Motley’s Editor-in-Chief Niamh Browne discusses the repatriation of UCC’s mummy and how the British Museum could learn a thing or two.
I don’t know if you’re sentimental about what happens to you after you die. I know I am not. Just fuck me into an old McDonald’s happy meal carton for all I care. I firmly believe that when my soul goes, my earthly remains are of little importance. This is not the way for many people, and this is certainly not the way for the people of Ancient Egypt. It was announced today that the UCC Mummy, for many years a campus myth, will be repatriated to Egypt. I wish him the very best of luck.
When I first arrived at UCC the mummy was a hushed rumour, a ‘well the college wouldn’t want you to know about that’ and ‘it was under the floorboards of the Geography room for years’. My first instinct was, ‘why wouldn’t they put it on display for the students to enjoy?’. There’s no point in having a beautiful ancient sarcophagus and not displaying it. My second, much more grounded thought was: ‘fuck they must have done something unethical to get him here’. Who would have thought, the second instinct was bang on? The mummy was pillaged from the valley of the Queens between 1903 and 1904 and came into the university’s possession in 1928. Egyptomania was a craze in the late 19th century onwards sparked by Napolean conquest of Egypt where Europeans grew fixated on the culture of ancient Egypt. It was in this time that the stolen Rosetta Stone was deciphered, many mummies were pillaged and Victorians in high society England were known to use powdered Egyptian remains as medicine.
The culture of Egyptomania was part of a larger phenomenon known as ‘Orientalism’, a term coined by the Palestinian-American scholar Edward Said. He used this term to explain how Western cultures fixated on certain aesthetic aspects of the Middle East and North Africa to reduce them to static and underdeveloped societies. This understanding meant these aesthetics and artefacts could be stolen indefinitely to serve an imperial power. There was also an effort to homogenise ‘people of the East’ with the idea that Berbers in North Africa has the same aesthetic and cultural values as the Ottoman Empire in Turkey. Egypt, has been one of the worst affected by these colonial powers. In the Metropolitan Museum of Art, stands the Dendu Temple, in Madrid in a public park viewers can see the temple of Debod and who can forget the British Museum, which still has the Rosetta Stone.
It is in this spirit that I would like to say goodbye to the UCC mummy, I wish you the very best on your journey back. I am sorry you were brought to our strange and damp shores and stowed away in a library basement. I hope that the afterlife has been good to you so far and that you find some peace knowing you’re home.