15 August 2023

Rare Egyptian treasures coming soon to the National Museum

| Sally Hopman
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outer coffin of priest Panesy

The outer coffin of priest Panesy, an Egyptian nobleman, about 943–746 BCE, one of the rare Egyptian antiquities to go on show at the National Museum in December. Photo: © Rijksmuseum van Oudheden (Leiden, The Netherlands).

To see the first sheet of a long papyrus scroll that the priest Padikhonsu took to his tomb to ensure his passage into the afterlife, you’d likely have to trek to the other side of the world.

Or the outer coffin of the priest Panesy adorned on each side with depictions of the sons of Horus.

These remarkable objects are among a 200-piece travelling exhibition, Discovering Ancient Egypt, which will be showcased at the National Museum of Australia (NMA) from 15 December.

They are on loan from the National Museum of Antiquities in The Netherlands, touring Australia as part of a collaboration between the NMA, the Western Australian Museum and the Queensland Museum Network.

The Discovering Ancient Egypt exhibition explores the ancient culture’s vast social and traditional history spanning 3000 years. Through jewellery, sculpture, pottery and an array of funerary material, it showcases the ancient Egyptians’ unique outlook on life and death, religious practices, daily life and the journey to the afterlife.

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The exhibition focuses on the history of discovery, inviting visitors to consider the role of museums in working with Egyptian communities to document and present ancient cultures.

Key moments such as the unearthing of the Rosetta Stone during Napoleon’s military campaign to Egypt and the discovery of the tomb of the young pharaoh Tutankhamun are explored alongside the Dutch museum’s archaeological discoveries over decades, including at the ancient burial grounds of Saqqara.

A special feature for visitors will be the life-sized replica facade of the Temple of Taffeh, which will be illuminated by a large-scale graphic presentation. This ancient Nubian temple was shipped to the Dutch museum from the Nile as a gift from Egypt to The Netherlands.

There is also a rare model boat made from wood, dating back to the 11th Dynasty, with its crew of 12 ensuring the tomb owner comfortable travel in the afterlife. Two coffins, at the front and back of the boat, may represent the deceased’s funeral or the transport of their funerary equipment.

rare wooden model boat from the 11th Dynasty

This rare wooden model boat from the 11th Dynasty, about 2080–1940 BCE, will feature in the exhibition. Photo: © Rijksmuseum van Oudheden (Leiden, The Netherlands).

Director of the NMA, Dr Mathew Trinca, said the Discovering Ancient Egypt exhibition, a partnership between the four museums, was a credit to the arts and culture industry across Australia and further cemented Australia on the global cultural touring exhibition map.

“I particularly want to thank the Dutch National Museum of Antiquities and the Australian partner institutions. Meaningful collaboration like this enables cultural institutions to pool and leverage their resources to bring world-class exhibitions to Australia,” Dr Trinca said.

“We are delighted by the opportunity to offer Australian audiences a chance to engage with ancient Egyptian history in new ways while considering how the ongoing work of archaeologists and museum professionals continues to illuminate new information and knowledge about this intriguing ancient culture.”

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Director of the National Museum of Antiquities, Dr Wim Weijland, said the exhibition showcased many masterpieces from its world-famous collection.

“We are delighted to be partnering with three outstanding museums,” he said. “It has been inspiring to see the dedication, passion and enthusiasm that our Australian colleagues have brought to transforming this exhibition into something truly unique and exemplary.”

Discovering Ancient Egypt will go on show at the National Museum of Australia, Canberra, from 15 December 2023 to 8 September 2024. Tickets will go on sale later this year.

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