California Science Center and Mummies of the World
In August we had a visit to Los Angeles, our old stomping grounds, and took in Mummies of the World, a temporary special exhibit at the California Science Center. We were joined by the sister a-go-go and the nephew a-go-go. For hours, directions, and admission info do check on the links above but here's a few tips gleaned from our visit...
The web site is unfortunately being vague about the closing date for the show. They say it ends in the Fall some time. Yes, but WHEN? If you want to see the show while it's in Los Angeles be sure to check and double check the web site to be certain that the exhibit is still running. As of today, I can't seem to find a closing date anywhere. Admission to the California Science Center is normally free, but this is a special show so the tickets are a little pricey. The standard adult admission is $21.50 (if you buy them online). mrs. a-go-go did some internet digging and found a special coupon offer that let us buy adult tickets at the box office for $16. Sorry I don't have a link for that coupon, it was a limited time thing and seems to have dried up. Next is parking. It is possible to find parking in the neighborhood around Exposition Park but your time is likely to be limited to a few hours. The parking lot for the museums is normally $8 per car but the fee is sometimes more if there is a big event. If you use the museum lot beware that the entrance to the parking garage is a hard right immediately passed the parking attendant. If you miss it you have to circle the park again to get back.
Shew! OK, on to the exhibit. Sorry, photography is not allowed in the show, so I'm a bit short on images here. We went on a Friday morning near opening time and the crowd was not too bad. With the exhibit nearing the end of its run things could be heating up and the crowds thicker, particularly on the weekends. There were a few waits to get close to some cases but not enough to get frustrating. The collection of mummies and the wealth of didactic material for the show is marvelous and there was a reasonable amount of space around most of the displays, but the display heights are not designed with kids in mind. If you go with the young'uns be ready to do some lifting so they can get a better look. The show begins with a collection of mummified animals. This provided a good illustration of a key point of the show, that there are natural mummies and then there are the standard mummies that we all think of right away, all those carefully prepared bodies wrapped in linen and some housed in an ornate sarcophagus. The mummified animals provided a good illustration of how common mummification is without the intervention of human handiwork. These naturally mummified animals all died in conditions where their bodies dried quickly enough to thwart the decay of skin and some fleshy bits. There was a house cat that had dried up in a drafty crawl space under a house, and a hyena that had dried on the savanna after being partly scavenged by big critters. These examples were all missing their hair and most of the internal bits had been consumed by the usual rabble of small scavenging critters, but the skins were generally intact and wizened. The leathery dry and hairless skins were shrunken and stretched over the ribs and pelvic bones, and the faces were all contorted into startled grimaces.
So these are natural mummies, I get it, lets move on to the Egyptian stuff. I wanna see some golden masks, and dried up bandages!... Ah, not so fast. There is actually very little of that sort of thing in this show, and if it is what you are after you will be disappointed. There is one Egyptian mummy of a wealthy individual complete with a decorated sarcophagus and bandage wrapped body with crossed arms, but the bulk of the show is not focused on this sort of thing. At the beginning of the Egyptian section there was another collection of mummified animals, these having been purposely mummified by the Egyptians to serve as companions to the people mummies. There were lots of cats, a cayman, and a snake among the menagerie all wrapped up in lumpy bundles and a few that had been decorated to look like the animal in life. These gave a good counterpoint to the naturally mummified animals that we had just seen driving home the difference between a natural mummy and one that had been prepared carefully for burial.
The rest of the show is divided by the parts of the world where the mummies were found, and most of these examples are actually classified as natural mummies, even when they were purposefully buried. For example, one of the collections is a group of Europeans who were interred in a crypt that just happened to be cold and drafty enough to thoroughly preserve the bodies. I suppose that in most cases the bodies would decay to little more than bones with the help of rats, maggots, and bacteria but with all the water sucked out of 'em right away they became these unintended oddities with weird toothy grins. This is the sort of thing that I can see leading to legends of the undead and vampires. Apparently some of these natural mummies became tourist attractions for a while in their European crypts.
There were natural mummies from South America, who may have intentionally been buried high in the Andes where people knew they would dry out, but they are still considered natural, and bog bodies with black tanned leather skins and spongy rubbery black bones. There were fantastic interactive digital displays that exhibited three dimensional imaging of selected mummy's interior. There were late Hellenistic Egyptian mummies that had been entirely stripped of their bandages. And more....
All in all a good show, and worth the trouble, but I am glad we found the discounted tickets.
Later, we did some mummy making of our own with the nephew a-go-go.
The California Science Center has a whole lotta stuff to offer beyond their temporary shows like Mummies of the World. In the last year a large new wing of permanent exhibits was opened and admission to all of this part of the museum is free.
This new wing is mostly filled with the Ecosystems galleries. These are divided into zones including the Rot Room (HA! I have one of those at home.) and the big aquarium tank pictured above. After our date with the mummies we didn't have time to explore all the new stuff so we will be back for more soon.
If you're in LA and have a day to spend watching jellyfish swim and making sequins shimmer don't miss the Science Center. It'll keep you busy all day even without the mess of mummies.