A CT scan performed in 2016 on the Guanche mummy of Madrid, which allowed researchers to peer into its interior without damaging its structure. The 12th century CE mummy, which was found in Tenerife Island (100 km west of Morocco) belongs to a man who was probably in his 30s when he died.

February 28, 2024

The replica of the Guanche mummy that Madrid does not want to return

The Guanche mummy that the National Archaeological Museum of Madrid does not return is today a little closer to Tenerife. The Museum of Nature and Archeology (MUNA) presented yesterday a new module in which a faithful replica of the piece is exhibited. The original, no matter how hard the Tenerife Council, continues in the capital of Spain. As the Island Councilor for Museums, Concepción Rivero, listed yesterday, the attempts have occurred in 1976, 1990, 2004, 2006, 2012 and 2017. The last request was made in 2021 and “is still being processed.” And the truth is that, in view of the background, it does not seem easy to get ahead.

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Rivero explained that the replicated mummy is one of the five Guanche mummies that were housed in the National Museum of Anthropology in Madrid in the 1970s. This was transferred to the National Archaeological Museum when the others returned to Tenerife.. The rejection since then of the petitions is due to “technical and conservation reasons”. At least that is the official response, because the counselor understands that the main reason is that, given the value of the mummy, they do not want to part with it.

Guanche funerary world

A CT scan performed in 2016 on the Guanche mummy of Madrid, which allowed  researchers to peer into its interior without damaging its structure. The 12th  century CE mummy, which was found

Specifically, the new module where this piece is exhibited is located next to the Guanche funerary world space and has a different museographic presentation, “where it is pointed out that it is a replica so that visitors do not confuse it with the original mummies”, collects the press release sent by the insular institution. The piece in the National Archaeological Museum comes from the Barranco de Erques, in Arico, and it is believed that it belonged to the great sepulchral cave in which hundreds of them were found in the last third of the 18th century. It is characterized by having a particular archaeological value, since it perfectly reflects the Guanche mummification method, as well as the physical characteristics of these aborigines, according to the data provided by the insular institution.

The head of Culture stated that this is a “very faithful replica” that has been made by an expert and in whose process specialists from MUNA also participated. “It’s so detailed you can see the nails and skin,” he noted. “We are going to continue claiming the return of the mummy,” said Concepción Rivero about the position that the insular institution will maintain from now on. “This faithful reproduction may add additional value to the Museum of Nature and Archeology,” the councilor also said.

Rivero was accompanied by the director of the Archaeological Museum of Tenerife and the Canarian Institute of Bioarchaeology, Conrado Rodríguez-Maffiotte, who highlighted, with regard to conservation and the difficulty that the transfer could entail –reasons put forward by the National Archaeological Museum for to oppose him–, that more difficult displacements have already been carried out. In this regard, she referred to the pieces from Necochea (Argentina) and from the Complutense University of Madrid, and maintained that the technical reasons for moving them are not currently a problem. “This mummy specimen is the best preserved and its value is supported by many reports, and it is possible that for this reason they do not want to part with it,” she said on Wednesday.

«Given the importance of this mummy and the impossibility of its transfer to Tenerife, this replica is totally faithful to the original piece with the aim that visitors to the Tenerife museum can appreciate it in this temporary exhibition, ”indicates the note from the Cabildo. “Along with it, different videos about the aboriginal world are exhibited, as well as a panel that takes a tour of the different countries that house samples of Guanche mummies, such as Germany, the United Kingdom or Canada,” he highlights.

The legal route

Asked about the possibility of opting for other ways to recover the piece, such as the judicial one, Concepción Rivero pointed out that it is not easy, given that the archaeological heritage is national in scope and that, before the approval of the current regulations , the mummy was already in peninsular territory. “If they don’t agree voluntarily, it’s difficult,” she acknowledged. Be that as it may, the counselor indicated that it is “well guarded”, but regretted that the location in the National Archaeological Museum may not be the most appropriate as it is “somewhat off the beaten path”.

Guanche mummies around the world

A CT scan performed in 2016 on the Guanche mummy of Madrid, which allowed  researchers to peer into its interior without damaging its structure. The 12th  century CE mummy, which was found

A panel located in the exhibition area indicates the foreign institutions that guard or have guarded Guanche mummies. Currently, and in addition to the National Archaeological Museum, there are pieces of this type in the Montané Museum, at the University of Havana (Cuba); at the Redpath Museum, at McGill University (Canada); at the University of Cambridge (England); at the Musée de l’Homme (France); at the Institut für Anthropologie, at the University of Göttingen (Germany); at the Natural History Museum (Austria), and at the Kunstkámera Museum (Russia). There have also been in Montpellier and Geneva.