The museum was close to our hotel, but, due to the size of our group, we were shuttled there by bus. After being told, “No cameras”, we were divvied up into small groups and guided by Egyptologists. The museum was grand inside and chock full of artifacts. It had some organization to it, but it was hard to tell what; there were few signs or labels. All our information came from our tour guides. They had great stories and insights to share, but I took few notes that night.
I’ll share a little of what I found memorable, but first, guess what I did in my sleep-deprived, food-starved, yes-I’m-making-excuses-for-myself state. Our group moved on while I was still studying slabs of stone with various waterfowl. I followed two seconds later, and they were gone. I literally (from my perspective) followed them around the corner only to find they had vanished. It was a confusing experience. I made a quick sweep looking for Mom and them, no luck. I would’ve continued my search, but the museum guards were ‘watching’ me. I joined another group, led by Iman, my guide from earlier that morning, so my tour that night ended up being different than Mom’s.
My first guide, the one I lost, taught a brief history of Egypt and pointed out things like how the statues had their left foot forward, symbolizing entering the afterlife. She explained what some other symbols meant. A chair symbolized Isis, a goddess who was a protecting mother. The lungs symbol meant the Nile River, the lungs of Egypt. One wooden statue in particular looked life-like with its crystal eyes. Our guide told us to imagine grave robbers shining a light into a tomb and seeing these eyes shining back at them, frightening.
In contrast, the theme of Iman, my adopted guide, seemed to be “nothing’s new”. It was interesting, really; she showed us things like writing instruments, boomerangs, and chess sets. She talked about traditions like laying flowers on coffins. She did point out a few murals showing one tradition, unique to Egypt (I think). An engaged couple would share one pair of sandals to symbolize their engagement. How cute is that? And thrifty too; I like this idea much better than keeping a diamond that at any minute could take a dive down a drain.
The pinnacle of this evening, of course, was King Tutankhamen’s treasure. And like a little child at Christmas, I found the most spectacular thing was the box. Tut’s sarcophagus was in a gold box inside another gold box, inside another, etc. The museum had the boxes from coffin-sized to humongous lined up in glass cases down one hallway. Wow. Did I mention they were all real gold?--and the artistry and detail of everything, spectacular and somewhat overwhelming.
Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t really the wealth that was turning my head. Tutankhamen died early. His funeral was rushed. He hadn’t the time to prepare for the afterlife. It’s believed most pharaohs had many more riches buried with them--though grave robbers through the ages have guaranteed we don’t truthfully know--But what impressed me more than the gold was just this feeling, here was a young man loved by his people. I thought of the nation mourning their young leader’s early passing. I thought of the artists crafting these things and knowing who they would belong to. It seemed present and very real, while standing in a room surrounded by Tut’s pristine possessions.
At the end of the evening, I finally caught up to my mom. She had noticed I was missing but hadn’t been overly concerned. I think she gives me too much credit sometimes. Anyways, for most guests this last part was their favorite thing of the evening. We entered the mummy room. It had a low ceiling and was kept cooler than the rest of the building. Its walkway followed the wall and then went back and forth in the center of the room until leading to the door at the opposite side. And there, lined up head-to-toe in cases along the aisles, were people. Ancient, dead, preserved people. They seemed a bit on the short side; maybe they’d shrunk some during mummification--the point is they were real people. You could see all the old traces of life in their wrinkled faces.
I’m not a fan of the open casket funeral, and this felt like the same hallowed-but-awkward experience. Forgive me, I was feeling out of it at the time, but I really wanted to take them by the hand and wake them up. I wanted to see their flesh and youth restored. I wanted to look into the brightness of their eyes and ask about their lives. It was an odd temptation, since I fully realize I don’t have the ability to sweep away the dust of ages and restore people. Perhaps, it’s feelings like these though, that led to modern mummy myths.