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Museum lifts lid on ancient mummy

Getting ready to hit road.


CHICAGO - Not until the lid was off the wood coffin - exposing the 2,500-year-old mummified remains of a 14-year-old Egyptian boy - could J.P. Brown relax.

The conservator at Chicago's Field Museum and three other scientists had just employed specially created clamps as a cradle to raise the fragile coffin lid. Wearing blue surgical gloves, they lifted the contraption and delicately walked it to a safe spot on a table in a humidity-controlled lab.

"Sweet!" Brown said after helping set the lid down, before later acknowledging the stress. "Oh, yeah, God, I was nervous."

The much-planned procedure Friday at the museum, revealing the burial mask and blackened toes of Minirdis, the son of a priest, will allow museum conservators to stabilize the mummy so it can travel in an upcoming exhibit.

"Mummies: Images of the Afterlife" is expected to premier in September at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, then travel to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science in the fall of 2016.

The Field Museum has had the mummy since the 1920s, when the institution received it from the Chicago Historical Society. It's part of a collection of 30 complete mummies from Egypt.

"There's always a risk of damage," Brown said. "So we like to handle these things as little as possible."

Even before opening the coffin, the conservators knew some of what to expect. CT scans, which make X-ray images allowing scientists to see inside, showed the boy's feet were detached and partially unwrapped with his toes sticking out.