Yesterday, I tweeted a link to an article from the Hindu, a major Indian newspaper, about conservation work to be undertaken on an Egyptian mummy in the Hyderabad museum.
This of course begs the question of quite how an Egyptian mummy ended up in Hyderabad. The truth is quite prosaic – one of the late nineteenth century Nizams was an avid collector of curios and artefacts, took a fancy to the mummy and bought it for the reputed sum of a thousand pounds.
As Egypt was on the way between England and India, and this was the height of the Raj, I’m guessing it was bought by the Nizam during a stopover in Egypt.
While possibly the most exotic example of the dispersal of Egyptian artefacts by the activities of gentlemen collectors, it’s by no means the only one, nor is it a purely Anglosphere one – for example the remarkable collection in Zagreb is really down to the activities of a nineteenth century AustroHungarian aristocrat, Baron Franz Koller, even though the famous mummy with wrappings in the Etruscan language came as the result of a minor AustroHungarian public servant who took a tour to Egypt, bought a mummy, and brought it back to display in his Vienna apartment.
After his death, the mummy passed to his brother, a priest in Slavonia (now part of Croatia) who gave it to the Zagreb museum.
The Nizam was neither the first nor the last to do such a thing, but it does beg the question as to what other Egyptian artefacts have ended up in unlikely places as a result of the Suez canal sea route between Britain and India.
The Egyptian craze of the early nineteenth century led to a vast number of mummies and artefacts being acquired from Egypt and in time, like the mummies in Perth and Belfast ending up in museums with, at times, uncertain documentation.
Using modern technology to study these remains can help expand our knowledge of ancient Egypt (or in some cases not) but because so many artefacts were acquired in the nineteenth century before people cared overmuch about documentation and provenance, there’s a great risk of knowledge being lost because these items have ended up in small local museums where there are either not the resources or the interest in investigating them fully.