Sunday, April 5

figurine of Osiris


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
American who

has probed the depths of Egypt’s sacred tombs.

Not unlike the big screen idol, many American archaeologists
are

real-life adventurers unmasking treasures along the Nile. "The
American

Discovery of Ancient Egypt," a major exhibition premiering at
the L.A.

County Museum of Art, focuses on the contribution of these
American

scholars.

LACMA, along with the American Research Center in Egypt, hopes
to remedy

the misconception that the most significant discoveries in
Egyptology have

been made by Europeans. This show is the first to highlight the
work of

American archaeologists by displaying their photographs,
journals, and

drawings along with their finds.

The show successfully gives hard-working American scholars their
due

respect. But its narrow premise only allows LACMA to represent a
partial

view of Egypt’s complex monuments and rich historical
phases.

More than 250 artifacts are organized chronologically, rather
than by

the different archeological digs in which they were found.
Unfortunately,

there isn’t enough in the exhibit to justify this method of
organization.

The collection traverses a time period spanning four millennia.
While

Americans can’t claim every artifact and site ever discovered in
Egypt, the

limited amount of objects in this exhibit falsely purports to
represent the

full spectrum of Egypt’s sophisticated art and architecture.

While many people’s idea of this art and architecture comes from
coffee

table books about the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb by
British

archaeologists, countless other objects have been found by
Americans in

Egypt’s ancient sands.

This American interest began in 1899 when Californian Phoebe
Apperson

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
Berkeley.

Reisner is considered to be the founding father of American
Egyptian

archaeology. Many of the images lining the gallery walls in this
show were

discovered by him.

Reisner is famous for his work at Giza, a massive pyramid and
tomb

complex where he excavated 425 private tombs known as mastabas.
A rare

funerary relief of a high-ranking women named Nofer, which forms
part of

LACMA’s exhibit, was one of the objects he found at Giza. The
limestone

slab lists the many expensive garments Nofer could expect to
acquire in her

afterlife. Excavated objects like this one help archaeologists
piece

together a picture of royal court life and the political
structure of that

time.

Most of the images on display have been preserved in these
courtiers’

tombs. Luckily for modern day scholars, Egyptians believed they
needed the

daily equipment of their earthly life in order to prosper and
enjoy their

afterlife. Even citizens who couldn’t afford tombs and expensive
burials

would often have themselves wrapped and buried with a necklace
or some

other special object.

An elaborate coffin lid of a 26th dynasty official who didn’t
spare any

expense guards the museum entrance. The sarcophagus, purchased
by William

Randolph Hearst at the turn of the century, typifies the
beginnings of

American interest in Egypt. Wealthy collectors traveling to
Egypt in

the18th and 19th centuries acquired objects like the imposing
sarcophagus

to decorate their homes.

This interest eventually led rich patrons to fund serious
scholarship

like the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston’s 1923 excavation at
Coptos. In

return, the patrons would receive part of the treasure unearthed
by the

scholars.

One of the highlights of the show, an immense 12-ton sandstone
gateway

covered with hieroglyphic reliefs, is a direct result of this
excavation at

Coptos. The structure was discovered dismantled for use as
foundation fill.

This is the first time the public has ever had the opportunity
to see the

blocks reconstructed in their original form, a monumental
freestanding

gateway.

The hieroglyphs on the monument depict King Ptolemy making
offerings to

a plethora of Egyptian deities, a scene that helps
archaeologists to

understand ancient religious practices. The brown blocks are
excellently

preserved with remnants of red and blue pigment.

This and other objects come together to form an exhibit that
provides

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
presented

with a twist, through the courageous and spirited eyes of
American scholars

and patrons. ART: "The American Discovery of Ancient Egypt" at
LACMA

through Jan. 21. For more info, call (213) 857-6000.


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