What’s the problem? Mummies are being objectified.
What happened? According to CNN Style, a number of British museums have stopped using the word “mummy” to describe the mummified remains of ancient Egyptians on display.
Why? To encourage museum visitors “to think of the individual who once lived,” and to combat negative depictions in popular culture of mummies as “supernatural monsters.” Additionally, some museums have expressed concern that “mummy” is a relic of “imperial and colonial thinking and actions that were based on racial and racist understandings of the world.”
What’s the solution? Using alternative terms such as “mummified person” or “mummified remains of [the person’s name, if known]” to promote cultural sensitivity and inclusion.
Background: Mummification was an elaborate and expensive process typically reserved for Egyptian pharaohs, members of the nobility, and government officials. These authoritarian rulers and their wealthy allies are best known for their prolific use of slave labor and their animosity toward Jews.
What they’re saying: “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.”
—Jo Anderson, assistant keeper of archaeology at the Great North Museum: Hancock in Newcastle
Bottom line: Don’t judge a mummy by its sarcophagus. In other words, we must always respect the humanity and cultural proclivities of long-dead aristocratic slaveowners. This does not apply, obviously, to long-dead aristocratic slaveowners of British or European descent who played a role in the expansion of colonial empires or the founding of the United States.