The British Museum has one of the world’s largest collections of Egyptian mummies. It was with much excitement when we heard that they would be collaborating with the ArtScience Museum to present a show, Mummy: Secrets of the Tomb, in Singapore.
The exhibition opened on 27 April 2013 and is located at the basement of the Marina Bay Sand’s ArtScience Museum. It centres around the unwrapping of a 3,000 year old mummy and explores the rituals and process behind mummification.
Unwrapping the Mummy
Entry into the exhibition is based on fixed timeslots throughout the day.
If you are wondering why, the reason is because before you can enter the exhibition hall, you first have to sit through a screening of a 21-minute 3D film. This film, narrated be Patrick Stewart, uses digital technology to let you look inside a mummy.
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The mummy in question is that of an Egyptian temple priest, Nesperennub. Digital animation allows you to fly through the mummy and get a view of the different layers that lie under his coffin. His coffin, which is on display as part of Mummy: Secrets of the Tomb, has never been physically opened. It also fleshes out his life story and goes into how the embalming process takes place.
Marina Bay Sands’ website advises that the 3D film has been approved for general public viewing but they also do not recommend this for children under six years old.
Ticket holders are advised to be at the theatre’s holding room five minutes before their allocated time slot. It also makes sense to be there early to look at some of the other artifacts on display within this antechamber. The most interesting of these is a replica of the world famous Rosetta Stone.
Unwrapping the Exhibition
The exhibition consists of over 100 artifacts that examine the rituals of life, death and the afterlife in ancient Egypt. These include amulets, statuettes and even mummified animal remains. There are also six well-preserved mummies on display. No photography is allowed within the exhibition area.
In the middle of the exhibition is the Embalmer’s Workshop. This separate, curtained area allows visitors to get hands-on with various embalming tools. Overhead, large TV screens project images of the embalming operation taking place at embalmer’s table in real-time, almost like watching a surgeon working at the table.
While some may find this appealing, it was just too morbid and creepy for us.
In the last room of the exhibition, you get to view Nesperennub’s actual coffin and mummy, rounding up the exhibition before it gives way to a souvenir shop where visitors get to buy some books and trinkets to bring home.
Activity Tote Bag
Before heading into the exhibition areas, families with kids can also collect an Activity Quest tote bag from a counter next to the glass lift. These packs are intended to provide kids a novel way to learn about mummies and ancient Egyptian gods via in-situ activities within the exhibition.
In exchange for a photo ID, parents can pick up the activity quest tote bag. The main bag is filled many subsidiary bags with activities at different stations. Use of the activity packs is free and they need to be returned at the end of the visit. There are also different levels of activities for different age ranges.
In truth, when we tried the activity packs, they were hard to make use of.
Firstly, locating the right stations to break open the subsidiary bags was a challenge. When we finally found a station, we had rummage through the tote bag to look for the correct subsidiary bag. Furthermore, activity inside the bag (reproducing the Eye of Anubis with wires) could not hold the attention of our eight year old.
The Activity Quest is a good idea but is wanting in execution.
The Mummy: Secrets of the Tomb exhibition is something avid history buffs would appreciate. The last time we remember mummies being exhibited in Singapore was 2010 when the Quest For Immortality – The World Of Ancient Egypt exhibition showcased mummies from the Kunsthistorisches Museum of Vienna. Before that, back in 1999, there was the Eternal Egypt: Treasures From the British Museum exhibition at the Asian Civilisations Museum at the old Tao Nan School building (now the Peranakan Museum).
The subject matter of Mummy: Secrets of the Tomb is heavy and serious (it is about the death rituals and mummification) and attempts at making it interactive (the Embalmer’s Workshop) are, frankly, a bit gruesome for our taste.
The atmosphere within the exhibition is pretty dark and parents with young children should take heed. The exhibition area itself is also not very large and many of the artifacts need explanations to be fully appreciated. For this, during the opening period, there are Curator Tours and while we believe they must be quite informative for adults, we suspect they may be difficult for young children to follow.
When we asked several ArtScience Museum staff members whether it is possible to skip the 3D film, which is not recommended by the Museum for children younger than six years old, we received mixed responses. Some said yes, while others said no. If you do intend to bring young children into the theatre, depending on their disposition, be prepared to distract them during the screening if they get scared.
Our final conclusion, if you are looking for a cheery family day out, this is probably not it. If you “die die” want to visit Mummy: Secrets of the Tomb, be aware that it may not be suitable for young children and consider pairing a visit to the exhibition with the bright, cheery and kid-friendly Art of the Brick exhibition that is on till 26 May 2013 at the 3rd floor of the ArtScience Museum.