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Exhibit

Modern tech unravels mysteries of Egyptian mummy portraits

A new exhibit explores the science of ancient funeral paintings

By
8:00am, February 19, 2018
Hibbard mummy

MUMMY MYSTERY  The Hibbard mummy, now on display at Northwestern University, holds the body of a girl estimated to be 5 years old at death. Recent analyses might help reveal a cause of death.

Everybody’s a critic. Even back in second century Egypt.

While digging in Tebtunis in northern Egypt in the winter of 1899–1900, British archaeologists stumbled upon portraits of affluent Greco-Egyptians placed over the faces of mummies. One grave contained an ink and chalk sketch, a bit larger than a standard sheet of printer paper, of a woman from around the years A.D. 140 to 160. The sketch includes directions from an unidentified source to the artist to paint the “eyes softer.”

That ancient critique is now the name of a temporary exhibit at Northwestern University’s Block Museum of Art in Evanston, Ill. “Paint the Eyes Softer: Mummy Portraits from Roman Egypt” features the sketch, along with six more intact or nearly intact Egyptian funeral portraits, one still attached to its mummy. All were discovered more than a century ago but recently examined using modern scientific tools.

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