Cover Up

Cover Up

Mummies' bodies tell historians a lot about ancient Egypt. At UEA we're unwrapping Egypt's past using a surprising source - mummies' bandages.

From the earliest days of ancient Egyptian civilisation the searing heat of the dry desert sand naturally preserved buried bodies.

Preservation of the dead had a profound effect on early Egyptian religion and deliberate mummification became an integral part of death, essential to preparing the bodies of special individuals for the afterlife.

Over the years research into mummies has focused on the bodies inside, however UEA Egyptologist Dr Christina Riggs has a new perspective.

Whilst scientific methods like CT scans or X-rays have revealed ancient embalming techniques, Dr Riggs' research argues that the wrappings themselves can reveal far more about Egyptian culture – and our own, since mummies were originally studied to find ‘evidence’ for theories about race, gender, and disease.

In the rush to uncover what the human remains inside might tell us about the once-living person, a mummy’s wrappings were overlooked, sometimes even thrown away.

But the symbolic and intricate wrappings were extremely important from an ancient Egyptian point of view. Hundreds of metres of linen went into wrapping mummies and precise rituals meant the body was no longer human, but divine. To the Egyptians, a mummy wasn’t so much a dead body, as a sacred object. And it needed to stay wrapped up.

Riggs’ research project, partly funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, breaks new ground by looking at the significance of textile wrappings in ancient Egypt, and at how their unwrapping has shaped the way we think about the Egyptian past.


The Expert

Dr Christina Riggs

Senior Lecturer
School of Art, Media and American Studies
I am a specialist in ancient Egyptian art, with a background in the art and archaeology of both ancient Egypt and the classical world.

I am interested in critical histories of Egyptology; the collection,  interpretation, and visualization of Egyptian antiquities; and museum studies (museology).

My research on Egyptian art addresses issues related to material culture studies, the body, funerary practices, and the shaping of collective memory through the re-use, copying or adaptation of earlier works of art.