UMSL archaeology professor takes research trip to ‘Mummies’ exhibit at Saint Louis Science Center

ST. LOUIS – Dr. Anne Austin has a lot of respect for her research and the ink to learn from the past, especially when it’s a sleeve from previous centuries.

Austin, an assistant professor in UMSL’s Anthropology and Archeology Department, is observing the Mummies of the World exhibit at the Saint Louis Science Center up close.

“Today, I’m checking out the human mummified arm here in the Burns Collection of the St. Louis Science Center, where we have a tattoo,” Austin said. “We’re looking to see if we can get more information about the tattoo.”  

“In the case of the remains with the tattoo, you can see that it says ‘Pope Pius,’” said Kristina Hampton, manager of collections at the Saint Louis Science Center. 

Austin has made numerous trips to Egypt to study archaeology in the field. But when one of her UMSL students informed her about the Mummies of the World exhibit at the science center all summer long, she snapped up the opportunity. 

On Wednesday morning, she was snapping photos and using infrared light to learn more of this tattoo that reads “Pope Pius.”

“Normally, my work is in Egypt so it takes me a whole day to fly and get there and I can only when it’s field excavation time,” Austin said. “So, the opportunity to do some field research just by coincidence, 15 minutes away, is fantastic and speaks to the kinds of institutions we have in St. Louis.” 

“We are thrilled to have Dr. Austin come in and shine a light—literally and figuratively—about some of the mummies in the collection,” Hampton said. “Helping us to get a better idea of what lies beneath the surface.” 

“One of my goals is to look at pictures in both the regular, visible light,” Austin said. “Like the kind you normally take pictures in. And then also infrared to see if there are differences that come out in the infrared photography. What I’ve found is that tattoos in ancient Egyptian mummified remains, tattoos can be invisible, but when you photograph them in infrared and then something that hasn’t been seen in thousands of years, you get to see for the first time.” 

Using science, technology, empathy, and manners, Dr. Austin is using her STEM background to unlock the ink, tattoos, and stories of some ancient mummy secrets buried in the past.