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'Lost Egypt' exhibit opens at Museum of Science and History

There's a notice outside the entrance of a dark, hushed room at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History: "Room contains mummified human remains."

Inside: a teen-age girl. She died around 220 B.C. and her body was found floating in the Nile. She was pulled from the water and mummified by strangers -- wrapped in linen, covered in a red shroud and a painted mask, and sent off into the afterlife.

And it has been quite an afterlife. More than 2,000 years later, she has wound up as a key part of a traveling exhibit, "Lost Egypt: Ancient Secrets, Modern Science," which is new this week at the Fort Worth museum.

Nicknamed "Annie" -- short for "anonymous" -- by scientists, she has been scanned and studied in recent years at Philadelphia's Academy of Natural Sciences. And now she's making her way around the country.

Annie is, perhaps, the one who will draw the crowds, but there's more to see inside "Lost Egypt." The exhibit -- created at Columbus, Ohio's Center for Science and Industry and built by the Science Museum of Minnesota -- is a mix of old artifacts and new science, ancient history and hands-on experimentation.

"Lost Egypt" takes a close look at the people of ancient Egypt, their ways of living and beliefs about dying. But it's not just an exhibit full of artifacts in glass cases. Instead, it approaches history through the lens of science, exploring not just ancient Egypt but also the science of discovering ancient Egypt: the archaeologists who found a lost city in the sand; the scientists who examine mummified bodies for clues about ancient lives; and the Egyptologists who have uncovered the mysteries of Egyptian life using the art and artifacts left behind.

Refreshingly, the focus of "Lost Egypt" is on everyday people -- the anonymous ones who built the pyramids, for instance -- and not just the ruling class. And the science is accessible: The exhibit uses clear language and a light approach, so it is easy to engage with and understand the material.

"Lost Egypt" is designed for kids 9 and older -- you have to have a decent attention span to enjoy most of the interactive stations, and you have to be able to comprehend death and science. But adults won't find anything childlike about it.

Here are five of the most fascinating things "Lost Egypt" lets you do:

Learn about how archaeologists work

If you think archaeology sounds boring, "Lost Egypt" is designed to change your mind. First, don't miss the videos that tell the story of the Giza Plateau Mapping Project. Mark Lehner, one of the archaeologists who helped put "Lost Egypt" together, went to Egypt in 1973 to study the Great Sphinx, but when he arrived he found himself wondering more about the tens of thousands of nameless people who built the pyramids. His team mapped the Giza plateau and figured out where the workers' settlement had been. Sure enough, the scientists did some digging and, buried under the sand west of the Nile, they discovered a whole city. And since then, they've been piecing together clues about how the young men who built the pyramids ate and slept and lived.

Want to see how archaeologists gather artifacts and piece together clues that tell a story? There's a station nearby where you can examine a site that an archaeologist might find: in a pile of dirt, there are animal bones, shards of pottery and other tidbits left behind. You can then go to interactive stations to figure out exactly how scientists use these artifacts as clues, piecing together a story about who the people were and what happened there.

See mummies -- human and animal

Annie the mummy is the coolest part of the "Lost Egypt" exhibit, but she's not presented as something glitzy and big. The body is in a darkened room alone, lending a sort of quiet, sacred atmosphere to the viewing of it.

Annie was 16 to 18 years old when she died of blunt trauma to the head. After her body was pulled from the Nile, she was mummified and buried in Akhmim, Egypt. Scientists scanned her body in 2006, so you can see what she looked like and how they prepared her for mummification.

But that's not all. Did you know the Egyptians mummified animals, too? Some were pets or considered divine creatures -- scientists have discovered thousands of mummified cats. Others, like ducks or goats, were buried with loved ones because they were meant to be served as food in the afterlife. You'll see a couple of mummified animals -- and in the process, you'll learn about what the ancient Egyptians believed about life after death.

See what's inside the mummy's cloth

Just as doctors use CT scans to see what's inside you, archaeologists use scans to examine mummies without having to unwrap them. You'll learn all about the scanning of mummies -- and you can see life-size images of those scans, which show how a person might have died.

In "Lost Egypt" you can see, on big backlit panels that look like giant X-rays, what's inside all that wrapping. You'll see the skeleton -- are there any broken bones? You'll see how internal organs were bundled and preserved in jars, then placed inside the body. And you'll learn about the clues that a mummified body leaves behind. For example, high-quality bandages indicate wealth and, at certain times, being mummified with your arms crossed meant you were royalty.

Of course, there's more. Forensic sculptors have used 3-D images of mummified bodies to create models that approximate what the people looked like.

Learn how to translate hieroglyphic writing

What other clues did the Egyptians leave behind? Hieroglyphic writing. All those pictures and symbols mean something, and this exhibit helps you understand how hieroglyphs form sentences and messages. A giant puzzle teaches you how to read a sentence in hieroglyphic text, helping you untangle what the symbols mean and how they fit together. You can also listen to a recording of how the words might have been spoken.

Examine ancient objects designed for the afterlife.

Before you leave "Lost Egypt," don't miss the artifacts on display. Really -- these aren't boring.

The Egyptians believed there was life after death, and they sent the dead off with the clothing, the tools and even the food they would need in the afterlife.

Canopic jars were used to hold and protect internal organs; they were buried with the body, because the dead might need their organs in the afterlife. Amulets, little charms designed to protect the dead and ease the way into the next world, were wrapped up with the body. Ushabtis were figurines; the Egyptians believed they would help you with your daily chores in the afterlife. (Kings, as you might guess, were sent off with a lot of these.) All of these -- and more -- are on display.

Alyson Ward, 817-390-7988

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