Mummy at Legion of Honor

The saying goes, “You can’t take it with you.” The ancient Egyptians, however, believed something quite different.

There’s a fascinating exhibit at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor Art Museum — “Mummies and Medicine: The Future of the Past” — that chronicles research being done by a team of Stanford University scientists, using up-to-date technology to unlock the  secrets of the museum’s two resident mummies.

The primary aim of the research is to explore how these people lived, died, and prepared for eternity. They believed that the spirit endures forever. Furthermore, at some future time, it will be reunited with the body, which has been preserved by mummification.

Therefore, during one’s lifetime, it was necessary to plan ahead. You specified the kind of tomb you wanted (and could afford) — maybe not so different from what some people do today, buying a cemetery plot and tombstone, and spelling out what should be written on it.

The ancient Egyptians went a step further. They wanted to make sure they had crucial things with them during that long, eternal time. So, they would make a list: “Here are things I might need, and these are my most treasured belongings. Please put them in my tomb, along with Mummified Me.”

For example, they might designate such things as furniture, clothes, and everyday items deemed essential, along with expensive things to preserve their status. (Or, maybe just to keep their heirs from getting it.)

Apparently the Egyptians were very diligent about “advance directives” and end-of-life planning. Anyway, it made me think. What if our culture encouraged the same practice? What material things would be considered indispensable? The latest designer jeans? A fully loaded iPhone? That new Tesla?

Maybe just a lot of books. And a lot of Godiva chocolates.