Museums Rebrand ‘Mummy’ as ‘Mummified Persons’ to Humanize Egyptian Remains

Numerous museums are phasing out the supposedly outdated term "mummy", although their human remains are still on public display.

Museum curator looks at mummy encased in glass box at museum
Mummy-case of Egyptian priest Nehemsumut exhibited at the National Museum of Scotland. (Photo by Jane Barlow/PA Images via Getty Images)

Museums across the U.S. and the U.K. have begun referring to mummies as “mummified persons,” as concerns grow about the dignity and respect given to the individuals whose remains are on display.

New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute have recently adopted the term “mummified remains” in display descriptions, as reported by Hyperallergic. Meanwhile, Chicago’s Field Museum and the Brooklyn Museum, which renamed its Mummy Chamber the “Funerary Gallery” five years ago, are in the midst of internal discussions around renaming the mummies they have on display.

Earlier this month, it was reported that the British Museum and and Edinburgh’s National Museum of Scotland have also incorporated more descriptive terms like “mummified remains” or “mummy case” throughout their exhibitions in an attempt to humanize preserved bodies, which are still exhibited to the public.

“A significant number of visitors question whether mummified people on display are real,” said Jo Anderson, a curator at Great North Museum: Hancock, in Newcastle, U.K.,  in a March 2021 post announcing the museum’s decision to stop using the term mummy. “By using terms such as “mummified person,” we can begin to change our outlook and see these remains for what they really are—not objects or curiosities, but real humans who were once alive and had very specific beliefs about how their bodies should be treated after death.”

Anderson also raised the question of whether institutions should have mummified remains on display at all, and said the museum was assessing this through a new Human Remains policy. However, according to the policy, the Great North Museum: Hancock currently still has five separate human remains on display.

Museums Rebrand ‘Mummy’ as ‘Mummified Persons’ to Humanize Egyptian Remains