After tuberculosis took them, the Orlovits family was buried in a crypt below a church in the northern Hungary town of Vác, left behind in a forgotten place as time ticked on.
The crypt was cool and dry, and their coffins contained pine oil that repelled fungus — ideal conditions for preserving a body.
And so when a church worker finally discovered Michael Orlovits, his wife, Veronica, and their 1-year-old son, Johannes, in 1994, examinations of their remains told modern scientists much about European life in the 18th century.
Picture a “mummy,” and you might automatically envision the embalmed royals and decorated tombs associated with ancient Egypt. But the Mummies of the World exhibit, which opens in June in Union Station, also will include mummies from Europe and South America — from the Orlovits family to a 1,000-year-old Peruvian man to a naturally preserved Argentinian howler monkey.
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“The stories in the exhibit are timeless,” Union Station executive vice president Jerry Baber said. “These mummies tell the history of different cultures.”
Mummies of the World, an exhibition of more than 40 mummies and 150 artifacts that date back 4,500 years, is coming to Kansas City from the Houston Museum of Natural Science and has been touring the United States for more than seven years.
It is expected to open at Union Station on June 24, less than a month after the conclusion of Pompei, an exhibit that explored life before and after the Mount Vesuvius volcano eruption and has drawn more than 115,000 visitors. The mummies exhibition will run through the fall.
Baber had the opportunity to experience Mummies of the World in Los Angeles last year. Beyond the mummies, the exhibit includes interactive stations and multimedia presentations. Two galleries explore how some mummies are naturally created by their environments, as well as those that were intentionally made for cultural and religious reasons.
But perhaps what is most striking about Mummies of the World, besides the mummies themselves, is what experts have been able to glean about diseases, nutrition and climate, as well as rituals and customs associated with specific cultures, through scans, DNA analysis and radiocarbon dating.
They’ve learned that the Egyptian priest Nes-Hor had a broken hip and arthritis when he died, and that a German baroness had severe scoliosis. They’ve studied a Peruvian baby who lived about 3,000 years before famous mummy King Tutankhamun was even born.
They figured out that a mummified human fetus died from a rare spinal tube defect in the 30th week of pregnancy.
“There is a fascinating story of science behind all of this,” Union Station spokesman Michael Tritt said. “A number of these mummies have been CT scanned. Through that technology, a lot can be told about how they lived and where they died.”
A science and medicine gallery explores this aspect and takes viewers through the medical analysis of mummies, as well as 3-D animations of CT scans of their bodies. Included is a display of the “Maryland Mummy,” a mummy created by scientists in 1994 using the same methods as the ancient Egyptians used.
It’s this element that makes Union Station officials particularly excited to share the exhibition with local schools. Mummies of the World already has curriculum and lesson plans that local educators can take advantage of, Baber said.
“With each mummy comes the story of that person, how they lived, how they interacted with their culture and how they perished,” Tritt said.