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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, July 29, 2014

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"Mummies of the World" includes some animal mummies, like this monkey.
"Mummies of the World" includes some animal mummies, like this monkey.

Mummies invade museum!

OK, so it's not really an invasion, rather "Mummies of the World" -- billed as the largest-ever exhibition of mummies -- which opens at Milwaukee Public Museum, 800 W. Wells St., on Friday, Dec. 17 and runs through May 30, 2011.

But this exhibition of mummies from around the globe -- and related artifacts -- feels more "Body Worlds" than King Tut.

The state of the art exhibit is gorgeous -- dim lights, floor projections and eerie music create an appropriate atmosphere -- and there are interactive stations galore with option-laden touch screen videos, movable magnifiers, scrollable scrolls and more.

There are mummies from Egypt, of course, but not as many as you'd expect and there are examples from all sorts of places you might not expect: Oceania, South America and Europe. The oldest is a 6,420-year-old child mummy from Peru. There are also some animal mummies.

There is a mummy captured for time immemorial in a state of, ahem, eternal bliss.

Panels explore methods of mummification, the trade in mummies, DNA analysis and historical context.

This is not an exhibition of glistening golden sarcophagi, and except for a few small examples, there are not burial chamber treasures galore. Instead, we see burial vessels, a scalpel used to cut open the abdomen during the embalming preparation, the materials used in mummification and the like.

And there are bodies.

Some will be astonished. Others may be touched emotionally. I found myself transported between both.

The ones that were most interesting to me were a pair of 17th century mummies from Germany and a trio -- a mother, father and baby who died of tuberculosis -- from early 19th century Hungary.

The mummies of Egyptian royalty come from a time so remote that it's easier for me to separate out the emotion. But to look at a young family decimated by disease just 200 years ago feels more real.

Then there are the German baron and baroness, found in the castle where their descendants continue to live to this day. How much more real can an exhibition get? One can only imagine the complex range of emotions one would feel at coming quite literally face to face with their ancestors of 400 years ago.

The examples that hit me the hardest were the children. And the mummy of a baby laid atop the mummy of a woman resting her head on the mummy of a small child was nearly too much for this parent to behold at any length.

In addition to bringing wonder to its visitors, any exhibit worth its salt must also challenge its public, at least a little. "Mummies of the World" did that for me.

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