One of my research interests is how mortuary archaeology interacts with contemporary society: ‘public mortuary archaeology’ or ‘the public archaeology of death’. Indeed, I’ve argued in print that one of the principal functions of archaeology in contemporary society is education and engagement with human mortality. This includes how and why we display the dead in museum and heritage contexts.
Given this ‘expertise’, you’d have thought that I’d have a well-prepared talk to give to my own kids when they encountered a skeleton and mummies in the Egyptian gallery of the Liverpool World Museum today. The most striking of these wasn’t actually the mummies, but the display of a Late Predynastic inhumation grave from Nubia.
In my defence, taking very young kids around a museum and trying to engage them in archaeological displays is a tough job, and I don’t think I’m very good at it. So this is the best I could conjure in the circumstances:
Q: Dad, how did he turn to bones?
A: He stopped breathing and later, after burial, bugs ate all the flesh.
Q: But who deaded him?
A: Probably no one killed him. Most likely, he died of boredom. The past was full of long periods of time when not much happened.
Q: But why isn’t he in Heaven?
A: Maybe he is, but his bones remain here for us to see.
I think I need to do better…