Putting aside my affection for ancient civilizations, the Egyptian Museum in Cairo was an amazing museum to visit. As a new museum (The Grand Egyptian Museum) is near completion and opening on the Giza plateau, the future of the Egyptian Museum is uncertain. I felt lucky to visit it one last time before things change too much. With over 120,000 artifacts and with nearly half of those on display, there was a lot to see! Walking through the museum made me feel like an archaeologist from the 1920’s finding amazing things for the first time.
Both Alyssa and Kylie were excited to learn! They hustled to and from the exhibits. While Kylie looked at the pictures and read the descriptions, Alyssa took notes.
Kylie was especially fascinated by all the blue. We talked about how blue was a difficult color to produce and how many ancient cultures didn’t even have a word for blue (Click here or if you like Radiolab, there is an interesting segment about blue in this piece). It turns out that Egyptians were the first known culture to produce blue color (Click Here).
Many amazing pieces were there, but some really stood out.
The Rosetta Stone
The dynasties of Egypt were old. While the dynasties that united Egypt go back to nearly 2600BC, earlier dynasties go back to 4000BC. To put that in perspective, the earliest united dynasty in China was in 221BC, with other Chinese dynasties going back to 2000BC. The Harappan civilization in India stretched from 3000BC – 1500BC and the Sumerians in Mesopotamia existed from 4000BC – 2000BC. What amazed me the most was that after 4000 years of using hieroglyphs and complex iconography, it stopped, and everyone forgot about it. As time moved on, people saw the awesome monuments…but no one knew what the symbols meant. The temples were a source of loot and treasures. It wasn’t until the discovery of the Rosetta Stone by Napolean’s Army in the late 1700s and subsequent translation efforts by numerous linguists that the meaning of the hieroglyphs began to take shape and help shed light on this ancient culture. Seeing the actual Rosetta Stone with it’s three languages was awesome.
Most people know that Carter discovered the tomb of King Tut, and that it had been spared grave robbers. Consequently, the modern era got a great look into what a burial chamber looked like and were able to catalog all the items deemed important enough to take with them. Gold mausoleums, gold coffins, gold sarcophagus, gold face plates, hundreds of gold pieces of jewelry and ornaments lay bare for viewer to see. Each one was either intricately carved, molded, or painted. Hieroglyphs had been carved into the gold mausoleums. It was impressive and overwhelming. Add to this, furniture, treasure boxes, conopic jars and offerings were also included. The horde of items was mind boggling — over 5000 items. (While many were on display, some have been moved to the new Grand Egyptian Museum and was unclear where these items will reside).
Thuya and Yuya
Prior to Tut, the tombs of Thuya and Yuya were the best preserved tombs discovered. Their coffins, sarcophagi, and lids spread out like a Matryoska doll, so people could see the different inscriptions and process that went into burial. In this exhibit, one could gaze upon the long papyrus document sharing the spells and maps they needed to navigate their way through the afterlife. Together this comprised the Book of the Dead perhaps the oldest piece of literature on the planet. (More about the Book of the dead).
These creeped out Kylie. “I keep waiting for one to open its eyes,” stated Alyssa to weird Kylie out even more. There were many animal mummies (crocodiles, baboons, falcons, dogs, cats, etc), but the highlight was viewing the royal mummies.
Call me morbid, but seeing the actual body of Ramses II (great builder of Egypt) and Tuthmosis III (strategist who expanded the Egyptian empire and successfully defended it from over 16 invasions). Pictures were not allowed. Pictures are available on line, but I won’t post their pictures here as I feel that is disrespectful.
They were everywhere in the museum made from wood and stone. Nearly all of them were covered in hieroglyphs. The hieroglyphs were ornately colored, inside and out, with blues, red, yellow, and orange.
The museum was old school. Every nook and cranny was chock-full of artifacts. There were no digital displays. If items were labeled, it was with a piece of typed paper minimally filled with information about the when and where it was found. There were some newer placards describing a collection or its importance. Several of the exhibits had braille placards only, which really made us wonder. While gold exhibits, mummies, papyrus, tiny artifacts, and wood exhibits were in ramshackle glass, most of the stone sarcophagi, hieroglyphs, stela, were just hanging out there. Don’t Touch and Don’t Lean signs were everywhere, but many touched them. In some cases, when tourists were tired they used artifacts as benches.
The atmosphere of the museum was lively. Groups of school children moved through as well as larger groups from tour groups. Many galleries were crowded, but the crowds moved through fairly fast.
We spent nearly four hours cramming our heads full of Egyptian history and we all reached our saturation point.
The Museum Mechanics
Enter the museum and go clockwise on the ground floor. The rooms and galleries go in order from the Old Kingdom all the way to the Ptolemaic Period with some Byzantine pieces appearing last. Go upstairs and go clockwise again visiting the Animal Mummies, Jewelry, Papyrus sections culminating with a visit to the Tutankhamen collection as well as some other royal pharaohs. After the Tut section, the contents of another well preserved tomb (Thuya and Yuya) was laid out. Finish by visiting the “Royal Mummies”. We had a price list that stated the entrance fee was 75 EGP, but when we got there, the price had jumped to 200 EGP. A huge increase in just one a year. In addition we had to pay extra for cameras (camera were forbidden in the royal mummies room, royal tomb areas, and Tutankhamen’s area), and pay extra to visit the royal mummies (180EGP). Prices change quickly. The 2018 prices online were half what we actually paid. Several of the “posted” prices at the ticket kiosks had pen marks to mark up the price increases.