Thursday, July 1, 2010


If you are squeamish you probably ought not to look at the photo above, which is a formerly live person now very dead but plasticized and shown in the traveling Body Worlds show I saw a few years ago. Wikipedia explains Body Worlds (German title: Körperwelten) as a traveling exhibition of preserved human bodies and body parts that are prepared using a technique called plastination to reveal inner anatomical structures. The exhibition's developer and promoter is German anatomist Gunther von Hagens, who invented the plastination technique in the late 1970s at the University of Heidelberg.

I had no problem at all looking at this exhibit. Was it revolting? Somewhat. Was it macabre? Somewhat. Was it interesting? Exceptionally interesting, I thought. There are things I don't know about my own body, and textbooks talk about things in highfalutin' language, so to be able to get up close and personal with various body parts - in distinct categories - was enlightening to say the least.

Although it wasn't funny, I did have one experience that still makes me laugh. I was looking at the backside of a person in the muscle category. I was studying the lower back muscles because that is where my own muscles seem to be always at war with something or other. Suddenly I focused a little closer on a strange-looking little group of muscles -- and I couldn't figure out what on earth it was. I moved a little closer, and then realized that it was the anal sphincter set. At that point I moved back and had to walk away while I nearly exploded with laughter.

However, the point of this blog is not to convince you that this is either a gruesome or an interersting display. One can approve or disapprove of it on several counts, but for me the interesting overrode all negative thoughts.

However, there is a new show in Los Angeles that deals with mummies, and I definitely will not be going to see that one. Of course, all I know is what I see in the LA Times and on TV, the latter of which I have to close my eyes or avert my face when the mummies come into view. I am totally grossed out, and even if they paid me to come visit (the cost is almost $20 per person to ogle) I would not go.

Why? It isn't that the mummies look too much like people, because they do. But they just look horrible. Not scary, just horrible. Why didn't the plasticized people look horrible? I don't know. Something in me says plasticization is ok and fiddling with mummies isn't.

Now shown below is an Egyptian mummy. This is not the way the Los Angeles mummies look. The only way I can explain it is that if you laid a plum and a prune side by side, you could see that the prune had once been a plum. This is the closest I can come to describing the LA mummies. They are still people, dried up people, and - for God's sake, some of them are clothed. Not in dessicated garments but in today's cloth replications. I do not want to see this.

One of the featured displays is of a Hungarian family found in a church vault. And from existing church records the mummy scientists can identify the dead by name, age and occupation. I don't want to see them.

The scientists say they are learning a lot about mummies, like finding heart defects and broken bones. They all seem to be elated to be able to find a whole family as well as the documentation that leads to identification.

I say this is not necessary. By diligent research we genealogists can do the same thing. And in genealogy finding a heart defect by unwrapping a dead, mummified body is not necessary. Please, let the mummies be. Take up genealogy as a hobby.

(Though I have, in the past, had some aunts who basically said the same thing to me about the ancestors I was researching!

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