Ancient Egypt, opening this Friday 5 December 2008, contains 1,500 fascinating exhibits from the museum’s world-class collections. One of its great treasures – the vividly-coloured belt of the last great Pharaoh, Rameses III – is going on display for the first time since before the Second World War. Dating from 1180 BC, the monarch probably wore it in battle while riding his chariot. This is a unique survival from the ancient world – there is nothing like it even in Tutankhamen’s Tomb.
Among the items on display are the mummy said to have inspired H Rider Haggard’s classic fantasy adventure She, about a beautiful queen who lives 2,000 years waiting for her lost love before shrivelling up into a pile of dust. The best-selling Victorian author was a keen collector of artefacts and helped popularise Ancient Egypt.
Visitors can 'unwrap' a mummy without it being touched using a computer interactive.
Ancient Egypt follows the development of the kingdom from the time of Menes, the first king of Egypt who reigned around 3000 BC, through the days of the Pharaohs, up to the time of the last ruler – the legendary Queen Cleopatra, who died in 30 BC – into the Greek and Roman periods.
Ashley Cooke, exhibition curator, says: “No other civilisation in world history has captured the imagination quite like Ancient Egypt, the first nation state. These remarkable people left their mark on the world and influenced all who followed them.
“Today their wonderful, haunting tombs and all they left behind continue to exert an endless fascination. The World Museum Liverpool is in a prime position to tell the story as we have one of the finest collections anywhere.”
Ancient Egypt features a section devoted to Death. It looks at curses and spells which were linked to the Afterlife – the Egyptians’ version of heaven.
There is a chilling collection of 200 spells which Pharaohs and other carried in their coffins to prevent all sorts of horrible things happening to them.
The process of mummification – invented by the Egyptians – is examined. Preserving the body was done to protect the dead – there were five spirits in the body including Ka, who represented the soul. Another – Ba – had wings and could fly out of the tomb.
It took 70 days to complete the process of embalming and mummification. Internal organs were removed and put into jars.
The body was cleaned with oils and spices including frankincense and perfumes which can still be smelt on mummies. After being wrapped, the mummy was placed in its coffin. It took hundreds of years to develop the skills needed to perfect the art of mummification.
Animals were also mummified so they could accompany the dead into the Afterlife. In Victorian times cat mummies were so common, they were sold by the ton. Around 400,000 were imported into Liverpool in the 1850s to be used as fertiliser.
Other animal mummies on display are a hawk and crocodile. There were animal gods to protect the Egyptians from bad spirits.
A tomb reconstruction is based on a 4,000-year-old burial place. People believed the dead could protect the living but could also be blamed for misfortunes. The myth of the Mummy’s Curse is also examined although curses were inscribed on the outside of tombs to prevent stone being stolen. The arrival of the New Kingdom from about 1100 BC saw Egypt in decline.
Probably the most important documents on display are papyri (papers) recording the trials of people accused of tomb robbing. They were discovered in the 1840s, probably at Thebes, and were divided up between collections in Liverpool, London and New York.
Other exciting features are a 4,000-year-old harp which may have soothed a Pharaoh, a mummified hand and a chattering wall about the language of the Ancient Egyptians.
Only between five and 10 per cent of people could read and write – even some Pharaohs may have been illiterate.
A section on tomb building reveals that the men who built the Pyramids were paid in beer and bread – so well that they were known for their drunkenness. Ancient Egypt looks at the lasting legacy of this vanished culture as pioneers of democracy, libraries, mathematics, glass and building. -- www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk