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Canopics or It Didn’t Happen

Published November 8, 2022

According to Wikipedia, the Chemnitz Tar Mummy is a mummified human body from the 1880s. It's freaky.

"Damn kids! Quit tryna throw M&Ms in there!" (credit below)

The latest “My Favorite Round” explores a round we ran during spooky season. It was a multiple choice round on mummies called “Canopics or It Didn’t Happen.” We covered the animated series “Monster High,” King Tut, and the Misfits’ song “The Curse of the Mummy’s Hand.” But, the real gem of the round was a question about a weirdo named Thomas Pettigrew. Let’s learn a bit more.

You have to be really into something to get a nickname related to…whatever it is. Like, nobody’s friends call them “Pokemon Guy” unless they’re always going on about the battle properties of Fire Types, and we’d bet nobody’s referred to as “Trivia Guy” unless they really need to touch grass occasionally. (Ask us how we know that.

Anyway, Victorian surgeon, author, professor, and antiques enthusiast Thomas Pettigrew was also known as “Mummy Pettigrew” because dude was reeeally into Ancient Egyptian stuff. According to the historians at London’s Old Operating Theatre, Pettigrew’s interest in mummies grew after he worked on an exhibition of Egyptian finds with explorer and archaeologist Giovanni Belzoni. (A significant number of Belzoni’s thef…er, acquisitions can still be seen at the British Museum, including the Younger Memnon, the massive statue of Ramses II.) 

Anyway, Belzoni put some mummies on display, and the morbidly curious Pettigrew unwrapped a couple of them. But Pettigrew’s interest didn’t stop there. He acquired a number of other mummies and, at first, he unwrapped them in academic contexts, but then he just started throwing parties where he’d unwrap them for his guests. (Mate, have you not heard of Pictionary?) 

“The body was presented on a table surrounded by the symbols of Egypt including funerary hieroglyphics, and a lecture was given and a warning that the condition of the mummy itself could not be guaranteed,” the Old Operating Theatre explains of these events. “An examination would be made of [the body] remarking on its situation as the unrolling progressed and observing things about it, such as body decorations, presence of hair, pliability of skin and guessing at ethnicity.” 

Although hundreds of people attended these gatherings — and many paid for the privilege — not everyone was as into it. “Some nasty beasts met together Saturday last to indulge in the disgusting amusement of unwrapping a mummy,” one anonymous person wrote in the weekly Figaro in London paper in 1837. “Pettigrew positively glories in the unclean process and pulls about the encrusted carcass with a fervor of purpose which may be scientific, but is nonetheless nasty in the extreme.” 

Actually, you sound pretty cool by comparison, Pokémon Guy.

Featured image courtesy of: Sächsisches Industriemuseum, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0