Nefer, a remarkable Egyptian mummy’s head with more than 3,000 years of history

The item, linked to the Danish doctor Christian Fenger in the 19th Century, was exhibited at Ifergan Collection (Malaga) between 2018 and 2020

To talk about Ifergan Gallery’s Egyptian mummy head we must first refer to a historical figure of the 19th Century with whom it was closely linked: Christian Fenger. This Danish doctor and surgeon worked in Cairo and Alexandria between 1875 and 1876 curing children of eye diseases while also studying trachoma, one of the leading causes of infectious blindness worldwide.

In 1877 Fenger contracted a lung disease caused by his lack of adaptation to the Egyptian climate, so following the advice of a group of doctors, he decided to travel to the United States, settling in the city of Chicago. Prior to his departure, the Egyptian government wanted to recognise his work in the country by giving him a very peculiar gift: two mummies. They were the bodies of a young woman and a man from the 18th Dynasty (1500-1200 BC). In the end, the Danish doctor opted to take only the heads for logistical reasons in view of such a long journey.

What would be a totally unthinkable gift today was unfortunately common practice in the 19th century, when some of these mummified bodies were even used to make powder that was snorted or even spiced in food to flavour it.

Upon his arrival in the United States, the Danish doctor settled in Chicago, taking up a post in one of the city’s most important hospitals. When he died in March 1902, the heads passed to his son Frederick and, on his death, to his grandson Christian. The latter would finally sell them at auction in New York in 2016, where they became part of Ifergan Collection (2018-2020), one of the country’s leading private archaeological collections, owned by the developer Vicente Jiménez Ifergan.

The idea that a curse or curse surrounds the Egyptian funerary world in relation to the mummies is something that no one has been able to prove. But there will always be those who attribute to this curse certain inexplicable events that have surrounded this mysterious world of ancient Egypt since Howard Carter discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun. For example, in 2007, a young German travelled to Egypt to return an apparently cursed piece. The story began a few years earlier, when his stepfather visited the Valley of the Kings and took an object as a souvenir of his trip. When he returned to Europe, the thief was afflicted by a strange fatigue, fever, paralysis and finally death. The family concluded that the man would continue to suffer even after death and determined that the only way to end all his ills would be to return the object to its place of origin.

This mummified head of a woman is an exceptional item due to its preservation, as it still has around her face pieces of the linen bandage that was used in her mummification and on one side we can see her blonde hair as well as her eyelids, which is something quite unusual in a mummy. The mummy’s head still has her teeth, which indicates that she probably died at an early age and that she was a noblewoman who lived in the XVIII Dynasty, between 1500-1200 B.C. The nostrils through which the brain would have been extracted are also perfectly visible. One of the most important elements is that the cervical vertebra is still in perfect condition, which proves that the separation of the body was carried out with great care.

TV and radio broadcasting

This specimen of a mummy’s head, which has always aroused the curiosity of locals and foreigners alike, has been widely covered by the media. Not in vain, it was one of the featured items at the 43rd edition of Feriarte, which was held in Madrid from 16th to 24th November 2019. Likewise, Nefer, as he was called by the workers of Ifergan Collection, was the guest star alongside Javier Sevillano on the Onda Cero radio programme, La rosa de los vientos.

Helena R. Olmo, a journalist specialising in historical and scientific dissemination, also met Néfer at Ifergan Collection during the presentation of her book CSI Mummies. This work is the result of the research carried out by its author for 20 years, in which she was on the trail of many mummies throughout the world.

One of the most notorious media appearances was its appearance on the Cuatro TV programme Cuarto Milenio, directed by Iker Jiménez, where its history was extensively explained and where the testimonies and experiences of museum workers and visitors who were close to this mummy’s head were collected.

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