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The Mummy Returns

Art and the Law

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Troy Klyber
February 25, 2010


Ancient Egyptian

I would like to relate one of the more interesting questions to have come up in the Art Institute’s legal department. Curators can say the darndest things, but this unabridged email from Karen Manchester, an ancient art curator who should have been a word economist, takes the prize:

Karen’s email:

Hi,

Any laws regulating the interstate transportation of dead bodies that we should be aware of?

-K

Upon ruling out that Karen needed the services of a criminal lawyer, I learned that her question was motivated by plans to transport a mummy to the museum. The mummy (named Wenuhotep, at the time) and its case had been on loan to an out-of-state museum for over fifty years, and now curators were interested in its return for study and display. The Art Institute is not in the business of moving bodies, ancient or otherwise, so Karen’s question required some research. After scouring the books and consulting with colleagues at other museums, we finally determined that there did not appear to be any legal hurdles to transporting the mummy. So, after negotiating an agreement allowing the borrowing museum to create a replica of the mummy and case, the Art Institute finally got its mummy back. The story does not end there, however, as subsequent research has revealed some interesting facts about the mummy, including that she is not the lady we thought she was …

Stay tuned.

—Troy Klyber

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