© Tessa Baber 2019. All Rights Reserved.

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PAST TALKS

SOCIETIES & C.

CONFERENCES

'Where have all the Mummies Gone?

 The Disappearing Mummy Pits' 

 
Abstract:
 
   This paper presents the current findings of my on-going research into the ‘mummy pits’ of ancient Egypt. The mummy pits are mass burials of mummies which were once prevalent in Egypt and were a famous tourist attraction right up to the late 19th century A.D. Now however, they appear to have all disappeared and only live on in accounts left by travellers who visited Egypt in centuries past. By examining these early accounts, I have been able to extract valuable evidence which has allowed me to bring the mummy pits back to life. These accounts are so revealing that I have been able to determine the various forms of the mummy pits, who may have once been buried within them, what era they may have dated to and where they were once found in Egypt. My research has also potentially unearthed why the mummy pits can no longer be found in Egypt today, with them being subject to such terrible exploitation that though tragic, is purely fascinating. 
   This paper aims to demonstrate that a wealth of information lies hidden within early sources such as accounts left by early travellers to Egypt and that such sources can provide invaluable information with regards to our understanding of ancient Egyptian history. 
Where have all the mummy pits gone? The early travellers hold the answer. . . 

When / Where:

Egyptian Society Taunton

Exeter

28th May 2013

'The ‘Mummy Pits’ of Ancient Egypt: The Long-Kept Secret of Early Travellers'

 

Abstract:
A little over a century ago, burials known simply as ‘mummy pits’ were a common and characteristic feature of Egypt’s burial landscape. These ‘pits’ contained mass burials of mummies piled-up in such great numbers, that it is surprising that they now appear to have disappeared from the archaeological record.
The only sources which appear to describe these burials are the accounts left by early travellers who ventured to Egypt between the 16th and early 20th centuries. These accounts reveal that the mummy pits were long-exploited as a source of souvenirs and for material to manufacture mummy-based products such as paper and fertilizer, providing some explanation as to why so few of these burials survive to the modern day. Although this exploitation has led to a significant loss of data, these early travel accounts provide sufficient detail to permit the reconstruction of this burial rite, as well as potentially allowing for the relocation of a number of mummy pit burials in the field.
This talk presents the results of an ongoing research project into the nature of the mummy pits, and considers whether they simply represent a collection of mass-burial events – perhaps the result of conflict or epidemic, or whether instead they may provide evidence for a now long-forgotten burial custom used by the poor in the latest periods of ancient Egyptian history.
 

When / Where:

West Midlands Egyptology Society

9th March 2016

Perry Beeches II: The Free School, Birmingham

Society for the Study of Ancient Egypt

16th July 2016

Chesterfield Library Lecture Theatre, Chesterfield

Leicester Anicent Egypt Society

15th October  2016 

New Walks Museum, Leicester

Friends of the Petrie Museum 

21st October 2016

Institute of Archaeology, London

Plymouth  & District Egyptology Society

5th November 2016 

The Quaker House Outreach Centre, Plymouth

Egyptology Scotland

12th November 2016

Augustine United Church, Edinburgh

Carlisle & District Egyptology Society

19th November 2016

Carlisle’s Fisher Street Quaker meeting house, Carlisle

Friends of the Egypt Centre 

22nd March 2017

Fulton House, Swansea University, Swansea

Thames Valley Ancient Egypt Society

25th March 2017

The Oakwood Centre, Reading

Wessex Ancient Egypt Society

1st April 2017

The Lawrence Lecture Theatre,  University, Talbot Campus, Bournemouth

East Kent Egyptology Society 

15th April 2017

North Room, Christ Church, Willian St, Herne Bay, Canterbury

Ancient Egypt & Middle East Society 

13th May 2017

Horncastle College, Lincs & Bishop Grosseteste University College, Lincoln

'The Mummy Pits of Ancient Egypt: An Investigation into a Lost Burial Form'

 

Abstract:
 
   The ‘mummy pits’ are a curious burial phenomenon, one relatively unknown to modern researchers beyond their mention in early travel literature, where they are simply described as ‘pits’ filled with mass mummy burials. In reality, they represent a custom yet to have been the focus of detailed research: collective burial of the lower classes. 
Once a common feature of the burial landscape, the simple nature of these burials attracted little attention beyond their exploitation as a source of material for manufacturing ‘mummy products’ such as paper and fertiliser. Due to the resulting loss of data, reconstruction of this rite is only possible through extraction of valuable archaeological information from early travel accounts. 
   Detailed study of these sources reveals that the ‘pits’ represent a definable custom used by a significant proportion of society; demonstrating that in later periods, lower social groups placed greater emphasis upon preservation of the physical body and burial in a place of ritual significance. 
   Information preserved in these accounts can help determine the date, content and geographical scope of these burials. The possibility of relocating a number of those which survive, may allow for future study in an archaeological context. 
This paper explores the nature of these burials beyond their simple interpretation in early travel literature, considering the potential they hold for furthering our understanding of burial practices of the poor in ancient Egypt.

When / Where:

11th International Congress of Egyptologists (ICE)

Universita Degli Studi Firenze

23rd August 2015

'Travellers & Mummy Pits'

Abstract:
 

  This paper discusses the so-called ‘mummy pits’ recorded by early travellers and which are the subject of my MA dissertation.  Whilst such burials are frequently recorded they do not seem to have been subject to a serious attempt to locate or date them or to try to document their history once discovered. 

      This paper aims to present the outline and aims of my study and is also a request for the help of those who may have knowledge of accounts which may add to my data set or who have other information which might help to advance my research.

 

When / Where:

9th Biennial ASTENE Conference

St Anne's College, Oxford

15th July 2011

'Collective Burial of the Poor in Ancient Egypt: The Rediscovery and Reinterpretation of the Long-Lost ‘Mummy Pits'

 

Abstract:
The ‘mummy pits’ are a curious burial phenomenon and one relatively unknown to modern researchers beyond their mention in early travel literature, where they are simply described as ‘pits’ filled with mass mummy burials. In reality, they represent a custom which has yet to have been the focus of detailed research: collective burial of the lower classes.
 
Once a common feature of the burial landscape, the simple nature of these burials has meant that they have historically attracted little attention beyond their exploitation as a source of material for the manufacture of ‘mummy products’ such as paper and fertiliser. Due to the resulting loss of data, reconstruction of this burial rite is only possible through the extraction of valuable archaeological information from eye-witness testimony of these burials when they were still extant: now preserved in early travel accounts (dating to the 16th – early 20th centuries A.D.).
 
Detailed study of these sources reveals that the ‘mummy pits’ represent a definable custom used by a significant proportion of society in the latest periods of ancient Egyptian history; one defined by both the mummification of and burial of the deceased within a tomb-space, whether newly-built or usurped from an earlier period. It is not yet clear how or why mummification of the body became both available and popular to the poor in this later period (664 B.C. – 395 A.D.) but the lack of other burial features or grave goods found in these ‘pits,’ suggests that in this period lower social groups placed greater emphasis upon preservation of the physical body, a potential reflection of the one of the primary aspects of their funerary beliefs.
 
By using information preserved in early travelogues, it is possible to gain a greater understanding of the nature of the communal burial method in this late period, by helping to determine the date, content and geographical scope of the mummy pit burial phenomenon; with the possibility of relocating a number of those which survive to the modern day, future study of these burials in an archaeological context may be possible.
 
This paper explores the nature of these burials beyond their simple interpretation in early travel literature, considering the potential they hold for furthering our understanding of burial practices of the poor in ancient Egypt.

Other Conference Presentations

‘Traveller’ versus ‘Tourist’: The experiences of three female ‘tourists’ during their Thomas Cook tours of the Nile'

When / Where:

ASTENE (12th Biennial Conference)

University of East Anglia

24th July 2017

When / Where:

International Conference on Comparative Mummy Studies

 Roemer-und Pelizaeus-Museum in Hildesheim

6th April 2016

‘O Cymru i Wlad y Nîl: Teithwyr Cymreig yn yr Aifft [From Wales to the Land of the Nile: Welsh Travellers in Egypt]'

When / Where:

ASTENE (11th Biennial Conference)

Exeter University

17th July 2015

'Where have all the Mummies Gone?

 The Disappearing Mummy Pits' 

 

When / Where:

Andante Travels Study Day

Cardiff University Cardiff School of History, Archaeology and Religion

18th February 2012

'Mummymania: Exploitation of Egypt's Mummies through the Centuries'

 

Abstract:
 
     This talk will introduce some of the weird and fantastic ways in which ancient Egyptian mummies were exploited by tourists and travellers over the centuries, with an investigation into potential evidence for the use of mummies to make medicine, paint, paper, fertiliser and fuel and a discussion of why so many were obsessed with Egypt and her antiquities.

When / Where:

Celtic Learners Network

St David's Hall, Cardiff

18th February 2012