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Mummies: 'Visitors From The Past' Who Can Help Solve Mysteries Today

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Mummies: 'Visitors From The Past' Who Can Help Solve Mysteries Today

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Mummies: 'Visitors From The Past' Who Can Help Solve Mysteries Today

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Mummies seem to be forever fixed in the popular imagination thanks to the ancient Egyptians and Hollywood horror movies. A new exhibit unwraps commonly held views about mummies with a display of dozens of mummies from all over the world. In fact, the exhibit is called "Mummies of the World." It opened in Philadelphia this weekend at the Franklin Institute.

James Delay is the director of exhibition development for American Exhibitions Incorporated, the company behind "Mummies of the World." He says many of the mummies in the exhibit came from one museum in Germany and were once thought to be lost.

Mr. JAMES DELAY (Director of Exhibition Development, American Exhibitions Inc.): They were rediscovered when Dr. Wilfried Rosendahl, curator of the Reiss-Engelhorn Museums, was just doing a routine inventory. He was new to the museum and came upon these mummies that were really stored in a bank vault, way in the back of this vault. And being a good research scientist, he sought out to find more clues about where they came from, why they were lost.

He checked their record books and they were listed as canceled right around the time of World War II. So he assumed that during the ravages and the bombing of Mannheim, that they were either destroyed or given to their, you know, their elite of the museum, the board of directors, if you will.

NORRIS: That must have been an incredible discovery.

Mr. DELAY: Yeah, I mean it was a huge bank vault. But he did tell me it felt like Christmas Day.

NORRIS: And they came from what part of the world?

Mr. DELAY: They came from South America. They came from Oceania, Asia, the bogs of Germany.

NORRIS: Not everyone certainly will have a chance to make their way to the Franklin Institute. I want you to quickly walk me through and describe a few of the mummies that visitors encounter. Baron von Holtz.

Mr. DELAY: Baron von Holtz was a 17th century nobleman. He was involved in the Thirty Year War, and was laid to rest in a crypt below the castle in Sommersdorf, Germany. What's so interesting is these mummies - there are five of them all in total - was first found by Napoleon's soldiers as they were seeking warmth from the cold during the war.

He was buried with his boots on, and you can see his fingers, his toes, his teeth; very intricate details of him, as well as his 17th-century boots.

NORRIS: And there's the South American child found in Peru many, many years before King Tut was entombed. Tell me about that child.

Mr. DELAY: It's an amazing, amazing mummy, the intricate fingers and toes. It's really, really breathtaking to see it up close, and then to learn about the science that has been brought out of it.

I mean not only did they do the radiocarbon dating and find out that it was 6,420 years old, they were also able to tell that the child died of pneumonia. And that the child had, when they did the CT scan, a small amulet that somehow got tucked underneath some of the previous wrappings that it had on the back shoulderblade.

And instead of taking it out and analyzing it, they took the computer files and created what is known as a stereolithography. They took the computer files and created a - almost a replica of this amulet and it's displayed with it. So some of the secrets are still hidden within, but we're able to pull out as well.

NORRIS: James Delay, it's been a pleasure to speak to you. Thank you very much.

Mr. DELAY: Thank you very much. This has been an honor.

NORRIS: James Delay is the director of exhibition development with American Exhibitions Incorporated, that's the firm that's running the "Mummies of the World Exhibit" at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.

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