The Egyptian Museum
George Mason University
Also known as the National Museum, this is an extraordinary treasure house of ancient Egyptian monuments. Although this official website does not do it justice, it contains a valuable image database for classroom use with roughly 200 images of jewelry, sculpture, items from Tutankhamun’s tomb, and funerary objects as well as images of museum rooms.
The plundering of Egypt’s antiquities first prompted the establishment of a museum. When Napoleon conquered Egypt in 1798, he was accompanied by historians, scientists, and other experts who proceeded to canvas the length and breadth of Egypt, drawing and describing its ancient monuments and treasures. The result was the Description de L’Egypte (or Description of Egypt), and its publication in Europe caused a sensation. After the French army departed in 1801, all manner of curiosity seekers and would-be discoverers from Europe flooded the country and began a wholesale looting and plundering of its antiquities. Obelisks, statues, sarcophagi (coffins), and other objects were exported and came to grace European capitals and museums.
Archeologists and other concerned officials in Egypt realized the need to not only prevent looting, but to preserve what had been discovered. They established storage facilities for antiquities in Cairo beginning in 1835. A permanent museum was built in 1900 that today offers 120,000 objects from the pre-historic to Greco-Roman period of Egyptian history, including some of the world’s greatest treasures, such as the sarcophagus and objects of Tutankhamun’s tomb.
The home page features a series of links, including collections, a glossary, an interactive museum map, and a virtual tour. Search functions allow for searching by material, category, date, and king name, or browsing by masterpieces, restoration, pharaonic gods, and pharaonic eras.
“Glossary” offers an extensive dictionary of pharaonic gods, terms, concepts and rulers, as well as basic English archaeological terms. “About Museum” describes some of the more important figures in Egypt’s ancient history (pharaohs who ruled mostly during the Middle and New Kingdoms). “Museum Map” allows users to access the ground and upper floors, with images and floorplans of 89 rooms and 12 outside images. “Virtual Tour” provides images and brief descriptions of 20 rooms. (Attempts at loading virtual tours froze, so such links are perhaps inactive.)
“Collections” offers four sections: jewelry, sculpture, Tutankhamun, and funerary collections. Each section includes a brief description of the nature and significance of the objects and allows users to access sample images. “Jewelry” offers 20 images, each well-photographed although sometimes not closely enough, and identification information (date, origin, material, location in the museum). “Sculpture” links to 77 images; “Tutankhamun” to 137 images; and “Funerary” to 19 images. These images are cross-referenced with browsable categories: “masterpieces” (a database of 189 images of the most spectacular pieces from the museum’s collections), “restoration” (which features a fascinating article about the restoration process of two statues of the Gods Amun and Mut, from Karnak in the south of Egypt), a glossary of “Pharaonic Gods,” and one on “Pharaonic Eras.” It does not provide dates of the importance of the five eras, but does allow users to view sample objects from each era (eight prehistoric, 33 Old Kingdom, 30 Middle Kingdom, 209 New Kingdom, and 11 Late Kingdom). In addition, the site offers three games, and nine links to other national museums in Egypt. (Unfortunately the link descriptions do not always note the name of the museum and the logos are in Arabic.)
Although much is missing from this website—dates, proper historical context for some descriptions, and problematic language—it is invaluable as a fairly representative and well-organized database of images. And these images are invaluable to understanding the life and customs of ancient Egyptians.
Because of the nature of burial customs, the discovery of tombs like Tutankhamun’s brought to light the existence of this otherwise insignificant and short-lived pharaoh; additionally the many objects with which he was buried give us some clue as to the adornments, the furniture, the gods, the military equipment and agricultural tools, and the scientific knowledge of ancient Egyptians. Tutankhamun images can thus be used to illustrate the sophistication and complexity of ancient Egyptian civilization. Other images from the museum can round out student understanding of aspects of ancient Egyptian society. For example, images like the one of the Memphite family of Nefer-Herenptah or the Dwarf Seneb portray close family relationships in ancient Egypt. Or using the “Pharaonic Eras” link and its images can help students appreciate the development of ancient Egyptian civilization, by comparing images of objects from earlier and later periods of its history.