Ancient Wealth

We were ready for the pyramids, having read about them, seeing photos and hearing tales for years. We were prepared for drifting down the Nile, romancing sunsets, hearing the call to prayer waft across the river in air like a lover's gentle caress. We were prepared for the joys of the night market at the Khan a Kahlili with white smiles in dark faces, spices and smells, intricate goods and haggling. We were amazed at finding the Coptic Christian quarter with its penitents and chain-wrapped prayers. Pink limestone towers, forbidding forts. . . .

But nothing could prepare us for the Cairo Museum. No book, no picture, no novel or tale prepares one for the literally breath-taking first step into this warehouse of ancient wealth. The amount, the quality, the power of the sculptures, tombs, jewelry, and artifacts is overwhelming.

Every hall is lined with treasures, piled pretty much in no particular order, with no "interpretive work" to surround it. Greek-style busts are displayed next to an Egyptian sarcophagus. Cat mummies are mixed in with glass bottles from a different time and place. Even the treasures of King Tut were spread out in several rooms with a few simple, yellowed, typed 3 x 5 cards containing some very basic information, usually in Egyptian Arabic. Gone were the wonderful explanatory multi-language texts and displays that had accompanied its American tour.

King Tut

The one exception to this is the relatively new royal mummy room where mummies are preserved not only physically, but psychically. Reverence is requested, and information is provided, all for an additional entry fee. The mummies showed several racial types--they had black hair and red and blonde, they had aquiline noses and flat noses, high cheek bones and low, thin faces and broad faces. A pure lesson in the layers of civilization that the fertile Nile Valley attracted from every corner of the Ancient world. Their graves had been disturbed, and their resting place moved so that we could learn what they had to tell us. What all of those things in the museum tell us.


In the Cairo Museum was this carving of Anubis found in King Tut's tomb.
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