By Harold Goldberg
Recently, I attended a press preview of “The Mummies,” a new exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History that will linger here in New York City until next January. The exhibit travels to AMNH courtesy of Chicago’s Field Museum, so the new presentation is stunning in its depth of history, archaeology and ancient culture it presents. There’s even an interactive in which you can unwrap a mummy.
But I couldn’t help thinking that the addition of an interactive kiosk or an area devoted to mummies in popular culture would have helped to shine a brighter light on the Peruvian and Egyptian mummies you’ll see as you tour.
Imagine having the opportunity to contemplate Mummies in games, for instance. From Plants vs. Zombies to Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation to Pokemon to League of Legends, wrapped, preserved human tissue and bones offers a fictional and occasionally realistic understanding of what’s actually inside glass and under textiles at the museum. (And the reported Egyptian-theme of the next Assassin’s Creed will only add to the fact-based mummy lore, since Ubisoft carefully researches the history behind its games.) So, a simple monitor with game trailers or footage would’ve been appropriate to include. So would a lecture about Mummies in games during the exhibition. And that template could work for mummies on TV or in movies, for that matter. The Mummy reboot, featuring Tom Cruise, hits theaters this June.
At the museum, I learned that the mummies of Peru were around about two thousand years prior to those of Egypt, 7,000 years ago as opposed to 5,000. People’s heads in Peru were sometimes found bound in order to create shapes like oblongs – done to make a tribe community stand out from others in the area. Peruvian mummies – along with the head binding – began to vanish once the Spanish took over around 1500 AD. The Spaniards, who were Catholic, believed that the centuries-long Peruvian practice was akin to the worshiping of false gods (when, in fact, their mummies had no basis in religion). They destroyed and/or buried many Peruvian mummies and the practice was relegated to history.
As you traverse the rooms which include an astounding mummy mother and child, if you’re a popular culture fan, I’m certain you’ll be reminded of your favorite game, movie or TV show that features mummies. It’s a fine exhibition from which you’ll learn much, but a tad more pop culture would’ve created an all-encompassing whole that would’ve yielded a piece de resistance.
Harold Goldberg is the Founder of the New York Videogame Critics Circle. He has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Playboy, Boys’ Life and elsewhere.