CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — The child had a name.
But no one knows what it was.
The Corpus Christi Caller-Times reports in 1957, a mummified child described as an “Inca Indian child from Peru” who died about 2,000 years ago was brought to Corpus Christi for the Junior Museum, now known as the Corpus Christi Museum of Science and History.
Aalbert Heine, the Junior Museum’s first director, brought the mummy as a gift from the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, his former place of employment, according to a 60-year-old Corpus Christi Times article. It was on display until the 1980s and has been in museum storage ever since.
“Starting a new museum was very exciting,” said Jillian Becquet, collections manager. “He brought tons of foreign artifacts, and this mummy was one of them. It’s the 137th to ever enter this museum. Now we’re up to millions.”
About a year ago, Becquet and Madeleine Fontenot, assistant curator of education, decided to repatriate the mummy to its country of origin. The museum employees have anthropological educational backgrounds and believe the most humane thing they can do is help return the centuries-old mummy home.
“(Having a mummy) doesn’t meet our mission as a museum (anymore),” Becquet said. “We don’t display human remains at our museum at all. There are protections in place now (for Native American artifacts and remains), but ancient people are not afforded the same protection.”
Fontenot believes removing the child from its burial place removed its historical context and may have contaminated it. The child was wrapped in an intricately woven rope that looks like a type of basket. There is cloth clinging to parts of the body, which can also have cultural significance, she said.
The natural history museum in New York has no record of the mummy, she said.
“(We think) it’s a 6-8-year-old female from Peru. That’s about all we know,” Becquet said. “People didn’t keep as good of records about anthropological expeditions back then, so probably either somebody looking to steal things from Peru … and not necessarily a professional removing her.”
A year of research through the museum’s archive system, decades of scrapbooks, and old newspaper articles led Becquet and Fontenot to seek the help of Driscoll Children’s Hospital for the next step in the repatriation process.
On Monday, the mummy underwent X-rays in the hospital’s radiology department. Suzi Beckwith, the diagnostic X-ray coordinator, said the images showed that the bones are in “pretty good shape” considering the age.
The mummy’s short legs are tucked underneath in front of its body in a crouched position with a one small foot sticking out of the woven rope. Fontenot hopes the rope and cloth on the body will be examined, and possibly carbon-dated, by Peruvian officials.
“From the X-rays we’re hoping to learn No. 1 her burial position, because burial position is a very purposeful thing,” Becquet said. “It varies based on the people doing the burying based on their background and cultural heritage.”
Studying the bones could help determine the sex of the child and if any traumatic injuries happened while it was alive or post-mortem. It can also help determine age by examining which teeth had come in.
Beckwith called the experience “once-in-a-lifetime.”
The X-ray images will help verify that the mummy is from Peru as the employees continue to talk with Peruvian officials.
“We want to give them as much data as we can so they can make a claim and say ‘Yes, this is ours,’ ” Becquet said. “Then we’ll do everything in our power to get her back to them.”
Once the mummy has been returned home, the museum, located in the city’s SEA District, will have no more human remains in storage.
After the passage of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990, the museum returned a large portion of its artifacts connected to the Karankawa, a South Texas Native American tribe, to their rightful owners.
Information from: Corpus Christi Caller-Times, http://www.caller.com
This is an AP Member Exchange shared by the Corpus Christi Caller-Times