypt at Zagreb by Lucy Gordan-Rastelli, pg. 63 says that there are "approximately 3,150 objects", in the Egyptian collection, due to this discrepancy I therefore have used the archaeological museums own website information)

Photo of Zagreb Egyptian collection: Pearls: Touch of Croatia
Photo of Etruscan Book:  SpeedyGonsales
Links: Archaeological Museum Zagreb 
Translations: Mel Copeland, The Zagreb Mummy Script

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