Egyptian mummy, artifacts at Spurlock, Krannert

Peter Floess

Staff Writer

Champaign-Urbana’s Spurlock Museum and Krannert Art Museum are home to little pieces of ancient Egypt with their exhibits, such as a mummified corpse at Spurlock and artifacts from the period at both centers.

Spurlock’s “Egypt: The Gift of the Nile” exhibit houses the mummy of a child from between 150-50 B.C., during a time when today’s Egypt was a province of the Roman Empire. The mummy is part of Spurlock’s permanent exhibit as part of the Leavitt Gallery of Middle Eastern Cultures.

During the mummification process, the body is embalmed by priests; the priests remove the organs from the body and place them in alabaster jars, known as canopic jars. After the organs are removed, the body is stuffed with linen or straw to help it keep its shape and is covered with salt, a fragrant ointment, and a resin to stave off its decay. The next step is to wrap the body in 400 yards of linen.

The big toe is given a tag with a protective spell to protect the body in its journey in the afterlife.

Joseph Walwik, chair of the social sciences department and history instructor at Parkland, says a major part of ancient Egyptian religion was the so-called cult of the dead. Walwik can think of few societies that venerate their dead as much as the ancient Egyptians.

Walwik believes that during the time that the Spurlock’s mummy was made, was a period of hybridization of ancient Egyptian and Roman cultures. For example, he says when one visits the catacombs of Alexandria, Egypt, one sees bodies mummified in the Egyptian style in catacombs with Roman decorations.

For Walwik, one of the most impressive parts of ancient Egypt culture has endured the test of time: its structures. Walwik, who taught at the American University in Cairo from 2004-2007, remembers visiting the stepped pyramid at Saqqara, which was built in the 2600s B.C. He also visited the Temple of Kom Ombo, which was finished around 47 B.C.

The cultural influences on the two archeological sites were pretty much the same, even though more time passed between the building of Saqqara’s pyramid and the temple than from the time of Spurlock’s mummy and today.

Other notable items in the Spurlock’s ancient Egypt collection are a floor panel from Pharaoh Akhenaten’s palace, a plaster cast statue of the seated Pharaoh Khafre, a cosmetic jar, and a statue of an ibis—a long-legged, long-beaked bird venerated by ancient Egyptian culture—made for offering.

In the basement of the Krannert Art Museum, there is a collection called the “Ancient Mediterranean” which includes some ancient Egyptian artifacts. KAM’s Curator of American and European Art Maureen Warren says the collection was purchased in the 1970s and 1980s. Most of its ancient Egyptian pieces were purchased from Stanford University and some of the ancient Greek pottery from roughly the same era was purchased by the Krannert family itself.

Warren says some of notable pieces in the collection are a limestone commemorative marker from the Egyptian Old Kingdom—the period when Egypt as a civilization first rose to prominence, circa the third millennium B.C.—an Ancient Greek large vase showing a lecture by a Greek sage and a drinking cup with a protective eye made in ancient Athens.

More information on Spurlock Museum and its exhibits can be found on its website, spurlock.illinois.edu. The same goes for the Krannert Art Museum at kam.illinois.edu.