Saturday, November 8, 2014

Short Story: Mummies, tombs and treasures

Ancient Egyptians loved their lives so much they wanted to live it over and over again. They saw the preservation of the body after death as an important step to living well in the afterlife.

Egyptians included miniature coffins in tombs – this one has the 
protective jackal god Anubis on one end and birds symbolising 
the soul of the deceased on the other side
Some might think that Egyptians were preoccupied with thoughts of death. But on the contrary, they began early to make plans for their death because of their great love of life. 

They could think of no life better than the present, and they wanted to be sure it would continue after death. So when they died they were mummified and laid to rest inside tombs designed to prepare them for the next life.

Tombs could contain a great variety of items, including statues of the deceased to serve as substitutes for the body in case it was damaged. Ancient Egyptians believed that the deceased would have to do work in the afterlife, just as in life, so burials often included small models of humans to do work in place of the deceased.

The tombs of wealthier individuals could also contain furniture, clothing and other everyday objects intended for use in the afterlife, along with amulets and other items intended to provide magical protection against the hazards of the spirit world

This mummy mask is of a young woman
Thousands of years later these items, and the mummies they accompanied, travel to museums for exhibitions around the world. Now an exciting new exhibition has just opened in South Florida, in the US.

Afterlife: Tombs and Treasures of Ancient Egypt explores the ancient Egyptian concept of the afterlife, with over 200 authentic artefacts. The centre piece of this award-winning exhibit will feature a full-size reproduction of the burial chamber of Thutmose III (1490-1436 BC.

Other unique highlights include 3,000 year-old artefacts including fine jewellery, painted reliefs, implements used in religious rituals, coffins and more. “I think a lot of people will come here to check it out,” museum director Lew Crampton told the Sun Sentinel. “They should, because they won’t see anything else like it for quite some time. Unless they go to Egypt.”

More than 4.5 million people worldwide have seen “Afterlife” or an earlier version of it. The “Afterlife” exhibition set records in Asia, where some waited more than six hours to see it.

Egyptian afterlife has always fascinated people. Carolyn Routledge, the exhibit’s curator, said she thinks that is because “the ancient Egyptians imagined the mystery of what comes after we die so completely and represented it so beautifully.”

Mummy case of Takhenmes
“Also,” she said, “the preservation of mummies is fascinating as it is one of the few ways we can connect to the ancient people who came before us. Mummies make the ancient Egyptians real.” There are three mummies in the exhibit. One is of a young girl, another is of a woman and the third is of a man believed to be the now 3,000-year-old son of Ramses II, a Pharaoh who reigned in the 1200 BC.

More than 200 artefacts between 1,500 and 6,000 years old will also be on display. There will be painted masks and coffins, handmade pots, fine jewellery, figurines of mythical creatures, jars that once held the internal organs of the dead and a model of a royal barge, meant to carry a Pharaoh to the afterlife.

The artefacts were discovered at sites throughout Egypt and the Middle East, including the Valley of the Kings, Deir el Bahri in Luxor and Abydos, thought to be the most sacred burial ground in ancient Egypt.

Most were dug up between 1880 and 1972 by the non-profit Egypt Exploration Society of Great Britain.
Three ivory plaques in the exhibit were cleaned by famed mystery novelist Agatha Christie, whose husband, Max Mallowan, led the excavation where they were found.

Most of the items featured in the exhibit  belong to the England’s Bolton Museum and stem from the collection donated to the museum by Annie Barlow, the daughter of a mill owner in the late 1800s.

The real tomb of Thutmose III in the Valley of the Kings
While accompanying her father on expeditions to Egypt to purchase cotton, she fell in love with Egyptian antiquity, helping raise funds for excavation projects throughout the region.

The centre piece of “Afterlife” is a full-scale recreation of the tomb that held Pharaoh Thutmose III, who reigned from 1504 to 1450 BC. Sometimes called the ‘Napoleon of Ancient Egypt’ he is credited with conquering more land than any other Pharaoh.

Hieroglyphics cover the walls of the 2,000-square-foot burial chamber, which visitors can walk inside. “It will be literally as if you were an explorer proceeding in there by the dim light of candles or flashlights,” Crampton said. “You’ll have the experience of being on an expedition into one of the world’s first great civilizations.”

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