Who Am I? Remembering the Dead Through Facial Reconstruction

Margaret Swaney
Meg Swaney is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Near Eastern Studies at Johns Hopkins University studying Egyptian Art and Archaeology. She also holds a master's degree in Museum Studies from New York University ('13), where her research focused on the ethics of displaying Egyptian mummies, as well as a bachelor's degree in Anthropology from the University of Chicago ('11).
Sanchita Balachandran
Sanchita Balachandran is the Associate Director of the Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum and Senior Lecturer in the Department of Near Eastern Studies. She teaches courses related to the identification and analysis of ancient manufacturing techniques of objects, as well as the history, ethics and practice of museum conservation.
Depictions of the Goucher Mummy (L) and the Cohen Mummy (R)

Depictions of the Goucher Mummy (L) and the Cohen Mummy (R), following two years of research and analysis of two individuals stewarded by the Archaeological Museum

The Archaeological Museum stewards collections of ancient Egyptian objects—and two ancient people—as a result of the collecting interests of Baltimoreans who traveled to Egypt in the 19th and early 20th centuries when such collections could still be removed from that country. These collections are named after their purchasers, including Dr. John Goucher, whose “Goucher mummy” rests an the exhibition case in the museum, and Colonel Mendes Israel Cohen, whose “Cohen mummy” may once have been buried in the coffin displayed in the museum. This exhibition, however, focuses on the two ancient Egyptian women who are now in Baltimore through these historical circumstances, rather than their collectors. Drawing on archival, Egyptological, osteological, chemical, and forensic evidence, this exhibition seeks to re-humanize two ancient Egyptian mummies housed at the Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum by telling their individual stories, both ancient and modern. Who are they? What did they look like? How did they live and die? How did they move from their original funerary contexts in Egypt to Baltimore? And how should our museum care for these ancient people and their associated objects?

Made possible through a Johns Hopkins University (JHU) Arts Innovation Grant, this exhibition aims to make these ancient individuals recognizably human once again through the process of facial reconstruction. This project is indebted to the following co-investigators for sharing their expertise: Caroline Wilkinson, Kathryn Smith, and Mark Roughley (Face Lab, Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool School of Art and Design); Juan Garcia, Elliot Fishman, Warren Grayson, and Christopher Ruff (Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions); Michael Raphael and associates (Direct Dimensions, Inc.); Sanchita Balachandran, Betsy Bryan, Kate Gallagher, and Sara Berg (Archaeological Museum); graduate students Meg Swaney (JHU) and Julia Commander (University of Delaware); undergraduates Isis Dwyer, Allison McCoskey, Jordan Poston, Thaara Shankar, and Alex Taylor; The Departments of Special Collections and Conservation and Preservation of the Sheridan Libraries (JHU), Richard Jasnow and Joel Schildbach (JHU); and Kathlyn Cooney (UCLA). This exhibition would not have been possible without the cooperation of Goucher College and the financial support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

While we aim to recover who these individuals once were and to restore a sense of dignity and humanity to them, our scientific and academic evidence has its limitations. We can only begin to understand these two individuals’ stories, and we will never know them the way their families did. Even as we acknowledge the gaps in our knowledge, we ask you to join us in caring for these individuals, honoring their memories by remembering that they, too, are people like us.