Leah and I arrived at the Egyptian Museum to dig a little deeper into some of the earliest and most significant discoveries of ancient Egypt.
Of course, we would have preferred touring the Great Egyptian Museum (G.E.M.), but the many delays since construction began (2012)–complicated by supply chain dynamics and coronavirus has pushed the official opening to sometime in 2023, optimistically.
However, when the museum eventually opens, it will be the world’s largest archaeological museum, housing 100,000 artifacts from hundreds of tombs and temples, and the entirety of the Tutankhamun collection.
But for now, we must adjust our expectations by visiting the fabulous Egyptian Museum instead, where a smattering of the riches belonging to Tutankhamun’s tomb have been on view:
including his incomparable solid gold mask,
and triple coffins staged within his sarcophagus–yet unfortunately, all without the possibility of photography once we entered the special exhibition room.
There were, however a few items from Tutankhamun’s tomb displayed in the general exhibition hall that were equally as impressive, including:
A gilded throne beside an inlaid and painted ceremonial chair.
There were so many more treasures to appreciate beyond the towering entrance and throughout the wings of the cavernous exhibition hall.
From the moment we entered the building, we were confronted by a stone Colossus of King Merneptah, successor to Ramses the Great.
Along our stroll, we stopped to appreciate a 2-foot palette of some of the earliest hieroglyphics ever found.
This palette, with reliefs on both sides, commemorates the victories of King Narmer, who came from the south of Egypt to invade the Delta in about 3000 BC. It represents the most important evidence that the first political unification in the history of mankind occurred in Egypt. The two faces of the artifact are topped by the name of Narmer inscribed inside the Serekh, or rectangular frame. In hieroglyphic signs, the chisel reads mr and the catfish reads naar.
The upper section of the back side shows the king wearing the Red Crown of Lower Egypt, followed by his sandals bearer and preceded by his vizier and four standard bearers. Next comes a scene depicting the corpses of 10 beheaded men. In the middle section, two men are holding two felines with extremely long necks representing the people of the North and South under the control of the king and his men. The lower section shows a bull, representing the king attacking the walls of a northern city.
The Serekh is flanked by two female heads having the ears and horns of a cow, which could be the first representation of the goddess Hathor. The scene on the front shows the king, followed by his sandals bearer and wearing the White Crown of Upper Egypt, smiting a helpless foe from the North. The falcon Horus of Upper Egypt stands upon a bunch of papyrus plants holding a northern prisoner. The lower register, or scene, depicts two other northern enemies running away from the king. Inscribed upon their heads are hieroglyphic signs indicating their names or those of their localities.
We stood in awe of the oldest known life-size statue found in Egypt.
It depicts King Djoser of the Third Dynasty seated on his throne and enveloped in a jubilee cloak. The statue was entirely coated with white plaster and painted. The deep-set eyes were once inlaid. The king has a ceremonial false beard and wears a black wig topped by the royal Nemes headdress. The front side of the pedestal is inscribed with hieroglyphic text, indicating the name and epitaphs of King Nethery-khet of Upper and Lower Egypt.
Next, we got acquainted with an exquisite 4600-year old polished, gneiss statue of King Khafra, builder of the second largest pyramid in Giza.
It was found in a pit in the antechamber of his Valley Temple in Giza. The king is seated on a throne flanked by lion heads. The two sides of the throne are decorated with the Sema-Tawy, symbol of the unity of Upper and Lower Egypt. Khafra wears the nemes headdress, surmounted by the uraeus, or royal cobra. He wears the royal pleated kilt. Attached to his chin is an artificial ceremonial sacred beard. He is protected by the god Horus, represented as a falcon, perched at the back of his neck.
Nearby was a triptych of King Khafra’s neighbor, King Menkaure.
King Menkaure built the third and smallest of the Great Pyramids of Giza. The triad of Menkaure was intended to represent him with the personification of the nomes, in the presence of gods, especially Hathor. The king wished to enjoy resurrection and fertility from Hathor and endless offerings from the nomes. He is represented here in an idealistic form between Hathor, with her horned sun disk crown, and a figure of the personification of the nome of Diospolis Parva.
Sheikh el-Balad, Arabic title for the chief of the village, was the name given to this remarkable wooden statue discovered by the workmen of Auguste Mariette, the French archaeologist, because it resembled their own village chief.
The statue depicts Ka-aper, the chief lector priest, in charge of reciting prayers for the deceased in temples and funerary chapels. It is one of the masterpieces of the private statuary of the Old Kingdom.
The arms were separately modeled and attached to the body, a technique frequently used in wooden statuary. A wooden cane supported the left arm, made out of two pieces of wood joined together. The eyes are inlaid; the rim is made out of copper and the white is of opaque quartz, while the cornea is made out of rock crystal.
Also of interest is a small stone carving of Seneb, an Egyptian dwarf who was the chief of all the palace dwarfs, and charged with the care of the royal wardrobe.
He is seated on a rectangular seat together with his wife, Senetites, and his children stand before him. He has short black hair and wears a short white kilt. His wife rests her right hand on her husband’s shoulder and her left hand on his left arm in an affectionate pose.
Senetites, who held the titles of Priestess of Hathor and Neith, wears a black wig that reaches down to her shoulders and a long white tunic. The artist rendered her face with a smile to show the woman’s satisfaction at being depicted with her husband and children.
The son and daughter are shown standing in front of their father in the place where the legs should be. Here, the Egyptian artist succeeded in creating a balanced composition for the figures of the family.
Protected in a nearby glass box was another painted couple. Rahotep might have been a son of King Senefru and thus, a brother of King Khufu. He held the titles of High Priest of Ra at Heliopolis, General of the Army, and Chief of Constructions.
He is seen here wearing a short kilt, short hair, a fine mustache, a heart-shaped amulet around his neck, and inlaid eyes. Rahotep’s wife, Nofret, is described as “the one acquainted to the king.” She is seen wearing a shoulder-length wig, decorated with a floral diadem and a broad collar. Her natural hair can be seen under the wig.
We recognize the distinction in the skin coloring of the two statues: reddish brown for the man and cream wash for the woman. This was an artistic convention followed throughout ancient Egyptian history. The colors are well preserved and the faces have realistic expressions.
However, Queen Hatshepsut was a rare exception. She’s regarded as the most successful woman ever to rule Egypt as Pharaoh (18th Dynasty), and considered an equal among all kings. Hence, her skin color is always portrayed as reddish brown.
Advancing to the mummy exhibition, we were treated to the gilded plaster, funerary masks of Thuya and Yuya.
Yuya was the father of Queen Tiye, wife of King Amenhotep III, and husband of Thuya. Yuya came from the town of Akhmim, where he probably held estates, and where he was a priest of the Egyptian god Min, the chief god of the area, while Thuya held important religious titles, in addition to the title of the Royal Mother of the Great Wife of the King.
As part of the royal family, they were attributed royal burial rites and mummified, guaranteeing them an extraordinary eternity as museum masterpieces.
Leah and I later visited Yuya’s son-in-law, King Amenhotep III, and his daughter, Queen Tiye to share a moment of eternity inside his sarcophagus, under their protective gaze.
But remembering our plan for a night out at the market, we had to put our hereafter on hold.
To be continued…