Hall of Ancient Egypt
Opening May 2013
Members Preview: May 24-30
Public Opening: May 31
Safely ensconced in the Sahara desert, and drawing its lifeblood from the river Nile, ancient Egyptian civilization flourished for more than three millennia. A quintessential example of what archaeologists call a primary civilization,” ancient Egypt did not rely on inspiration from others to develop its own architecture, writing and religion—all of Egyptian culture was developed “in house.”
The themes of writing, religion, natural resources and—of course—mummification will be explored in this new permanent exhibition hall.
Ever since the late 18th century, the Western world has been exploring Egypt. This hall will present artifacts collected during these early days of investigations, and will also compare old-style archaeology with 21st-century approaches, such as using satellite imagery and remote sensing to locate and map ancient settlements. The Museum’s own mummy, Ankh Hap, will be moved to his new surroundings in time for the opening on May 24, 2013.
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More About Egypt:
The Egyptians believed that after they died, they would live forever in another world. In their burial process, they gathered everything from this world that they might need in the next life. These objects provide information not only about death, but also about life in ancient Egypt.
According to Egyptian beliefs, each person was composed of three parts: the life force, the ba or personality (sometimes called the soul), and the physical body. When someone died, the body remained behind while the two spiritual parts went to the next world and lived forever.
The most important gods of the dead were Osiris, king and judge in the afterworld, and the jackal-headed Anubis. Relief carvings and statuettes in faience show how the Egyptians saw these gods. Osiris judged the dead to determine if they were worthy of entering the next world. If not, they would die a second and final death. However, the Egyptians believed they could use magical texts to tilt the scales in their favor. Anubis served as guide to the dead and was the patron of embalmers. He oversaw the making of mummies.
Mummification protected the body of the deceased, in case his or her spirit wanted to return to earth. The process involved drying out and preserving the body. Soft internal organs were removed and processed separately. On display are objects connected with this practice, including amulets and the coffin, as well as glass containers with modern examples of what was used to make a mummy: tar, salts, sand and wood shavings.
Magic was also an important part of life and death in ancient Egypt. Amulets of all kinds protected both the living and the dead. Pictures on tomb walls and small funerary statuettes also provided magical services. These statuettes (ushebtis), many of which are on display, were designed to work in place of the dead in the next world. As many as 400 could be included in a single burial—one magical worker for every day of the year, along with a supervisor for every ten workers.
It was important that the name of the dead survive and that the spirit be fed. Entombed with each mummy were the important possessions that the dead might need in the next world: food and drink, jewelry, cosmetics, and games. Offerings to the dead were placed in the tomb chapel.