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Where to See Ancient Egyptian Artifacts Outside of Egypt
The ancient Egyptian civilization left behind an amazing trove of artifacts, including mummies, tools, papyrus art, structures, jewelry and more. However, traveling to Egypt is expensive, and the country is currently undergoing a period of political instability. Fortunately, there are many museums outside of Egypt that host an array of these fascinating relics to give you a taste of the civilization's contribution to the world. This article aims to highlight several of the best museums around the world that feature some of the most famous Egyptian artifacts.
Learn More about the Rosetta Stone
The British Museum in London, England
The British Museum is an impressive museum in its own right. Since its inception in 1753, the museum's vast holdings have increased rapidly. Excluding the museums of Egypt, The British Museum currently houses more Egyptian artifacts than any other institution. The museum's collection of Egyptian relics numbers over 100,000. Highlights from the British Museum include:
The Rosetta Stone
This stone played a crucial role in uncovering the secret of hieroglyphics. This large stone might not look like much, but it gave scholars the key to an entire civilization's language. The top section of the stone is engraved with hieroglyphics, followed by demotic and finally Greek. The text is a simple decree from King Ptolemy V made in 196 B.C.
Colossal Statues of Ramesses II
Ramesses II was one of Egypt's most famous kings, ruling for over 67 years. This statue was once part of a temple at Thebes and was removed by Giovanni Belzoni, the famous Italian explorer. Belzoni, a former circus performer, removed the statue with the assistance of over 130 men. The entire process took 17 days as the men hit just about every obstacle possible, including sinking the statue into the sand once or twice.
Colossal Granite Head of Amenhotep III
Only the arm and head of this once impressive statue are known to have survived ancient times. This piece was also discovered by Belzoni. Unlike the removal of the previously mentioned statue, this statue required only eight days to move. Amenhotep III was a famous ruler in his own right and the father of the controversial pharaoh Akhenaten.
Learn More about Nefertiti
The Neues Museum in Berlin, Germany
This expansive museum, located on Berlin's Museum Island, is home to a range of Egyptian artifacts. The museum houses all the Egyptian artifacts in its own section known as the Egyptian Museum of Berlin. Highlights include:
Bust of Nefertiti
This remarkable ancient sculpture has survived over 3,000 years. The bust shows an amazing amount of its original paint and serves as a lasting image of one of Egypt's most controversial queens. Nefertiti's husband Akhenaten brought unrest to the country with his introduction of a monotheistic religion. After Akhenaten's death, Nefertiti may have served as Egypt's ruler briefly, but her fate is largely unknown to this day.
Akhenaten and Nefertiti House Altar
This stone piece depicts the pharaoh Akhenaten, his wife, and their three daughters worshipping the god Aten. Akhenaten is believed to be the father of the famous King Tutankhamen, but the exact identity of Tut's mother is yet unknown.
Fayum Mummy Portraits
The Neues Museum houses a number of Fayum mummy portraits painted on wood. During the Roman occupation of Egypt, many of the Greek elites living in Egypt arranged for mummification instead of the customary cremation. These painting were placed on the mummies they represented. The museum houses a number of these works, which are still in remarkable condition thanks to the dry heat of Egypt's climate.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, located in New York City, New York
This museum is yet another world-class museum with much more than just Egyptian artifacts. The Met's Egyptian collection includes over 26,000 pieces across 40 galleries. The highlights:
The Temple of Dendur
It would be difficult to pass by this amazing and formidable structure. The Egyptian government gave this temple to the United States in appreciation for American help in protecting ancient relics before the completion of the Aswan dam. The temple's original construction was commissioned by the Roman Emperor Augustus in 15 B.C. Today, visitors may wander around this stunning structure that is surrounded by a shimmering reflecting pool on one side and a window facing Central Park on the other side.
Seated Statue of Hatshepsut
Hatshepsut was a famous Egyptian queen who declared herself pharaoh. Many scholars believe she reigned for 22 years with great success. In some artworks, Hatshepsut appears in a male form. In this unique piece, however, the queen wears the traditional royal male regalia but appears as a woman and even seems to have a bit of a playful smirk to her smile. The statue still bears faint traces of its original paint.
The Met also has a collection of well-preserved wooden models that provide a glimpse into the daily life of common Egyptians. These models depict a number of regular activities from boating on the Nile to working in a granary. These well-preserved models came from a secret and protected section of a previously plundered tomb.
The Louvre in Paris, France
The Louvre's impressive collection of Egyptian relics clocks in at over 50,000 pieces. Twenty rooms of artifacts hold such wonders as mummies, colorful jewelry, games for children, and clothing. Delightful pieces include:
The Great Sphinx of Tanis
This granite sphinx weighs in at over 24 tons, making it one of the biggest sphinxes outside of Egypt. The sphinx plays the role of the foreboding guardian for the rest of the Egyptian collection at the Louvre. The sphinxes of ancient Egyptian culture have the body of a lion with the head of a man. This particular creation was produced for an unknown royal as the engravings have changed multiple times through different reigns.
Colossal Statue of Ramesses II
Some scholars believe Ramesses II had a penchant for ordering older statues to be modified to display his name. Years ago, some believed this very sculpture showed some signs of modification, but now scholars believe it simply took some damage when it was moved during antiquity. This version of Ramesses wears the traditional royal headdress with a false beard.
Queen Cleopatra Stele
This limestone piece shows Cleopatra, in a male form, presenting a gift to the goddess Isis. Cleopatra was a not a true Egyptian as she came from the Greek family that ruled Egypt after the death of Alexander the Great. However, Cleopatra embraced her position as Egypt's leader and believed herself to be a reincarnation of Isis. In ancient Egypt, it wasn't uncommon to depict female pharaohs as males, as the famous Queen Hatshesput was potrayed as a male in many works made in her time.
Egyptian Museum of Turin (Museo Egizio) in Turin, Italy
This Italian museum focuses on ancient Egyptian artifacts, though one floor is dedicated to works unrelated to Egypt. The museum's collection began when King Carlo Emmanuele III saw an Egyptian-style art piece from Rome that inspired him to send a team to Egypt to find more art. The highlights of the museum include:
Seated Statue of Ramesses II
This particular sculpture displays Ramesses II wearing the Khepresh, also known as the blue crown, while in a seated position. This well-preserved statue also features a miniature Nefertari, one of Ramesses' favorite wives, and one of his many sons. Most ancient Egyptian sculpture reflected the importance of a person based on their size in the work.
“The Book of the Dead”
Though there is no standard version of “The Book of the Dead,” this museum does hold the oldest copy found to date. “The Book of the Dead” was a funerary text full of spells meant to guide a person's soul into the afterlife. It is from this book that the “weighing of the heart” idea of ancient Egyptian religion originates. The museum houses several copies; any one of them may be on display.
Kha and Merit's Tomb
The Egyptian Museum of Turin is home to many artifacts collected from the undisturbed tomb of Kha and Merit. Kha was a prominent construction foreman during the reign of many pharaohs, including Amenhotep III. Kha and his wife, Merit, were buried with great wealth and splendor. Highlights among the relics include Merit's mummy and death mask, a box of Merit's toiletries and a statuette of Kha.