Cairo Museum Unveils "Lost" Egyptian Treasures

Nancy Gupton
for National Geographic News
December 13, 2002
The newest exhibition at Cairo's famed Egyptian Museum features treasures—golden masks, rare statues, early prostheses—unearthed from the museum's own storehouses and basement.

"Hidden Treasures of the Egyptian Museum," part of the museum's 100th birthday celebration, includes more than 150 artifacts unseen since they were discovered. The collection debuted Wednesday in a ceremony attended by Suzanne Mubarek, wife of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarek.

Thousands of priceless treasures—about 80,000—had been untouched for years, tucked away in the museum's cavernous basement and other storehouses around the country.

"Can you imagine—the Cairo Museum contains 160,000 artifacts, but only half of them [were] on display," says Zahi Hawass, secretary general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, in EXPLORER's Egypt's Hidden Treasures, which airs Sunday, December 15, on MSNBC.

Among the treasures on display in the new collection:

• A painted limestone statue of Pharaoh Khufu's high priest, Kai [see photo]. It was found at Giza and dates from the Old Kingdom (2575-2150 B.C.).

• A wooden prosthetic toe found on a mummy discovered near Luxor. Hawass says it offers evidence of one of the world's earliest plastic surgeries.

• A New Kingdom (1539-1075 B.C.) armband made of gold and semiprecious stones, found near Luxor by the discoverer of Tutunkhamun's tomb, Howard Carter.

• An Old Kingdom (2575-2150 B.C.) limestone statue of a scribe [see photo], found at Giza. The scribe is depicted writing on a papyrus in his lap.

• A collection of Late Period (715-332 B.C.) golden amulets, found by Hawass at Bahariya Oasis.

National Geographic photographer Ken Garrett, who was on hand to document the artifacts, was awed by the sheer number. "You have no idea what you're going to see when you come in here," he says in the TV program. "Each day more and more boxes come in."

For Hawass, a National Geographic explorer-in-residence, the museum's basement is full of more than boxes and packing tape. "When you come [in] here and you walk around the galleries, you can smell history," he says.

Renovations Planned

The museum's new exhibition is, fittingly, located in the basement. New galleries were built in an unused part of the space.

The museum's upstairs is also getting a facelift. Renovations to the 100-year-old institution, located in Cairo's Tahrir Square, include the installation of air conditioning, more modern lighting, and an annex for the gift shop.

The redone second floor of the museum will house a conservation lab, children's museum, and lecture hall. Adults also will be able to take classes at the museum's new school.

The work is scheduled to start now and be completed in seven months.

Hawass is excited about all the changes in store, saying: "The museum is going to be the heart of Cairo."

Egypt's Hidden Treasures premieres Sunday, December 15, on EXPLORER on MSNBC at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT.

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