Pyramid schemes: Tour the museums displaying rare Egyptian treasures
To mark 200 years of the decoding of the Rosetta Stone, and 100 years since the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb, museums around the world are showcasing objects from ancient Egypt. Take a peek.
All eyes are on Egypt and Egyptian artefacts this season as two milestones celebrate our understanding of the 3,000-year-old civilisation. September marks 200 years of the decipherment of the Rosetta Stone, a move that unlocked a language that had remained dead to readers for nearly 1,500 years. November, in turn, marks 100 years since Tutankhamun’s largely intact tomb was discovered by British archaeologist Howard Carter, who found a “strange and wonderful medley of extraordinary and beautiful objects” inside. Museums around the world are celebrating by exhibiting rare objects and displaying new research. Take a look.
British Museum, London
Hieroglyphs: Unlocking Ancient Egypt runs from October 13 to February 19. It’s a grand show of more than 240 objects, some loaned from local and foreign museums. The museum’s Rosetta Stone is the centrepiece. “We present the history of the stone, its discovery, the race to decipher it and what happened after,” says Ilona Regulski, the show’s curator and the museum’s curator of Egyptian Written Culture.
Early attempts to make sense of the symbols are somewhat hilarious. Third-century Egyptian philosopher Plotinus believed the hieroglyphics were not a language, but that each symbol was a piece of knowledge, a bit of wisdom in itself. By the 5th century CE, the Egyptian priest Horapallo (one of the last to practise Ancient Egyptian religion, though the heiroglyphs had already long gone out of use), had convinced himself that each symbol had a secret meaning. A hawk must symbolise a god, because it flies straight, unlike other birds. A hare must mean open, because hares rarely blinked.
There’s also The Enchanted Basin, a black granite tub covered in hieroglyphs, dating to about 600 BCE and originally a sarcophagus for an Egyptian nobleman named Hapman. It was later believed to have magical powers that help relieve the heartache of lost love. “Europeans had access only to a small number of Egyptian objects,” Regulski explains. Their imaginations ran a little wild.
State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg
The Mummy Changes its Name runs until September 29 and focuses on the results of a 2017 CT scan on one of the mummies in the museum’s collection. The scan reveals that the body was not of a woman singer named Babat, as previously believed, but of a man aged 35 to 40. Analyses show he probably died from a genetic disorder. The exhibition offers a rare behind-the-scenes look at museum research.
Grand Egyptian Museum, Giza
Much delayed, this museum, home to more than 100,000 objects, is scheduled to open in November, to coincide with the centenary of the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb. It’s adjacent to the Pyramids and displays most of the treasures recovered from the boy-king’s tomb, as well as treasures from other shrines, and King Khufu’s 4,600-year-old solar boat (a ritual vessel meant to carry the interred king across the heavens).
Museum of Fine Arts, Lyon
The museum marks the 200-year anniversary of Jean-François Champollion’s decipherment of the Rosetta Stone with a show that focuses on the man and his long friendship with François Artaud, the first director of the museum. Artaud was instrumental in helping Champollion access hieroglyphic samples and original texts. The show runs from October 1 to December 31.
The museum celebrates its tenth anniversary with Champollion: The Path of Hieroglyphics, which brings together more than 350 works – sculptures, paintings, art objects, documents and graphic works – to highlight the richness of the heiroglyphic writing system. It also examines the intellectual, scientific, cultural, archaeological and political contexts that made Champollion’s deciphering possible. The show runs from September 28 to January 16.
Petrie Museum of Egyptian and Sudanese Archaeology, London
Tutankhamun the Boy: Growing Up in Ancient Egypt looks at the role of children in endeavours linked to Ancient Egypt. Displays shed light on life in the royal palaces of Amarna and Gurob; on the young people who laboured to build Ancient Egypt’s royal palaces; and the teens who worked to excavate ancient Egyptian sites in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The show aims to offer insights into the lives of children in Ancient and Early Modern Egypt, and look at the domestic lives of people living along the Nile Valley. The show runs until September 2023.
Egyptian Museum of Barcelona
Two exhibitions run until the end of the year. Ptolemy, Pharaoh of Egypt recreates, in 3D prints, the remains of a temple built 2,000 years ago, during the reign of Pharaoh Ptolemy I. Some 50 works from the museum’s collection offer insights into the period. The other show, Tutankhamun: History of a Discovery, examines how the tomb was discovered, its media coverage and impact.