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Eternal Egypt

Supreme Council of Antiquities, Egyptian Center for Documentation of Cultural and Natural Heritage (CultNat), and IBM

Reviewed by:
Nancy L. Stockdale
University of Central Florida
March 2004

Created as a joint venture, this impressive archive is presented in English, French, and Arabic. The site uses sophisticated yet easy-to-navigate multimedia presentations to show off 1,557 amazing examples of Egypt’s material culture from the last five millennia.

The site has been designed to highlight artifacts found throughout Egypt, predominantly from the Pharaonic era. However, there are also key items from the Roman era, the Coptic/Byzantine era, and the Islamic era. Visitors may explore the collections from a variety of perspectives. They can click on the “Connections” site, which leads to artifacts such as the golden mask of Tutankhamen and the mosque lamp of Sultan Hassan. Viewers can then explore the items in relation to the history behind their owners, how they were made, where they were found, and where they currently are held. They may also zoom in and look at the images from many angles, using Shockwave technology.

Viewers can also explore items in terms of maps that show important historical and contemporary sites in Egypt. A comprehensive timeline integrates the artifacts temporally. A multimedia section allows viewers to see animations of virtual environments from history, as well as current webcam shots of famous locations (such as Giza and Luxor). They may also view 3-D models of archaeological sites, and visit the collections of important 21st-century museums, such as the Egyptian Museum, the Coptic Museum, and the Museum of Islamic Art. A library offers 23 articles explaining topics such as women in Egyptian history, daily life on the Nile, and aspects of society and culture in various eras of Egyptian history. Viewers can even listen to readings of some of the texts, although occasionally the IBM Text-to-Speech software is not able to accurately pronounce terms.

There is a comprehensive guided tour for visitors who may feel overwhelmed by the multimedia navigation. In general, though, this is a very well-planned website that is simple to explore on a computer with the necessary software (for instance, the Shockwave plug-in). There is also a very comprehensive search available, as well as a glossary of terms and a help menu. Visitors may also save their favorite pages to a “My Collection” section, allowing them to easily find images and texts that have interested them on previous visits. This is a site that makes so many connections between items and texts that it will take a long time for visitors to fully explore all it has to offer. This save function, therefore, is a welcome addition.

One downside to the abundance of images on this site is that pages may take some time to load if the connection speed is not high. However, the designers have anticipated this problem and provided a fix. Visitors without access to a broadband Internet connection may want to take advantage of the site’s text-only version. This part of the site provides all of the text without any of the background or navigational images. Moreover, there are links to the appropriate images, so visitors to the text-only site will be able to download images they want to view.

This site could be a wonderful resource for teachers of world history interested in integrating material culture into their lessons. By using the website to connect artifacts with their locations on the map and to flesh out the larger history about the societies from which they came, teachers can help students realize the importance of these items in terms of understanding larger issues of Egyptian history. In presenting Eternal Egypt online, its sponsors have made some of the most important artifacts in Egyptian museums accessible to visitors all over the world. Scholars, students, and teachers of Egyptian history, be it of the Pharaonic, Coptic, or Islamic eras, will be thrilled with the access this website provides to information about many of Egypt’s most important treasures. By linking material items to larger narratives of history, Eternal Egypt puts a face to the millions of Egyptians who have shaped 5000 years of dramatic history in the country.

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A project of the Center for History and New Media, George Mason University,
with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation
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