Big McMummy To Go?




Susie Boniface


They were buried surrounded by priceless treasures, anticipating an afterlife still more glorious than their brief years on Earth.

But for two of Egypt's princes eternity has turned out rather differently.

Thanks to an eccentric British clergyman, their mummies have ended up encased in concrete beneath a branch of McDonald's in the Midlands.

And, despite the representations of Egypt's leading archaeologists, it seems they are likely to stay beneath the restaurant in Tamworth, Staffordshire.

Dr Zahi Hawass, director of the Giza Pyramids, says they should be returned to his country for study. But McDonald's insists that the mummies are so deep in the foundations that they cannot safely be extracted.

They were interred there after being brought to Britain by the Rev William Macgregor. He travelled to Egypt in 1885 to improve his health in the dry climate but became fascinated by the country's ancient civilisation and returned with huge numbers of artifacts to his manor house near Tamworth.

However, after a few years in the damp Midlands climate, the mummies, said to be 4000 years old, began to deteriorate.

It was during a walk through the town centre in 1935 that Macgregor found what he thought was an ideal place to bury them.

'The foundations of the Palace Cinema, which was being built at the time, looked like the kind of burial sites that he had seen in Egypt', said John Harper of Tamworth Heritage Society. 'So he asked the foreman if he would mind if he deposited a couple of mummies in his foundations.'

McDonalds bought the building a decade ago but the whereabouts of the mummies has only just been revealed by a former owner of the cinema.

The identity of the corpses is not known, but only members of Egypt's ruling classes and priesthood were normally mummified. Nor is it known exactly how, or in what, they were placed before being incorporated into the foundations of the cinema.

'We understand they are well within the foundations, so an excavation is out of the question, unfortunately,' said a McDonald's spokesman said yesterday.

'It was something we were completely unaware of.'

Dr Hawass said; 'They should be given to a museum or handed back to Egypt. It would be wonderful if they were brought back. Many tombs were raided during the 19th century and their contents shipped abroad. There are as many mummies in England and America as there are in Egypt. Many were taken to museums and private collections. I think it is important to study them.'

Mr Macgregor was known as a wealthy eccentric who upset landlords and businessmen in Tamworth with his calls for sanitation and hospitals.

But in the field of Egyptology he is renowned.

'He built up a huge collection of artifacts and it was all auctioned off towards the end of his life to private collections and museums,' said Jeffrey Spencer, deputy curator of the ancient Egypt department at the British Museum.

'We were completely unaware of this burial, it is not registered at all, but after 70 years in the damp British climate I would think it is unlikely the mummies have been preserved at all.

Susie Boniface 2001

Daily Mail Newspapers 2001

back6.gif (2217 bytes)