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The Future of the Past: Mummies and Medicine

Gallery 1

Ancient Egypt meets modern medicine in this exhibition that makes use of state-of-the-art scientific techniques to explore two of the Fine Arts Museums’ mummies. An interdisciplinary team of scientists, Egyptologists, physicians, and museum curators and conservators has learned more about how these embalmed individuals lived, died, and were prepared for eternity.

Rebecca Fahrig and Kerstin Müller of Stanford University Medical School’s department of radiology have conducted high-resolution, three-dimensional computed tomography (CT) scans of the mummies, revealing long-held secrets. The resulting data have been studied by Jonathan Elias of the Akhmim Mummy Studies Consortium, who offered much of the interpretation seen in the exhibition.

One of the mummies investigated is that of Irethorrou, a priest from an important family living in Akhmim in middle Egypt about 2,600 years ago. The Future of the Past includes information that has been gleaned about Irethorrou’s lifestyle, the society in which he lived, his religion, and the funerary beliefs of his time. The second mummy, perhaps 500 years older, is that of a woman traditionally known as “Hatason.” Neither her mummy nor her coffin has fared as well as those of Irethorrou, and they present a stark contrast to Irethorrou’s perfectly preserved body.

Visitors can examine both mummies by means of an interactive virtual dissection table supplied by Anatomage, a San Jose medical solutions company. Hauntingly beautiful amulets and tomb furnishings are also displayed.



Entry to this exhibition is included with general admission to the museum.

Adults $15, seniors 65+ $10, students with current ID $6, members and youth 17 and under free. Prices subject to change without notice.


Los Angeles–based artist RETNA has created a design for the walls of this exhibition that combines modern graffiti art with influences from Egyptian hieroglyphs. RETNA (b. Marquis Duriel Lewis, 1979) uses a distinctive language of calligraphic forms to create a deeply personal poetry, drawing from a variety of typographies, including Arabic, Egyptian, Hebrew, Old English, and Native American. 


Retna at the Legion of Honor
Unwrapping the Secrets of Hatason | The Future of the Past: Mummies and Medicine

Exhibition Highlights

Coffin of Irethorrou, Egyptian, Akhmim, ca. 500 BC. Wood with polychrome. FAMSF, gift of First Federal Trust Company (from the Estate of Jeremiah Lynch), 42895
Anthropoid coffin of Iret-hor-irou, Egyptian, Dynasty 30, 380–343 BC. Cedar with traces of paint. FAMSF, gift of Diane B. Wilsey in memory of Alfred S. Wilsey, 2002.2a–b
The mummy “Hatason,” Egyptian, Asyut, late New Kingdom (Dynasty 20) or Dynasty 21, 1100–1000 BC. FAMSF, gift of John P. Young, 2082. Image rendered by Anatomage
Seneb, the royal scribe, Egyptian, Middle Kingdom, early Dynasty 12, ca. 1938–1850 BC. Painted wood (probably sycamore). FAMSF, the Estate of Virginia B. Landensohn; Ms. Lisa Sardegna and Mr. David A. Carrillo; Martin I. and Margaret J. Zankel and Herbert and Jan West; The Chickering Endowment; Friends of Ian White; The Michael Taylor Trust; Volunteer Council Acquisition Fund; Diane B. Wilsey; Charlotte and Rolf Scherman; Ancient Art Council; Dr. and Mrs. Bernard von Bothmer; Teresa Keller Tilden and Dougla

This exhibition is organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.