Recently I read an article by the Huffington Post titled, “London’s Viktor Wynd Museum Is Crowdfunding To Buy A Mummified Head.” Yes, you read that right. A museum in London has started a crowdfunding page to raise £6,666 (about $8126.72) to purchase the mummified head of a Peruvian child from the Chimú culture (they’ve somehow managed to raise £1,391, about $1695.81, in a month). And that’s not even the worst of it. As you may know, crowdfunding pages often utilize rewards that correspond to donating certain amounts of money as an incentive to donors. Well, this crowdfunding page has some pretty macabre rewards. For £30 you will receive “Mummy Dust:” “a pinch of powdered Mummy, with a signed certificate of authenticity (At the bottom of the Mummy’s case is a little pile of powdered skin/hair/textile);” for £35 you will receive “The Skull of a Small Animal;” for £48, you can take “4 Drinks from The Cup of Life:” “Four of you may enter our museum, see The Mummy, sit down on a plush velvet banquette and be served The Cup of Life – a very special cocktail within a real human skull” (emphasis added, because ARE YOU KIDDING ME?).
Thought it couldn’t get any worse? It does. For a £100 donation you will receive a pair of Victor Wynd’s used underwear…because what better reward for helping a museum potentially illicitly buy a child’s mummified head is there than “a pair of Y fronts worn by Viktor Wynd, with a signed certificate of authenticity”? And for a whopping £2,000 you will have the privilege of taking the mummy home with you for a night: “Drive The Mummy in Your Car – see if it breaks down, then take him home for the night. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to spend the night with The Mummy of Mare Street in the privacy of your own home. What secrets will he tell you? What secrets will you tell him? There is only one way to discover – support our campaign now.”
Now that we’ve all picked our jaws up off the floor, lets look at the real issues here. Despite the fact that what this museum, (or rather a wunderkabinett, as it calls itself) is attempting to do is completely and totally disrespectful and unethical, a Forbes magazine article also points out that in some cases it is even illegal. The mummified head in question has apparently traveled through multiple different countries Europe before landing in the UK, so the provenance is questionable which is a problem in itself. Additionally, the crowdfunding page the museum is utilizing is based in the US, and each of the countries involved have different laws when it comes to handling human remains. So, for instance, while it is illegal for the US to import or exchange Peruvian antiquities, it may not be for certain European countries or the UK. And even if it was illegal for the UK to import Peruvian antiquities and it wasn’t for, say, Sweden, then the UK may have found a loophole through which to import the head from Sweden.
And those rewards of human remains? Yeah, those are potentially illegal too. While there are no Federal laws prohibiting trade in human remains in the US, certain states do have laws against it. So, as the Forbes article states, “a person in Louisiana who funded the Viktor Wynd campaign to the tune of £43 would be breaking the law to accept the human bone ‘reward’ (and potentially fined $5,000 with up to a year in jail), but a person living in another state or country might not be.” What does this mean for the US-based crowdfunding site the Viktor Wynd Museum is using? They have a clause in their terms and conditions that states “Campaign Owners are not permitted to offer or provide any of the following as a Perk: […] any items (a) prohibited by applicable law to possess or distribute, (b) that would violate applicable law if distributed…” (emphasis added). These are pretty general terms considering the variety of different laws that prohibit the exchange and possession of human remains in the US, but it appears that as of yesterday the crowdfunding site has asked the museum to clarify the origins of the mummy and to stop offering human remains as rewards. As of today, nothing appears to have changed on the site.
Whew. So to recap, here are the main issues:
- The mummified head has unclear provenance which is an immediate red flag.
- Importing the mummy may or may not be illegal (but is certainly unethical given the circumstances).
- The ‘rewards’ being offered are also potentially illegal in some states and countries, and definitely a gray area for the host crowdfunding site.
- Used underwear. Enough said.
Joking aside, this is a serious ethical issue. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!