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Space Museum unravels the secrets of mummies

     The Hong Kong Space Museum's latest Omnimax Show "Mummies: Secrets of the Pharaohs" will take audiences on a journey back thousands of years to the age of the great Pharaohs, to unravel the mysteries of the ancient royal mummies.

     Screening from tomorrow (November 1) until April 30, 2010, the film explores the tombs of Pharaohs and unwraps the secrets of mummification.

     Egypt is an ancient land of awe and wonder. For the Egyptians, life was eternal. They searched the globe for ingredients to preserve their bodies and their immortality. With knowledge gained from centuries of practice, the priests of ancient Egypt created the finest mummies that the world has ever known. But how they were mummified, where they were hidden and whether they may still give life today, these are the secrets of the Pharaohs.

     Ruled by Pharaohs, Egypt's empire dominated the near East for 3,000 years. Rameses, one of the most powerful Pharaohs in ancient Egypt, shared his life with queen Nefertari. Like all Egyptians, they loved life and wanted to live beyond death. They thought dying was just a gateway to the next world – that if they had been good on earth, their lives would continue in paradise. Their souls would fly to paradise to re-enter their bodies and their mummies would come to life in the next world, a world in which every moment was like a beautiful day in this one.

     The first mummies were natural – dried by burial in the hot desert sands. But when the Egyptians started to use tombs and pyramids, the bodies were no longer in contact with the sand, so they had to preserve the body artificially, and the art of mummification was born. The Egyptians recorded their wars, myths and legends, but no literature detailing the method of creating a mummy has been found.

     Egyptologists and historians studying ancient Egypt consider that natural dryers and preservatives are crucial factors to embalmment of human remains. The ancient Egyptians embalmed a body by using sodium lye (a mixture of soda and salt) for 35 days, and perfumed them with frankincense, myrrh, beeswax, pine resin and honey. The viscera, the more vulnerable parts to decomposition, would be first removed from the body. Remaining at its original place was the heart, which was thought to be the cache of keeping a man's consciousness. Religious rituals conducted by priests would follow to ensure that the mummy would come to life again during afterlife. 

     In early times only the Pharaohs' bodies were made into mummies, and buried in their pyramids. Later, more people were mummified: first the other royals, then the nobles, and by the time of Cleopatra the middle class too. So during Egypt's history, literally millions of mummies were made.

     Mummies are windows to ancient Egypt's past. But tombs have been robbed for thousands of years, causing the loss of the mummies of Pharaohs and many other treasures. In early Egypt, Pharaohs built their tombs in pyramids. But the gold in the pyramids was a magnet for thieves who plundered them soon after they were built. So the Pharaohs moved their tombs hundreds of miles south down the Nile to a hidden valley. Eventually this too was robbed. Fortunately, in the late 19th century after an incredible discovery of a cache of mummies, including 12 Kings of Egypt, among them the legendary Rameses the Great, the Pharaohs began their journey out of the darkness and into the light.

     In the last two decades, scientists have made countless unsuccessful attempts to extract useful DNA from the Egyptian mummies to help cure people today. DNA can even tell us what diseases ancient mummies suffered. Many ancient Egyptians died of malaria, for example. Even now, malaria affects many people. From the time of ancient Egyptian Pharaohs to now, it is possible that DNA of plasmodium (the parasite that causes malaria) might still remain in some mummies for several thousand years. If we can extract DNA of parasites from the Egyptian mummies, scientists can have a better understanding on how diseases evolve over time. The study may point towards a cure and millions of lives could be saved in the future.

     The Pharaohs' mummies have meant different things to different people over the centuries. For the ancients they were a source of hope; for the robbers, a source of wealth; for scholars, a source of knowledge. But finally, perhaps the mummies will fulfil their destiny: to sustain the gift of life.

     The 40-minute Omnimax Show, "Mummies: Secrets of the Pharaohs", will be screened at 3.50pm and 7.20pm daily at the museum's Stanley Ho Space Theatre. Additional shows will be scheduled at 12.20pm on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays. The museum is closed on Tuesdays (except public holidays). Tickets are available at the Space Museum Box Office and at all URBTIX outlets for $24 (front stalls) and $32 (stalls). Full-time students, senior citizens and people with disabilities will receive a half-price concession.

     The Space Museum is located at 10 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon. For further information, call 2721 0226 or visit the website (

Ends/Saturday, October 31, 2009


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