Screaming mummies

Melissa Miller, our talented undergraduate intern from the University of Delaware, recently created a series of prints in her Intro to Printmaking class – inspired by…you guessed it…mummies!

For one of her projects, she was instructed to make a zinc plate etching of something emotionally significant to her. We have really made Melissa get down and dirty with our mummy PUM I – one of her projects in the Artifact Lab has been to sort through the bag that was found inside PUM I’s chest, which, as it turns out, was filled with fragments of textile from his wrappings, along with bones, fragments of skin and other soft tissue, and even a few more beads that originally made up his beaded shroud.

Just some of the materials that came out of that bag we found in PUM I’s chest

So it shouldn’t be surprising that Melissa may feel a bit…affected…by this subject. Here is one of her first prints:

Melissa’s first “Screaming Mummy” drypoint etching

Melissa chose to create an image of this particular “screaming mummy”, also known as Unknown Man E, for her project because of his dramatic expression, which inspired her to look into the context in which he was buried. Unknown Man E was discovered in the Valley of the Kings, which implies his high status. He was buried with a sheepskin, which was considered by the ancient Egyptians to be ritually unclean, and his organs were not removed, indicating that his body did not receive the traditional mummification treatment. It has been suggested that this man may have been Prince Pentewere, son of Ramses III. According to historians, Pentewere was involved in an assassination scheme against his father, the pharaoh, which was very recently declared to have been successful. After Pentewere’s trial he was permitted to kill himself. Such circumstances may explain Unknown Man E’s curious burial, and as some would suggest, the expression of horror on his mummified face.

While this seems to be a believable theory, as Mark Rose explains in his article “Screaming Mummies”, this open-mouthed expression is also found on other mummies, and may not be reflective of the circumstances of death or the expression on a person’s face at the time of death. For more on this subject, a link to this article can be found in the Learn More section of this site.

Whatever the truth may be, the image of Unknown Man E drew Melissa’s attention and, as she said, made him the perfect subject for her printmaking project.

After her first etching, she applied an aquatint, which allowed her to achieve a wider variety of grey tones. It also gave the image a grainy texture – which Melissa felt added a desirable ghastly feeling to the image.

Screaming mummy etching with aquatint

Finally, she achieved higher contrast between the darks and lights by re-etching some of the lines and enhancing the aquatint, producing this image:

The final, ghastly, image

All three of these images can be found side-by-side in the Fun Stuff section of our blog. I’d like to extend a special thanks to Melissa for her help with this post, and her creativity!