A day at the Egyptian Museum

Dust, history and mystery

Hieroglyphics on sarcophagus, Egyptian Museum

Having to queue amongst other punters outside The Egyptian Museum was a bit of a shock. Throughout my travels in The Corona Age I have had most tourist attractions to myself. Having said that, it was only a couple of bus loads, and the line moved quickly.

tourists in Egypt
Bloody tourists

Soon I had bought my ticket and was standing in the foyer of the grand old building, which has been welcoming visitors since 1902. Wanting to be clear of the other tourists milling around the entrance, I quickly turned right and moved into the first gallery. The floor and walls were covered in dark granite sarcophagi, exquisitely shaped and polished, and engraved with minutely detailed hieroglyphics. I started grinning and giggling like and idiot; this was the stuff of boyhood dreams! The sheer size of some of the sarcophagi was staggering. I can’t imagine how much they must have weighed, or how long it would have taken to create them.

Sarcophagus,  Egyptian Museum
Now that must have taken yonks

There were also wooden sarcophagi, which were equally impressive feats of skill.

Wooden sarcophagus,  Egyptian Museum
‘I didn’t know the knot was going to end up just above the eye! Well I’m not bloody well starting again!’

After extensive gawping and photographing I moved out of the gallery and around the corner. A long, wide corridor lay ahead, with dark wood cabinets lining the walls. The display cases were dusty, and you could clearly see where the staff had unsuccessfully tried to clean the glass with big circular motions.

Gallery,  Egyptian Museum
Old school
Information panel

Tiny typed signs on yellowed paper sat in wooden frames, and explained a select few of the exhibits. The fact that the Egyptian Museum didn’t look like it had been updated (or cleaned) since 1900 really added to the atmosphere of the place. It felt like stepping back in time twice over: once to the era of 1800s/early1900s European exploration, discovery, and exhibition; and then way back thousands of years to the time of ancient monarchs and gods.

The sheer size of the museum is staggering. It contains over 120,000 artefacts, and I stumbled around finding the whole place a bit overwhelming. I figured I would just try to move from room to room in some sort of logical manner, and eventually I would see all the exhibits. I didn’t realise at the time that it would take me three days…

Stone sphinx,  Egyptian Museum
Everyone loves a sphinx

It’s hard not to be enthralled by hieroglyphics. Purely from an aesthetic standpoint, they are beautiful. Whether created with reed pen on papyrus, paint brush on wall, carving tool on stone or wood, they are intricate, delicate, and striking.

And you complain about having to reply to an email

Then throw in the fact that they are not merely pictures but detailed communications and it’s a whole other level of fascination. Within the museum, hieroglyphics were everywhere: on sarcophagi, coffins, statues, stellae, built structures and scrolls.

Papyrus scroll
Hang on I’ll just get my glasses

I had read that the early Egyptians made boomerangs, so was pretty excited to find a display case of them. Similar to the Australian weapon and hunting tool, there were many different designs, with some displaying a curved ‘lifting’ surface (‘returning’ type) and others flattened for straight flight. The interpretive sign for this display explained: ‘Boomerangs or carved sticks, for killing birds made of wood’. Presumably it was the boomerangs rather than the birds that were wooden.

Egyptian boomerangs

The Egyptian Government is putting the final touches on a new museum; a mega-complex within sight of the Giza pyramids. The packing up of artefacts has already begun, ready to truck the priceless items down the road to their new home.

artefacts in packing boxes
Amongst the hundreds of packing cases, the Ark of the Covenant was lost

The sunken floor of the museum contains a huge gallery, and is home to some mighty stonework. The colossal statues of King Amenophis III and Queen Tyi dominate the room.

Colossal statues  Egyptian Museum
The patchy application of sunscreen had disastrous results
Wooden statue

In addition to these enormous statues, the Egyptian Museum held a variety of other sculptures featuring other monarchs, gods, and individuals that held power and authority in the ancient past. There were also a few more unusual ones, including a wooden statue of ‘…the Sole Companion and Master of the Secrets of the House of the Toilet’. Some secrets are best kept to yourself.

‘Dunnies are over there mate’

As well as the bus loads of Russians and the lone Aussie, there were lots of locals enjoying the museum. Draping the family over ancient statues for photos was a very popular activity, and none of the museum staff seemed to mind. I did find one small framed sign stating that touching the ‘antiquities’ was strictly forbidden, located next to an antiquity that had clearly been touched a great deal.

Who forgot to wash their hands?

Sadly, many of the animals that used to roam ancient Egypt are now locally extinct. These include the sacred ibis, who no longer wade the Nile Delta prodding around with their ridiculously long beaks.

Ibis hieroglyphics
Walk like a bin chicken

Habitat loss is likely to have pushed the species over the edge, however our Aussie bin chickens (same genus, different species), have shown that the genus can thrive in a good open landfill. There’s no shortage of rubbish around in Egypt, so if a few sacred ibis decide to fly north from Sudan they may just make a comeback.

Ibis carving
‘Did you just call me big nose?’

The footwear of choice in ancient Egypt was of course the sandal. Its light and breezy design suited the warms climes nicely, and the Museum had an extensive collection of early model sandals on display. In the olden days, items were placed inside tombs to provide for the needs of the deceased in the afterlife (more on this later), and that included footwear. After all, if you’re going to live forever, you’re going to need a good pair of skids.

ancient sandals
Check out these winklepickers. Ancient Egyptians were scuffing around in them long before goths were even invented

I had spent a great day at the museum, and had yet to leave the ground floor. Upstairs was where the big ticket items were displayed: the mummies and coffins that visitors flock to see. Having been around for thousands of years, I figured they would still be there when I came back tomorrow.

Egyptian Museum
‘Yeah mate we’re getting around to it…’

For more on the Egyptian Museum click here

If liked this post, you may also enjoy Another Day at the Egyptian Museum, Inside the Pyramids of Giza

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2 responses to “A day at the Egyptian Museum”

  1. Steve Avatar

    Those statues are breathtaking, I’ve always wanted to see Egypt, so I’m jealous Jim. From memory all that stonework was done in the earlier periods with stone tools, then copper and I think bronze may have been used in the end. Magnificent.

    1. Jim Clayton Avatar
      Jim Clayton

      Hey Steve, I was wondering if you might have been to Egypt at some stage – for work or travel. Try and get here if you can mate it won’t disappoint! The fact that the artisans were able to create such incredible works with what we would now consider pretty basic tools is incredible. The granite sarcophagi were finished to such perfect smooth shine that it looked like they had been polished and buffed using power tools!

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