SF State News {University Communications}

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Ancient Egypt from an early 20th century perspective

November 26, 2008 -- After the 1922 discovery of King Tutankhamen's tomb, artists, architects, photographers and writers, including mystery writer Agatha Christie, flocked to Egypt to apply the secrets and beauty of ancient Egypt to their work. Books, like Christie's "Death on the Nile," and newsreel, newspaper and magazine photography of Egypt's Valley of the Kings fueled the imaginations of people who could not afford to visit Egypt. A new exhibit gives visitors a taste of all this excitement with their newest exhibit titled "Agatha Christie's Egypt: Life on the Nile in the 1930s."

A color photograph of paper mache and clay renderings of an ancient Egyptian death mask and small pots with lids bearing animal faces or symbols.Replicas of ancient Egyptian urn-like Canopic jars and a death mask made by museum studies students for use by young visitors.  

The exhibit features pristine historical and vintage photography, furniture, travel posters and postcards from that era. Two 3,000-year-old mummies and other treasures from the Adolph Sutro collection of ancient Egyptian funereal artifacts give visitors an idea of what fired the world's imagination.

"Students made or prepared the final selection of items for this exhibit," said Professor and Museum Studies Director Linda Ellis. Amid period furnishings that evoke a 1930s hotel lobby, is a stereoscope, which was once used to view 3-D images of the pyramids.

"In addition to replicating the historical period and some of the excitement over the discovery of ancient Egyptian treasures, I think we also offer a glimpse of the history of journalism and photography of the early 20th Century," Ellis said.

Ellis noted that the exhibit's photographs are very high quality. "Some depict an Egypt that changed forever after the Aswan Dam was built," Ellis said.  One photograph is a last look at the island of Philae and its ruins before they were completely submerged underwater after the damming of the Nile. Reproductions of this and other photography at the exhibit are for sale to benefit the Museum Studies Program.

The mummies on display include Nes-Per-N-Nub, once a high priest of the Temple of Karnak, whose remains occupy a rare, triple-nesting sarcophagus. It is one of only three triple sarcophagi in the United States.

Bay Area elementary and middle school students who visit the exhibit are treated to a behind the scenes look at how and why ancient Egyptians preserved the bodies of important rulers and priests thousands of years ago.

Graduate students Allie Kreiger and Patricia Calderon use a mannequin and replicas of vital organs to allow visiting students to experience ancient Egyptian funereal customs.
The young students assume the roles of ancient embalmers and priests as they remove the mannequin's organs and identify which of the organs were important enough to be stored in replicas of sacred urn-like Canopic jars.

"The students are always engaged and have a lot of fun while they are learning," Kreiger said. "Most of them are surprised to learn that the ancient Egyptians did not consider the brains important for the afterlife and just threw them out."

"Agatha Christie’s Egypt: Life on the Nile in the 1930s," is free and open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday until Dec. 12. For more information, visit the Museum Studies Program Web site at: http://www.sfsu.edu/~museumst/


-- Denize Springer. Student Writer Rebecca Richardson contributed to this story.


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