Washington's mummy

In 1985, Egyptologist Don Ryan learned of a mummy and its coffins being examined with modern technology in Tacoma. He joined the research team examining the mummy as an adviser.

The mummy had been brought to Tacoma in 1891 by businessman Allen Mason. In those days, there was a booming demand for Egyptian mummies. And with 3,000 years worth of stock, there were plenty to go around.

After a couple of decades, Mason donated the mummy to the Washington State Historical Society. From 1959 to 1983, it was loaned to the University of Puget Sound, where it served as a research novelty and spooky attraction for children.

The mummy’s name was Ankhwennefer, according to text on his coffins, and he came from the town of Ipu (known today as Akhmim). Based on radiocarbon dating, he lived during the early to mid-6th century B.C. (ancient Egypt’s 26th Dynasty).

Ankhwennefer held the high title of “second prophet of Min.” The 5-foot-3-inch man belonged to a large family of priests who served the gods Min (a god of fertility whose visual representation can’t be printed in a family newspaper), Khonsu (a moon god) and Sokar (a falcon god).

In August 2008, Ankhwennefer was scanned at Tacoma General Hospital as part of the Pennsylvania-based Akhmim Mummy Studies Consortium (AMSCRESEARCH). Using CT (computed tomography) scans, the consortium has archived data from 23 Akhmim mummies to date to build a clearer understanding of ancient Egyptian culture and mummification ritual.

According to AMSCRESEARCH director Dr. Jonathan Elias, Ankhwennefer was in good health for the time in which he lived. Elias said the priest might have died after a traumatic event. Scans revealed a fracture of the pubic bone.

Elias said Ankhwennefer appears to have lived to age 55-65, “well beyond the estimated average for his general period.” His body showed the normal affects of age during his epoch: areas of tooth loss and abscess; degeneration of posture through spinal curvature; and demineralization of the lumbar vertebrae.

“His life ended quickly following fracture of the pubic bone, but this end, seen (in) its correct cultural context, is not aberrant,” Elias said in his report on the mummy.

South Sound residents will get a chance to see Ankhwennefer’s coffins (but not his mummy) in January when the Washington State History Museum hosts AMSCRESEARCH’s traveling show, “Wrapped! The Search for the Essential Mummy.” The show contains mummies, their facial reconstructions showing how they appeared in life, mummified animals and various artifacts.

One of those recreated heads is that of Tacoma’s own Ankhwennefer.

The show also will contain an account of Mason’s journey to Egypt to get the mummy. Acccording to Redmond Barnett, head of exhibits at WSHM, it’s a tale of “what you had to do in 1891 to get a mummy home from Egypt. I think a camel was involved at some point.”

The show will run through July 3, 2011.