Mummies simply beg to be unwrapped. As curious humans, we have little interest in opening coffins, but we simply need to know what each unique permutation of human beef jerky looks like once it’s wrapped in cloth. It’s as if we’re all the guests of honor at a macabre birthday party, and with every new mummy, King Tut just sent another gift our way.
Now, Stockholm’s Medelhavsmuseet, along with the Interactive Institute Swedish ICT, is offering museum visitors a means to unwrap the Egyptian priest Neswaiu, virtually. Amidst an embalming room filled with your standard sarcophagi sits a touch-screen monitor. And via the swipe of a finger, people can delve into Neswaiu’s remains, layer by layer, as captured by 360-degree camera rigs and a CT scan.
Within each layer, anything from the wrappings to the bones can be turned, twisted, and explored in 3-D space, adding a level of tactility to what could be a relatively non-interactive visualization.
“We basically want to take the tools today used at advanced research labs and put them in the hand of the museum visitor–make them a part of the scientific discovery process,” explains Thomas Rydell, Studio Director at the Institute. “Become a researcher or an Indiana Jones for a day.”
The user interface may not be filled with razzle-dazzle colors and physics, but the system’s strength is in its mass-simplicity–the ability to peer deep inside a mummy with the slide of a finger–along with its tacit understanding that the media itself is the attraction. Most of the UI is a black backdrop, dedicated to making the sarcophagus colors and detail pop from the screen, rather than calling attention to itself.
This interface is a stark contrast to what developers originally considered, which was a more literal approach to the unwrapping that would invite visitors to peel away layer after layer of cloth until they reached the mummy’s chewy center. The approach was technically feasible, but as the Interactive Institute is planning to use this same UI for museum subjects beyond mummified corpses, they rightly decided to build a system with a more universal appeal.