Excavating the secret of the Nile’s history
LACMA’s new exhibit features contributions of American
researchers in revealing Egypt’s past
Relief depiction of MentuememhetBy Dawnya Pring
Contrary to popular belief, Indiana Jones is not the only
has probed the depths of Egypt’s sacred tombs.
Not unlike the big screen idol, many American archaeologists
real-life adventurers unmasking treasures along the Nile. "The
Discovery of Ancient Egypt," a major exhibition premiering at
County Museum of Art, focuses on the contribution of these
LACMA, along with the American Research Center in Egypt, hopes
the misconception that the most significant discoveries in
been made by Europeans. This show is the first to highlight the
American archaeologists by displaying their photographs,
drawings along with their finds.
The show successfully gives hard-working American scholars their
respect. But its narrow premise only allows LACMA to represent a
view of Egypt’s complex monuments and rich historical
More than 250 artifacts are organized chronologically, rather
the different archeological digs in which they were found.
there isn’t enough in the exhibit to justify this method of
The collection traverses a time period spanning four millennia.
Americans can’t claim every artifact and site ever discovered in
limited amount of objects in this exhibit falsely purports to
full spectrum of Egypt’s sophisticated art and architecture.
While many people’s idea of this art and architecture comes from
table books about the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb by
archaeologists, countless other objects have been found by
Egypt’s ancient sands.
This American interest began in 1899 when Californian Phoebe
Hearst, wife of mining millionaire George Randolph Hearst, was
the first to
underwrite an expedition to Egypt.
The expedition was led by George Andrew Reisner, then at UC
Reisner is considered to be the founding father of American
archaeology. Many of the images lining the gallery walls in this
discovered by him.
Reisner is famous for his work at Giza, a massive pyramid and
complex where he excavated 425 private tombs known as mastabas.
funerary relief of a high-ranking women named Nofer, which forms
LACMA’s exhibit, was one of the objects he found at Giza. The
slab lists the many expensive garments Nofer could expect to
acquire in her
afterlife. Excavated objects like this one help archaeologists
together a picture of royal court life and the political
structure of that
Most of the images on display have been preserved in these
tombs. Luckily for modern day scholars, Egyptians believed they
daily equipment of their earthly life in order to prosper and
afterlife. Even citizens who couldn’t afford tombs and expensive
would often have themselves wrapped and buried with a necklace
other special object.
An elaborate coffin lid of a 26th dynasty official who didn’t
expense guards the museum entrance. The sarcophagus, purchased
Randolph Hearst at the turn of the century, typifies the
American interest in Egypt. Wealthy collectors traveling to
the18th and 19th centuries acquired objects like the imposing
to decorate their homes.
This interest eventually led rich patrons to fund serious
like the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston’s 1923 excavation at
return, the patrons would receive part of the treasure unearthed
One of the highlights of the show, an immense 12-ton sandstone
covered with hieroglyphic reliefs, is a direct result of this
Coptos. The structure was discovered dismantled for use as
This is the first time the public has ever had the opportunity
to see the
blocks reconstructed in their original form, a monumental
The hieroglyphs on the monument depict King Ptolemy making
a plethora of Egyptian deities, a scene that helps
understand ancient religious practices. The brown blocks are
preserved with remnants of red and blue pigment.
This and other objects come together to form an exhibit that
the museum-goer with a fascinating link to objects that are
3,000 to 4,000
years old. The unraveling of Egypt’s sophisticated culture is
with a twist, through the courageous and spirited eyes of
and patrons. ART: "The American Discovery of Ancient Egypt" at
through Jan. 21. For more info, call (213) 857-6000.