Hidden treasure

By Zahi Hawass

Zahi Hawass Beneath Egypt's sand lies a wealth of treasures awaiting discovery. From gold to silver, statues and reliefs, all manner of artifacts await discovery and celebration. No scientist or explorer alive would dispute the importance of the wealth of the Egyptian kings and queens to the rest of the world. One simply needs to look at the 5,000 pieces discovered in the golden tomb of Tutankhamun -- who ruled for only 9 years -- to imagine the wonder and awe which accompany the discovery of an intact tomb.

The story behind the artifacts in the "Hidden Treasures Exhibition of the Egyptian Museum" is worth relating. During preparations for the celebration of the centennial of the Egyptian Museum, a different type of excavation was made in the dusty basements of both the Egyptian Museum and archaeological storehouses all over the country.

Egypt is home to a wealth of ancient objects, and one can only imagine the finds yet to be made in dusty cupboards and storerooms. And all this without the need to dig under the sand.

When Mamdouh El-Damatti, director of the Egyptian Museum, proposed displaying some artifacts from the museum's basement during the centenary celebrations, I thought the number suggested was too high . Many of the proposed 80,000 objects have been inside sealed boxes since they were presented to the museum. The collection deserves to be displayed to the public in general and not just to the participants of an international conference.

According to Egyptian artist Mahmoud Mabrouk, most of the artifacts in the basement were excavated by Egyptologists from all over the world. Very little has been published about these objects and they have not been stored in chronological order or architectural context which could be comprehended by the general public. Mabrouk emphasised that the presentation should be attractive enough to draw the public and also to stress the importance of the find.

The first step was to collect the treasures from storehouses all over Egypt. The mission impossible was assigned to Abdel- Hamid Qutb and Mohamed Abdel-Maqsoud, who were responsible for sifting through archeological sites the length and breadth of Egypt.

They traveled along sites in Upper and Lower Egypt.

While excavating Quesna's storehouse, the team stumbled upon a 30-tonne sarcophagus dating back to the late Pharaonic period. Transporting the sarcophagus to the Egyptian Museum was a major challenge. But having transported the sarcophagus of the Bahariya oasis governor during the excavation of the Valley of the Golden Mummies, Qutb had no problem taking on this task. The project was begun in a traditional manner with the workers reciting a prayer accompanied by rhythmic chanting. Observing this scene, it was easy to think back millennia to the days of ancient Egypt when the original work was initiated by the forefathers of today's workers. The faces of the workers could have been straight off a wall relief inside an Egyptian tomb; their hands exercising the same skill. Two of the workers, brothers Ahmed and Talal EL-Kheriti hail from the Qift village which has produced some of the best craftsman in the past. The possibility of re-incarnation is not difficult to believe in here.

It took less than a year to collect the articles and the team derived great satisfaction from safely delivering every single object to the secure warehouse of the Egyptian Museum. After delivery began the process of analyzing each piece and determining its final location. Architect Hussies El-Shabouri designed the basement space to accommodate the revived collection. The exhibition is large and wonderful.

The importance of the collection was stressed on 11 December when Mrs Suzanne Mubarak officially opened the exhibition. This was the highlight of the international conference for Egyptologists being held in the Egyptian Museum.

All are welcome to come and see the exhibition and read the English and Arabic catalogue published by my dear friend Mark Linz, head of AUC Press.

My next column will also be dedicated to the objects in the exhibition.

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