The Unlucky Mummy Of The British Museum
Exhibit number 22542, labelled ‘Painted wooden mummy-board of an unidentified woman', in the British Museum, London. Photo courtesy of the British Museum
BY CHRISTOPHER JOSIFFE
30 September 2023
The British Museum is perhaps the most famous building in Bloomsbury. Certainly, each day it attracts thousands of tourists from around the world. Many are drawn to its Egyptian galleries.
Room 62 on the first floor features numerous wonderful Egyptian artefacts, including a painted mummy-board made of plaster and wood, originally the lid of a coffin.
The painted image depicts a woman of high status, possibly a priestess of the god Amen-Ra ('the Hidden One') and is thought to date from around 900 BC. This exhibit, number 22542, and labelled ‘Painted wooden mummy-board of an unidentified woman’, was acquired by the Museum in 1889, and has, ever since, been the focus of numerous strange stories, becoming known as ‘The Unlucky Mummy’.
It was claimed that when a photographer was commissioned to take pictures of the mummy-board, the plates, when developed, showed not the calm face as depicted on the board, but instead,
“the face of a living Egyptian woman whose eyes stared furiously with an expression of singular malevolence.”
It was further claimed that “In the course of a few weeks the photographer died suddenly and in mysterious circumstances.” [Witchcraft and Black Magic, Montague Summers, Senate, 1995 (p.109)]
Elsewhere, the photographic plates are said to have revealed “the contorted face of a woman in torment with a look of terror in her eyes” and that strange noises were sometimes heard coming from the exhibit, such as the weeping of a woman. [Chambers’ Guide to London: the Secret City, Michael Chambers, Millington Books, 1979 (p.62)]
Writer and journalist Bertram Fletcher Robinson investigated the artefact’s history and became convinced that it possessed sinister and malevolent qualities. Supposedly, Robinson’s research had uncovered a trail of misfortune, accident and death associated with those who encountered the object, ever since its discovery in the 1860s.
It was further claimed (admittedly, without any basis in fact) that the Museum, wishing to dispose of this troublesome exhibit, sold it to an American buyer, to whom it was shipped on board the Titanic, resulting in the ship’s disastrous maiden voyage!
(It is not explained how the mummy-board managed to make its way back to London)