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Mummies: 'Visitors From The Past' Who Can Help Solve Mysteries Today

Jun 20, 2011
Originally published on June 20, 2011 6:07 pm

What is it about mummies that fascinate so many people?

"Mummies seem to have an intrigue," says James Delay. They are "visitors from the past if you will. ... They carry a mystery."

He should know. Delay, who spoke with All Things Considered host Michele Norris earlier today, is director of exhibition development with American Exhibitions Inc. — the organizers of the Mummies of the World exhibit that just opened at Philadelphia's Franklin Institute.

Among the 45 mummies from around the world on display are a child from Peru who died more than 6,400 years ago — about 3,000 years before Egypt's King Tut was born.

There is a German baron who was buried with his boots around 1648. His remains were found about 150 years later by soldiers in Napoleon's army.

And then there is the Orlovits family from Hungary, who were found together in a hidden crypt.

"We know that Veronica Orlovits was a carrier of tuberculosis and passed it to her first husband and her first three children, who died," Delay says.

Veronica remarried, and passed TB on to her second husband, Michael, and their three children. They also died.

"Scientists are now working on comparing some of the strains that were found in that crypt ... to current strains and other strains of the past, to see if they can help come up with a cure or something — to learn more about tuberculosis," Delay adds.

There's more about the exhibit in this video.

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

James Delay is the director of exhibition development for American Exhibitions Incorporated, the company behind "Mummies of the World." He says many of the mummies in the exhibit came from one museum in Germany and were once thought to be lost.

NORRIS: He checked their record books and they were listed as canceled right around the time of World War II. So he assumed that during the ravages and the bombing of Mannheim, that they were either destroyed or given to their, you know, their elite of the museum, the board of directors, if you will.

NORRIS: That must have been an incredible discovery.

NORRIS: Yeah, I mean it was a huge bank vault. But he did tell me it felt like Christmas Day.

NORRIS: And they came from what part of the world?

NORRIS: They came from South America. They came from Oceania, Asia, the bogs of Germany.

NORRIS: Not everyone certainly will have a chance to make their way to the Franklin Institute. I want you to quickly walk me through and describe a few of the mummies that visitors encounter. Baron von Holtz.

NORRIS: He was buried with his boots on, and you can see his fingers, his toes, his teeth; very intricate details of him, as well as his 17th-century boots.

NORRIS: And there's the South American child found in Peru many, many years before King Tut was entombed. Tell me about that child.

NORRIS: And instead of taking it out and analyzing it, they took the computer files and created what is known as a stereolithography. They took the computer files and created a - almost a replica of this amulet and it's displayed with it. So some of the secrets are still hidden within, but we're able to pull out as well.

NORRIS: James Delay, it's been a pleasure to speak to you. Thank you very much.

NORRIS: Thank you very much. This has been an honor.

NORRIS: James Delay is the director of exhibition development with American Exhibitions Incorporated, that's the firm that's running the "Mummies of the World Exhibit" at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.