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Egypt's Forgotten Treasures
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Treasures Revealed

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By Zahi HawassPhotographs by Kenneth Garrett

They've opened the vaults. An exclusive look at Cairo's Egyptian Museum centennial exhibit includes stunning antiquities on display for the first time ever.

The brilliance of ancient Egypt, as revealed by excavations in the 1800s, filled the Egyptian Museum at its opening on November 15, 1902. Since then, legendary archaeologists have uncovered many times more riches—grand statues, mysterious mummies, and Tutankhamun's gold. Much of this made its way to museum galleries, but much also vanished into the obscurity of dim storerooms before ever being studied or displayed. This past summer I launched a search of the entire Egyptian Museum as well as storage sites around the country to find material for an unprecedented exhibit, which opened last month. The result, including works never seen by modern scholars, is a dazzling tribute to one of the world's great civilizations.

At the height of summer's heat, with the museum's centennial only months away, my exhibit team hit the road in high gear. Racing across Egypt in two weeks, they selected hidden gems that span 3,000 years, from the earliest kings to Greco-Roman times. Meanwhile, workmen rushed to transform a corner of the museum's basement into exhibit space. What was once a rarely entered maze of dusty, airless passages packed with crates became the setting for an adventure into Egypt's glorious past.

As I oversaw all this, I couldn't help but recall that a statue had temporarily disappeared in the turmoil of bringing objects to the museum in 1902. Today, tight security prevents such mishaps. Before entering each excavation storeroom, my exhibit team had to cut away lead seals stamped with the name of the last official in charge. Once selected, objects rode crated or wrapped in foam in armed convoys of trucks, which sped along highways and wove through Cairo traffic to reach the museum's guarded back entrance. Curators then unpacked everything in the basement and prepared each piece for its starring role.

The people who created these artifacts are long gone, their tombs buried in the sand, their names lost. But our museum will keep their legacy alive in a new millennium.

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In More to Explore the National Geographic magazine team shares some of its best sources and other information. Special thanks to the Research Division.

Did You Know?
The chant rang out across an ancient cemetery in the Nile Delta: "Hela hap, saly Allah." A dozen workers beseeched their god to give them the strength and courage to move an eight-ton granite sarcophagus bound for the centennial exhibit at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

The workers' effort of will occurred only a few months ago, but 3,000 years ago, when the sarcophagus was dragged to its hilltop bed of sand, the scene was much the same, except that the gods called on would have been Re or Horus or even the great pharaoh himself.

Around 1000 B.C. a powerful priest commissioned a granite sarcophagus from the quarries at Aswan to be delivered 600 miles north to his Delta home. It would be a resting place for his mummy on its journey though the perils of the afterlife. As revealed in tomb paintings, the quarry workers at Aswan dragged their heavy load onto a barge for its trip downriver, waiting for the Nile flood to help them on their way.

Today's workers did not transport the sarcophagus by river to Cairo, but they did rely on the same strength of numbers, rope, and muscle to inch the heavy load onto a flatbed truck, using huge timbers and rollers to help slide it along just as the ancient Egyptians did.

—Jeanne E. Peters

Did You Know?

Related Links
Egyptian Museum Collection
Explore the museum's collection of statues, jewels, and coffins from Egypt's earliest kings through the Greco-Roman period. The famous gold room reflects the magnificence of young King Tutankhamun's reign.

Egyptian Museum Tour
Take a photo tour of the museum's galleries and many of its treasures.

Egypt's Ministry of Tourism
Discover Bubastis, center of the cult of the cat goddess Bastet, and many of the other ancient places across Egypt where the Egyptian Museum's centennial exhibit artifacts originated.

Zahi Hawass, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence
Find out about the latest discoveries of Egypt's antiquities chief.


Baines, John, and Jaromir Malek. Cultural Atlas of Ancient Egypt. Andromeda Oxford, 2000.

Ikram, Salima, and Aidan Dodson. The Mummy in Ancient Egypt. Thames and Hudson, 1998.

Lehner, Mark. The Complete Pyramids. Thames and Hudson, 1997.

Reeves, Nicholas, and Richard H. Wilkinson. The Complete Tutankhamun. American University in Cairo Press, 1997.

Reeves, Nicholas. The Complete Valley of the Kings. Thames and Hudson, 1996.

The Egyptian Museum Cairo. Verlag Philipp on Zabern, 1987.

Tiradritti, Francesco, ed. Egyptian Treasures from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Harry N. Abrams, 1999.


NGS Resources
Price, Sean. "Treasures of the Tomb," National Geographic Kids (November 2002), 20-23.

Williams, A. R. "Death on the Nile," National Geographic (October 2002), 2-25.

Supples, Kevin. Egypt. National Geographic Books, 2002.

Fagan, Brian. Egypt of the Pharaohs. National Geographic Books, 2001.

Hawass, Zahi. "Egypt's Hidden Tombs Revealed," National Geographic (September 2001), 32-41.

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