The Great Egyptian Museum, an open secret

This largest archaeological museum complex in the world, yet to be discovered, still hides many unknowns, and others have been revealed to us by various archaeologists.

Much ado about nothing (in the form of thousands of archaeological artefacts): this is how we could describe the feeling evoked by the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM), which is about to open on the Giza plateau, just two kilometres from Egypt’s three most famous pyramids, temples of death erected by the pharaohs Cheops, Hephrem and Mikerinos, with everything necessary to lead them to the afterlife and thus achieve the longed-for eternal life. 


Noisy because the two decades since the foundation stone was laid for the project, designed by Heneghan Peng Architects, have been a long time in the making. In 2006, we watched as the colossal statue of Ramses II, more than 80 tonnes and 12 metres high, arrived triumphantly on the site to be the first to rule it. In 2011, we feared that the Arab Spring would topple towers taller (and architecturally) than a dictatorial president who, according to Amnesty International, had systematically committed egregious human rights abuses. And lately we have been perplexed by the transport of pharaonic relics (literally and figuratively) such as the burial boat of King Cheops or the chapel of Tutankhamun’s great tomb. 

Nuts because it is believed to contain more than 50,000 archaeological artefacts, many of which have never been exhibited before; others are among the oldest in human history, as the Egyptian Tourism Promotion Authority has pointed out in some media reports. Which one to choose then? A difficult question. So we decided to ask some of the world’s most respected archaeologists and Egyptologists to confess to us which is their favourite object, the one they consider remarkable and which they know (almost) for sure will be exhibited in the Grand Egyptian Museum, because the world’s largest archaeological complex still hides many unknowns, even for them.


Alejandro Jiménez Serrano, Spanish representative in the International Association of Egyptologists and professor of Ancient History at the University of Jaén, is a regular archaeologist in Egypt who has been working in the field for more than a decade. His excavations in the necropolis of Qubbet el-Hawa, in Aswan, have kept him (when the desert climate allows) always busy and surrounded by tombs (he is the principal investigator of Tomb 33), and even so he found time to tell us that without knowing exactly which pieces have been brought from the Tahrir Museum and which will be exhibited for the first time, what he can say is that the treasure of Tutankhamun will be part of the permanent exhibition: “If I had to choose one exhibit, it would be Tutankhamun’s throne, where the king is seated and receives an oil painting from Queen Angisenamon. “


British Egyptologist Chris Naunton, one of those TV presenters who star in the most prestigious documentaries on Egypt, does not know exactly which objects will be exhibited in the new museum and which will remain in the old one in Tahrir Square, but he does dwell on the colossal statue of Ramesses II that will welcome visitors to the GEM. 

“It was discovered by the Armenian geologist Joseph Heqeqian in Memphis in 1854 and stood for many years in front of the Cairo station (in Ramses Square). Now that it is in a museum, we will have a much better chance to admire it, and that makes me especially happy because Hekeyan is one of my favourite people, one of the first to apply scientific techniques to archaeology in Egypt; some of his amazing drawings are included in my book The Egyptologist’s Notebooks,” he explains.


It is a difficult question for Susan L. Onstein, professor in the Department of History at the University of Memphis and director since 2008 of the Tevan 16 Tomb Mission, in charge of studying the tomb located at Dra Abu el-Naga, near the road leading to the Valley of the Kings: built in the New Kingdom, reused for secondary burials in later times (such as the Ptolemaic or Roman), and looted twice, in the 19th and 20th centuries. 

However, the author of “The Role of the Singer in Ancient Egypt” kept the jewellery room of the ancient museum, as she imagines that these objects will go to the GEM, as they are small masterpieces of royalty.

“There are many objects from the tomb of Princess Sith-Khator Yunet found at Lahoun, including two anklets of amethyst beads and golden cat claws (…) I imagine a princess with attitude: the cat claws say ‘stay out of it’ while the purple and gold catch the eye under the hem of her dress. It can also reference the many feline goddesses, such as Sekhmet, a powerful lion-headed goddess,” says Onstine, reminding us that this is a very personal piece. “The bracelet does not directly speak of status or titles, as it is not a ‘gift’, nor does it even demonstrate wealth through the materials used.”

It seems that this jewellery was not chosen at random, as many other feline objects were found in his grave. “Of course, it’s possible that someone choosing the objects for the tomb made this set and it had nothing to do with a personal choice, but I don’t think that’s the case,” he concludes, but not before admitting that he must have seen them in a book at a young age, as he can’t remember a time in his life when they weren’t his favourite Egyptian jewellery. “I visit it all the time. 

Posted in Africa, Asia, Egypt.