Kirby: Even I can bond with a mummified baby

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Last week my wife and I visited the "Mummies of the World" exhibit at The Leonardo. I didn't want to go but she insisted.

The reluctance had little to do with the mummies themselves. I just hate standing in line and don't like having to look at stuff as part of a mob, especially if the mob includes more than one bored child.

I'm also a committed cynic and therefore deeply suspicious of obvious attempts to pander to my nearly nonexistent spiritual side if it involves money. And $22.50 a ticket is actual money to a journalist.

Finally, there's the low fear factor. When I was a kid the Mummy was the least scary member of a monster trinity that also included Dracula and the Wolf Man.

Once they had you in their sights, you couldn't run away from Dracula or the Wolf Man. Vampires and werewolves were quick and cunning.

Conversely, the Mummy was slow and stupid. He blundered around like an old man trying to find a bathroom in the middle of the night. Anyone who couldn't get away from that deserved to die.

Things began poorly. Although we bought our tickets online and technically had an appointment for Friday at 2 p.m., we had to run to get into the exhibit just ahead of an elementary school field trip.

But that was as bad as it got. Once inside the exhibit things took a sharp turn into the amazing. If I hadn't gone, I wouldn't have learned that it's possible to mummify an entire giraffe.

While there wasn't an actual giraffe on display, they did have a hyena that got stuck in a cave where the air was dry and the temperature remained even. Because scavengers couldn't get to the body, within a few years it had dried out and became an "accidental" mummy.

Other accidental mummifications included squirrels, rats, mice, bats and members of Congress.

Then it was on to mummies that happen on purpose. The most famous intentional manufacturers of mummies were the Egyptians. Most people think the Egyptians invented mummies. They didn't but they were good at it.

Ancient Egyptians mummified everything on purpose — crocodiles, falcons, cats, etc. The carefully wrapped animals were then sold as offerings to the gods. Millions of them, like packaged jerky at 7-Eleven

This was my second favorite part: Proof that people haven't changed despite the millennia that separate us was the modern discovery that many of the falcon mummies were fakes. Ancient Egyptians were paying for actual falcons but were getting ripped off.

Right there on the side of the mummy in ancient Egyptian is: "Warning! This mummy contains less than 1 percent actual falcon."

Truthfully, it was an MRI that revealed the switch. Modern technology has allowed scientists to learn a lot about mummies without having to take them apart, including gender, age and sometimes even cause of death.

But it's the personal details that reach across thousands of years to touch the back of your neck. A scan of one Peruvian mummy revealed that she holds two baby teeth in her clenched hands.

Across from her is a case containing the "Detmold Child," a Peruvian baby lovingly mummified more than three millennia before the birth of King Tut and long before the Pyramids were built.

This was the part that got me. If you can stand in front of the Detmold Child and not experience a human bond in the 4,500-year-old sorrow of its mother, then you're worse off spiritually than I am.

The mummies will be at The Leonardo until May 27. Do yourself a favor and buy a ticket. You might also want to visit the exhibit on a weekday.

On Saturday the line to buy tickets stretched out of the building and halfway across the block. In the cold, dry air of Utah, that's almost enough time to become an accidental mummy.

Robert Kirby can be reached at or