The story of the Leeds Mummy

EGYPTIAN TREASURE: Katherine Baxter, curator of archaeology at Leeds City Museum, unveiling the 3,000-year-old mummy Nesyamun.
EGYPTIAN TREASURE: Katherine Baxter, curator of archaeology at Leeds City Museum, unveiling the 3,000-year-old mummy Nesyamun.
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It’s not every day the YEP gets to talk about the relics of ancient Egypt – but thanks to a tour of the British Museum’s Egyptian collection at Leeds Museum, Yorkshire’s curious connection to that period in history can be revealed.

The connection comes in the form of a mummy, Nesyamun, which has been in our possession since 1823 when it was donated to the City of Leeds by the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society.

They had acquired it some years earlier by way of an Italian antique dealer who was travelling through London. It was the era of empire and exploration, when the riches of antiquity discovered in the Egyptian desert found their way across the continent.

What is known about Nesyamun was that he was born in the Sudan about 3,000 years ago, circa 1100BC. He was a priest and he is the only known mummy known to hail from the 19th Dynasty.

Shortly after he was bought by the Philosophical and Literary Society, an autopsy was conducted and those who carried it out found Nesyamun had been buried inside two coffins, wrapped in over 40 layers of linen and that a layer of spices, including cinnamon, had been placed next to his skin.

As they unwrapped the bandages, they found jewels and other ornaments. One of the autopsy team noted how good the condition of the mummy’s skin was, describing it as “soft and greasy to touch”.

He died during the reign of Ramesses XI, who ruled Egypt from 1113-1085BC. He worked as a priest at the temple of Amun in the Karnak complex at Thebes (modern day Luxor).

He was what is known as a ‘waab priest’, which meant he had reached a certain level of purification and was therefore permitted to approach the statue of Amun in the most sacred inner sanctum of the temple. Part of his daily ritual would be to bath four times a day and shave twice.

His ornately decorated coffin gives an insight into his daily life and his beliefs.

On March 15, 1941, the mummy was damaged slightly by a German bomb, resulting in it losing its nose. Today it takes price of place in Leeds Museum’s Egyptian collection.

Until June 17, it is possible to see the mummy, along with a selection of other rare Egyptian artefacts, many of which have never before been outside London. They are part of the British Museum’s Egyptian Collection.

Katherine Baxter, curator of archeology at the museum, said: “We have objects on display, some of which are up to 5,000 years old. When you think back to what was happening in this country at that time – it was even before the Romans invaded, people were still using stone tools and living a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. There were no towns as such and yet in Egypt, it was the height of their culture, they had huge cities.”

Katherine added: “The whole exhibition centres around how the Pharoah and his role in society. I’d certainly encourage people to come and see it.”

The British Collection includes over 130 objects, most of which have remained in the capital since they were first acquired.

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