The body in the box: archiving the Egyptian mummy

Christina Riggs

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Linking the archive in its literal sense to the metaphorical repercussions of ‘the archive’ in a conceptual sense opens new lines of inquiry into the processes employed in museums to catalogue and store their objects. Archaeology—which was influential in Freud’s theories of memory and Derrida’s ‘Freudian impression’, Archive Fever—invites particular consideration in this respect, especially through the collection and interpretation of ancient Egyptian human remains. Embedded in colonial and imperial discourses of race, the Egyptian mummy confronted the West with the uncanny survival of what it had conceived as its near-double. The fates of two Egyptian bodies, a mummy dissected in the 1820s and a skeleton excavated in the 1920s, exemplify the archiving of these archaeological objects, whose multiple traces speak to what Derrida characterized as the archive’s self-destructive drive, as its objects (and bodies) resist archival containment. This theoretical point encourages museums to intervene in and through their archives, for the creation of alternative histories and futures.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)125–150
Number of pages26
JournalArchival Science
Issue number2
Early online date5 Jul 2016
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2017


  • archive
  • archival practices
  • collections management
  • museum storage
  • human remains in museum collections
  • ancient egyptian mummification
  • race science

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