After a century, mummy Janus leaves the RUG

Janus, the mummy who has been part of Groningen university life for almost a century, was quietly moved to Leiden last week. The National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden wanted him back.
By Silan Celebi and Christien Boomsma

Janus the Mummy

Janus the mummy came to Groningen in 1925. At first, he was tucked away in a dark corner of the Semitic Chamber at the Academy Building. Because students passed him all the time, they called him the Ghost of the Academy building. When he moved to the Department of Egyptology in the Boteringestraat, it became ‘Janus’ – short for Hadrianus.

However, rumour had it he was an Egyptian princess or a temple singer. But in 1973, X-rays revealed a penis. In 1999 CT scans were done, forming the basis of a scientifically sound reconstruction of his face. The scans also revealed Janus was a Nubian male from around 600 B.C. who died close to his fortieth birthday. He had inflammations of his gums, quite a belly, and a gap between his front teeth.

The mummy, who is almost 2,500 years old, was one of the centrepieces in the University Museum collection. He came to Leiden in 1826 but had been on loan at the University of Groningen ever since 1925. The students had named him ‘Janus’.

Mummy project

But now the Leiden museum has asked for the mummy back. ‘And they are the original owners, so of course I had to comply’, says head of the University Museum, Arjen Dijkstra. He will be getting a regular check-up, Dijkstra says, to monitor his condition. He will be part of the Leiden Mummy Project, where they’ll study all their mummies to compare the results. After that he may go on to travel to an exhibition in Japan. He may or may not return ‘home’ afterwards.

Museum staff was sad to see him go. Janus attracted a lot of attention, especially from school children visiting the museum. In 1999, a reconstruction of his face was made by Denise Smith and Caroline Wilkinson from Great Britain, the same scientists who reconstructed the face of Richard III.


However, says Dijkstra, we should not forget that he was stolen from his original home in the first place. And Dijkstra hasn’t yet decided whether he will ask for the mummy back in two years. ‘We must have the means to bring Janus back and we must also want it. Of course, he’s part of our academic heritage, but I would want a proper place for him’, he explains.

This means that when he does come back, he should get a special spot in the museum. ‘We should handle him with dignity and place him in a context that he deserves.’

Photo’s transport, Ciska Ackerman, University Museum



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