Sunday, July 6, 2014

Finding Egypt. . . not in Egypt

When we were in Egypt, my son and I had a running joke (that was really not at all funny) about plaques in front of statues, artifacts, and temples that said, "The original is in name that European museum." The British Museum and the Louvre were mentioned most often.

When I was in London, there was a billboard for an exhibit at the British Museum that said Celebrating 300 years of Empire!  An Irish friend of mine muttered under her breath "Celebrating 300 years of stealing from the locals."

Just how much of ancient Egypt came to live in London? Well, the British Museum is the motherlode of Egyptian artifacts, including the Rosetta Stone and a really nice (and big) Book of the Coming Forth by Day (aka Book of the Dead). On one visit, I came directly from Egypt (where I presumably might have gotten my fill of Egyptian antiquities) to London, but I still spent half a day enjoying their collection. This article, Ancient Egypt in London, skims the surface of Egypt in other parts of London. There is no doubt the Brits love their Egyptomania. As do the French and the Germans.

Of course, the US has its share of Egyptian treasures. My first encounter with real Egyptian "stuff" was at the Field Museum in Chicago where I saw my first mummy at the tender age of 10. As an adult, my husband was on the board of the Illinois Arts Council; they arranged a private, after hours tour of the 1976 Tutankhamun exhibition in the Field Museum. Thanks to the Field Museum, I had a goal in life: Get myself to Egypt. And I did. Twice. I hope to go again.

For a glimpse of the Egyptian joy you can find at the Field Museum, may I suggest An Egyptian Tomb and the Winds of the Afterlife: Chicago’s Field Museum.  Looking for Egypt near you? Check out this list.

While fully sensitive to and more than a little embarrassed by other countries amassing Egypt's treasures, I confess I am always excited when I encounter Egypt outside of Egypt. It's a confirmation that without that great and grand society that lasted (depending on your definition of when it ended) between 2500 to 4100 years, civilization as we know it simply would not exist.

July 9 update: Lest you think stealing antiquities is some19th Century phenomenon, Gleaming in the Dust, an audio documentary, reports on what has happened to Egyptian antiquities since the 2011 revolution.