Tombs of Eternity is an exhibition and the IMAX feature film, Mummies: Secrets of the Pharaohs. Now that’s something to do!
Exhibition primer

From the tombs of Ancient Egypt comes the story of life, death and immortality in the land of the pharaohs. Ponder the eternal questions of humanity as you explore the wonders of this celebrated civilization. The exhibition presents exceptional artifacts that were entombed for thousands of years and that are now preserved in one of the world’s premiere collections of Egyptian antiquities. Insightful and innovative, the exhibition was developed at the Canadian Museum of Civilization. A world exclusive.

Ancient Egypt lasted for more than 3,000 years and Tombs of Eternity includes objects from many time periods. The exhibition is therefore divided in seven key themes:

1 | Unearthing Ancient Egypt
George Andrew Reisner
© Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition

Most of the artifacts in the exhibition were discovered in the first half of the twentieth century during scientific excavations led by American archaeologist George Andrew Reisner. His work was sponsored by Harvard University and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. A reputed archaeologist, “Papa George” Reisner developed methods of documentation that are still in use today.

This section focuses on Reisner and the excavations. It also presents a basic chronology of Ancient Egypt, beginning with unification of the country under the first pharaoh, Menes, in 3150 BCE, and ending with the Roman conquest in 31 BCE.

2 | A Symbolic Journey
© Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition

This is where your symbolic journey from this life to the afterlife begins. The journey takes you through a typical mastaba (Arabic for bench) tomb used by nobles in the Old Kingdom (2,500–2,350 BCE). The tombs were usually built during the person’s lifetime, with the eventual inhabitant overseeing every detail.

Ancient Egyptians wanted visitors to come to their tombs to give offerings, recite prayers and to speak the name of the deceased. This was thought to keep the soul alive. The usually brightly-decorated chapel served this public function, providing a place for the living to commune with the dead.

3 | Life in Ancient Egypt
© Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition
Immortal life required worldly goods. And so, Ancient Egyptian nobles filled their burial chambers with everyday objects and life-sustaining supplies, like beer, milk or even mummified cattle. If taking the real thing was impractical — a granary, for example — it could be replaced by an image, model or symbolic representation. The Egyptians believed that at the moment of rebirth, all these things would magically come to life. This section focuses on everyday objects and on family ties, which often tended to be very strong.

4 |Adorning the Body
© Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition
Ancient Egyptians cared about how they looked. That’s evident in the images and artifacts discovered in Ancient Egyptian burial tombs. Clothing was simple — typically, linen kilts for men and simple dresses for women — but make-up, hairstyles and jewellery were often elaborate and reflected wealth and status.

5 | Set in Stone
© Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition
In Ancient Egypt, everything was meant to last for eternity. Stone masons therefore played a vital role in the construction and decoration of burial tombs. Nothing known to the Ancient Egyptians lasted longer than stone. Simple masons carved blocks for the pyramids. Master craftspeople created fine sculptures and reliefs for nobles and pharaohs. This section explores the role of masons and of scribes, who were highly valued for their ability to read and write the hieroglyphs necessary for tomb decorations and official records.    

6 | Beliefs and Sacred Rituals
© Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition
For most of its 3,000-year history, Egyptians believed in multiple gods. Ancient texts identify more than 700 gods and goddesses. Each one had unique roles and powers. Burial tombs were adorned with written prayers that asked for the help of the gods in this life and the next. Temples were built to honour specific gods. This section of the exhibition explores the nature and depth of this powerful and complex faith.

7 | Everlasting Bodies
Lady Hudson
© Canadian Museum of Civilization
Ancient Egyptians believed that the human body was required in the afterlife where it could be reunited with the deceased’s spirit (the Ka and Ba) to form the immortal Akh. In the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the Ka and the Ba travelled through the underworld and were tested. If they passed the tests, they would be reunited with the body to become immortal. The preservation of human remains was therefore of the highest importance. And so the Ancient Egyptians became masters of the art and science of mummification. This section explores that complex process and its incredible results.

What you will see in the IMAX movie

Mummies: Secrets of the Pharaohs
unravels some of the mysteries surrounding the ancient royal mummies: How were they embalmed? Why was mummification so vital to ancient Egyptian life? Where were they hidden? Featuring breathtaking scenes and stunning locations, the film’s lavish sets and period recreations will immerse you in different eras of Egyptian history. It also features a dramatic re-enactment of the recovery of one of the most significant archaeological finds in modern history.

When a few curious antiquities suddenly appeared on the black market in the 1870s, a handful of hieroglyph experts knew that these were no ordinary relics — for they bore the marks of kings.  These relics ultimately led to the discovery of a cache of 40 mummies, including 12 Kings of Egypt, in a single tomb. Among them were three of the greatest pharaohs that ever lived: the legendary Ramses the Great, his father Seti I, and his son. This was the first time a pharaoh’s tomb was discovered.

Interwoven throughout the film’s historic narrative is a modern-day forensic story — a scientific journey to extract clues about the past that could impact our future. More than a decade ago, Dr. Bob Brier and a colleague used the clues Brier had assembled to perform the first Egyptian-style human mummification since the time of the pharaohs. The film follows him and a DNA specialist, Angelique Corthals, as they check on that modern mummy and conduct key genetic tests to attempt to extract genetic information from ancient mummies. They are hoping their work will advance modern medicine. Could the DNA of pharaohs help cure modern diseases?

Over the centuries, the mummies of Egypt’s pharaohs have meant different things for different people. For Ancient Egyptians, they were a source of hope for a fruitful life after death. For tomb-robbers, they became a source of wealth.  For scholars, they are a source of knowledge.  For researchers, they are a source of genetic evidence that could advance medical science.  And for today’s filmgoers, these mummies and their story are a source of educational entertainment for the whole family. And there’s no better way to watch, learn and be entertained than by experiencing it on the unrivaled IMAX format.

This exhibition is organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston,
in collaboration with the Canadian Museum of Civilization.