Mummies have long been a source of fascination for people around the world, captivating imaginations through the mystery and myths that surround them. The practice of mummification, most famously associated with ancient Egypt, is not only a testament to human ingenuity but also offers a window into the beliefs and customs of one of the world’s most intriguing civilisations.

Renowned Forensic Egyptologist Dr Janet Davey has spent her career investigating ancient Egyptian mummies. She is currently based at the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine (VIFM)/Department of Forensic Medicine at Monash University, where her role is to investigate mummies using modern medical technology. Forensic Egyptology is a specialised area where CT scanning is used to examine mummies in a non-invasive way.

“It’s like being a detective”, she says.

Her work is recognised all around the world, from Egypt to leading museums in Europe.

“I presented a paper at a conference in Leiden (Netherlands) last year and it was about being careful what you interpret from the CT scan data”.

Janet worked on a mummy in the British Museum that had lumps on his shoulder and part of his body. Initially she suspected the lumps may have been part of a disease. But under further investigation with her multi-research team, they discovered it was actually plant matter from resin used to anoint the body.

“You can’t say [what something is] until you can prove it one way or the other”.

Forensic Egyptologist Dr Janet Davey. (Supplied: Dr Janet Davey)

Janet will be sharing her expertise in Mummy Mania: Death and Burial in Ancient Egypt the short course at the CAE. The course will challenge the myths surrounding mummies — myths that have been perpetuated by Hollywood in the last century. From Boris Karloff to Brendan Fraser, and several horror movies in between, Janet says films and documentaries about mummies and the forensic work around them are not always true to reality.

“I went to see [The] Mummy film [starring] Brendan Fraser with about four Egyptologists. We’re sitting there going, ‘oh no!’”

“This is a little bit of artistic licence!”

“People are still frightened of mummies, even wrapped mummies.”

The reasons why ancient Egyptians mummified bodies is still not known, though it likely stemmed from their profound beliefs about the afterlife.

Their elaborate burial rituals, the curses associated with some tombs, and the quest for hidden treasures — likely inspired by Howard Carter’s legendary discovery of Pharoah Tutankhamun— all contribute to the mystique of mummies in popular culture.

Forensic Egyptologist Dr Janet Davey. (Supplied: Dr Janet Davey)

Janet’s course is not just about mummies. The course will explore the incredible history and culture of ancient Egypt civilisation that lasted more than 3,000 years.

“It’s relatively recently that we’ve been able to read hieroglyphs, compared to ancient Greek, Latin and Roman”.

Now, there is an incredible volume of wisdom texts, court cases, wills and even love poetry that shed insight into the ancient Egyptian way of life.

And for Janet, it’s the fact that these people thousands of years before us weren’t dissimilar to us today.

“We as people don’t change. Humans want… they want safety, they want comfort, they want love, they want security, all of that. And you can read their texts and you think they’re not any different to us”.

You can enrol in Mummy Mania: Death and Burial in Ancient Egypt and further your understanding of ancient Egyptian culture by visiting the Pharoah exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria which opens 14 June 2024.