Egyptian Museum The greatest collection of Egyptian antiquities is, without doubt, that of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. It is a place of true discovery and, even after many visits, I continue to make new and delightful discoveries every time I venture into its many galleries.To be sure, the museum can be daunting in the sheer numbers of its antiquities on show, but there is an order within its layout and it is a dream come true for anyone wanting to study Egyptian antiquities.

However, the negative side is that the environmental and display conditions leave a great deal to be desired. Labels on some exhibits date from early in the century and many items have no labels at all. Guidebooks are available at the museum, although they are limited to some of the major items.

Museum Atrium Museum ground floor

The museum’s ground floor follows the history of ancient Egypt. Upon entering through the security check in the building, one looks toward the atrium and the rear of the building with many items on view – from sarcophagi and boats to enormous statues.

Just in front of these you will find an Object of the Month on display. Behind it are some of the most important items from the time of the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt some 5,000 years ago, including the famous slate palette of king Narmer – one of the first documents of Egyptian history. Also on show are small masterpieces of sculpture – keep in mind that these are some 50 centuries old. This is an area that should not be missed!

The photographs shown here feature the atrium area and the area to the right of the entrance. From the entrance area itself, turn left and you will find an amazing diversity of small statues from the Old Kingdom – they depict individuals, families, and people at work.

Continuing around the building in a clockwise direction takes you forward in time as you duck into the different rooms. At the far end of the building you will be confronted by material from the time of the heretic pharaoh, Akhenaten.

Keep moving and eventually you will have reached the Graeco-Roman period and walked through more than 3,000 years of history!

Upstairs on the first floor (i.e.second level) are thousands of smaller items from the span of Egyptian history. Of course, everybody wants to see the treasures from Tutankhamun’s tomb – these occupy a large area along almost two side of the upper floor. Chariots, gloves, jewellery, the famous mask – many of the antiquities from his tomb are displayed here.Tutankhamun’s tomb contained four gilded shrines nested one inside the other. All four of these shrines are on display in the museum. They are lined up in order of decreasing size. The innermost of these covered a stone sarcophagus which remains in the tomb.

Inside the stone sarcophagus were three coffins – the innermost being made of 110 kilograms of solid gold. Inside that lay the pharaoh himself wearing the famous gold mask (at right). Tutankhamun remains in his tomb to this day.

Tutankhamun's Gold Mask

Two of his three coffins are on display in the same room as the mask, along with stunning jewellery. This room alone can occupy one for a considerable time. The room has been remodelled recently with better presentation.

Obviously, there are usually crowds, although often these lessen toward the end of the day. It is therefore a good idea to leave the Tutankhamun exhibits until later, unless one is short of time.

Apart from the Tutankhamun exhibits upstairs, there are countless coffins, amulets, ushabtis, household items, etc. Some of the Middle Kingdom tomb models of armies, boats and landowners surveying their livestock shouldn’t be missed. The human figures almost seem alive! Also upstairs is the Mummy Room where you can come face to face with some of the great rulers of ancient Egypt.

However, a word of advice – don’t try to see everything. If you do, you will not remember anything! If you have a chance to go at least twice, perhaps do an overall survey and then concentrate on what pleases you most on the next visit.

Some of the museum’s exhibits can be seen by using the links below. They are given in no particular order so that one may stumble across some of the wonders of the museum.



  • Man with a ram-head
  • A ram
  • Man wearing an ostrich plumed hat

Amun was one of the most powerful gods in ancient Egypt.
At the height of Egyptian civilisation he was called the ‘King of the Gods’.

Amun was important throughout the history of ancient Egypt. However, when Amun was combined with the sun god Ra he was even more powerful. He was then called Amun-Ra.

A large and important temple was built at Thebes to honour Amun.

the Great Sphinx

Facts About the Great Sphinx of Egypt

  • The Sphinx has been a symbol of Egypt from ancient times to the present. It has inspired the imaginations of artists, poets, adventurers, scholars and travelers for centuries and has also inspired endless speculation about its age, its meaning and the secrets that it might hold.

A Description of the Great Sphinx

  • The Great Sphinx of Giza is an immense stone sculpture of a creature with the body of a lion and the head of a human. The greatest monumental sculpture in the ancient world, it is carved out of a single ridge of limestone 240 feet (73 meters) long and 66 feet (20 meters) high.
  • The Sphinx sits in a shallow depression to the south of the pyramid of the Pharaoh Khafre (also known as Chephren) at the west bank of the Nile River near the city of Cairo.
  • The rock stratum out of which the Sphinx has been made varies from a soft yellowish to a hard grey limestone. The massive body is made of the softer stone, which is easily eroded, while the head is formed of the harder stone.
  • To form the lower body of the Sphinx, enormous blocks of stone were quarried from the base rock and these blocks were then used in the core masonry of the temples directly in front and to the south of the Sphinx.
  • Despite the hard quality of the stone of the head, the face is badly damaged, and not only by natural erosion. The nose is missing altogether and the eyes and the areas around them are seriously altered from their original state.
  • Some scholars believe that the Great Sphinx originally had a beard. Pieces of this beard discovered by excavation are in the British Museum in London and the Cairo Museum. These pieces, however, may be dated to the New Kingdom times of
    1570-1070 BCE.
  • Napoleon’s artillerymen have been blamed for using the face of the Sphinx for target practice.
  • The Sphinx is part of a complex of structures that also contains the Sphinx temple. This temple, like the Great Pyramid and the Oseiron temple at Abydos in Southern Egypt, may also date from Pre-dynastic times.

The History of the Sphinx

  • According to orthodox Egyptology the Sphinx was constructed in the 4th Dynasty (2575 – 2467 BCE) by the Pharaoh Khafre. However, an accumulating body of evidence, both archaeological and geological, indicates that the Sphinx is far older than the 4th Dynasty and was only restored by Khafre during his reign.
  • There are no inscriptions on the Sphinx, or on any of the temples connected to it that, that offer evidence of construction by Khafre. The so-called ‘Inventory Stele’ (uncovered on the Giza plateau in the 19th century) tells that the Pharaoh Khufu (Cheops) – Khafre’s predecessor – ordered a temple built alongside the Sphinx, meaning of course that the Sphinx was already there, and thus could not have been constructed by Khafre.
  • A much greater age for the Sphinx has been suggested by R.A. Schwaller de Lubicz, based upon geological considerations. Schwaller de Lubicz observed, and recent geologists (such as Robert Schoch, Professor of Geology at Boston University) have confirmed, that the extreme erosion on the body of the Sphinx could not be the result of wind and sand, as has been universally assumed, but rather was the result of water.
  • Geologists agree that in the distant past Egypt was subjected to severe flooding. Wind erosion cannot take place when the body of the Sphinx is covered by sand, and the Sphinx has been in this condition for nearly all of the last five thousand years – since the alleged time of its 4th Dynasty construction.
  • If wind-blown sand were responsible for the deep erosion of the Sphinx, we would expect to find evidence of such erosion on other Egyptian monuments built of similar materials and exposed to the wind for a similar length of time. Yet the fact of the matter is, that even on structures that have had more exposure to the wind-blown sand, there are minimal effects of erosion, the sand having done little more than scour clean the surface of the dressed stones.
  • The purpose of the Sphinx is not known. Some orthodox archaeologists assume that it was a memorial to a Pharaoh or that it functioned as some sort of talisman or guardian deity. Other scholars, however, believe the Sphinx functioned as an astronomical observation device that marked the position of the rising sun on the day of the spring equinox in the time of Leo the Lion, which lasted from 10,970 to 8810 BCE. This interpretation is given support by the leonine shape of the Sphinx.
  • In 1798, when Napoleon came to Egypt the Sphinx was buried in sand up to its neck. Between 1816 and 1858, a series of adventurers and antiquarians, including Giovanni Caviglia, Auguste Mariette and Gaston Maspero, attempted to clear the sand from around the body of the Sphinx but were each forced to abandon the project due to the enormous amount of sand. Finally, between 1925 and 1936, the French engineer Emil Baraize was successful in clearing the sand to reveal the base of the Sphinx.

The Mystery of the Sphinx

  • Edgar Cayce (1877-1945) the ‘sleeping prophet’ had the ability to put himself into a deep trance. He stated in some of his trances that Egypt was the repository for records of the alleged civilization of Atlantis, about 10,500 B.C. This repository was an underground library, called the Hall of Records,” that contained the wisdom of Atlantis. Cayce claims that the Sphinx points in the direction of the “Hall of Records.” His reading states: “There is a chamber or passage from the right forepaw of the [Sphinx] to this entrance of the Hall of records, or chamber.”
  • In the 1980’s and 1990’s the Edgar Cayce Foundation conducted research in Egypt around the Sphinx to verify Cayce’s reading. Although researchers from all over the world have begun to look for this chamber with very sophisticated instruments, they have not found the Hall of Records.”
  • There are three passages into or under the Sphinx, two of them of obscure origin. The one of known cause is a short dead-end shaft behind the head drilled in the nineteenth century. No other tunnels or chambers in or under the Sphinx are known to exist. A number of small holes in the Sphinx body may relate to scaffolding at the time of carving.

The Pre-Dynastic era age of the Sphinx

  • Evidence suggesting a construction period for the Sphinx – greatly predating the 4th Dynasty – may perhaps be indicated by the astronomical significance of its shape, being that of a lion. Roughly every two thousand years (2160 to be exact), and because of the precession of the equinoxes, the sun on the spring equinox rises against the stellar background of a different constellation. For the past two thousand years that constellation has been Pisces the Fish, symbol of the Christian age. Prior to the age of Pisces it was the age of Aries the Ram, and before that it was the age of Taurus the Bull. It is interesting to note that during the first and second millennia BC, approximately the Age of Aries, ram-oriented iconography was common in Dynastic Egypt, while during the Age of Taurus the Bull-cult arose in Minoan Crete. Perhaps the builders of the Sphinx likewise used astrological symbolism in designing their monumental sculpture. Geological findings indicate that the Sphinx may have been sculpted sometime before 10,000 BC, and this period coincides with the Age of Leo the Lion, which lasted from 10,970 to 8810 BC.
  • Further support for this vast age of the sphinx comes from a surprising sky-ground correlation proven by sophisticated computer programs such as Skyglobe 3.6. These computer programs are able to generate precise pictures of any portion of the night sky as seen from different places on earth at any time in the distant past or future. Graham Hancock explains in Heaven’s Mirror that, “computer simulations show that in 10,500 BC the constellation of Leo housed the sun on the spring equinox – i.e. an hour before dawn in that epoch Leo would have reclined due east along the horizon in the place where the sun would soon rise. This means that the lion-bodied Sphinx, with its due-east orientation, would have gazed directly on that morning at the one constellation in the sky that might reasonably be regarded as its own celestial counterpart.”

Restoration of the Sphinx

  • Repairs to the Sphinx have been made over the centuries by the Pharaohs Tuthmosis IV and Ramesses II, and also during the Roman era. Restoration attempts have continued to the present time yet the Sphinx continues to deteriorate because of the relentless wind, humidity and the ever-increasing smog from nearby Cairo.
  • In the 1980’s, during a six-year period, more than 2000 limestone blocks were added to the body of the Sphinx and various chemicals were injected in the hopes of preventing its further deterioration. This treatment was not successful and in fact contributed to the deterioration. In 1988 the left shoulder crumbled and blocks fell off. Present attempts at restoration are under the control of the Supreme Council of Antiquities’ archaeologists.

Napoleon at the Sphinx in 1798

The Sphinx in the early 1900’s

Obelisk of Queen Hapshetsut

Obelisk in Karnak, Egypt
Obelisk of Queen Hapshetsut, Karnak, Egypt

(Order Fine Art Print)

In Upper Egypt, on the eastern bank of the Nile, stand the remains of the most extensive temple complex of the Dynastic Egyptians. The entire site was called Wast by the Egyptians, Thebai by the Greeks, and Thebes by the Europeans (the word Thebai derives from the Egyptian word Apet, which was the name of the most important festival held each year at Luxor). A large proportion of the ruins of ancient Egypt are situated here, divided between the temples of Luxor (from the Arabic L’Ouqsor, meaning ‘the palaces’) and the temples of Karnak (this name deriving from the Arab village of Al-karnak). The ruins of both these temple complexes cover a considerable area and are still very impressive. Nothing remains, however, of the houses, markets, palaces and gardens that must have surrounded the temples in ancient times. The principal feature in Egyptian social centers, and usually the only one to have survived, was the temple. Not a place for collective worship but rather a house of the gods, only the temple’s priests and the high nobility were allowed to enter the inner sanctums. The temple did however, act as a cohesive focal point for the local community, who participated in the numerous pilgrimage festivals and processions to the temple.

Recent excavations have pushed the history of Karnak back to around 3200 BC, when there was a small settlement on the bank of the Nile where Karnak now stands. The great temple complex at Karnak is, however, mostly a Middle Kingdom creation. Archaeological excavation reveals that the complex was in a near constant state of construction and deconstruction, and that almost every king of the Middle Kingdom left some mark of his presence at Karnak. The central temple at Karnak was dedicated to the state god, Amon, and is so oriented to admit the light of the setting sun at the time of summer solstice. Just north of this temple are the foundations of an earlier, but also central and primary, temple dedicated to the god Montu. Little remains of this temple, not because it was weathered by the elements, but rather because it was systematically deconstructed and its building stones used in the construction of other temples. According to Schwaller de  Lubicz, this mysterious dismantling of temples, found at Karnak and numerous other places in Egypt, has to do with the changing of the astrological cycles. The supplanting of the bull of Montu with the ram of Amon coincides with the astronomical shift from the age of Taurus, the bull, to the age of Aries, the ram; the earlier temple of Montu had lost its significance with the astronomical change and thus a new temple was constructed to be used in alignment with the current configuration of the stars.

The photograph shows an obelisk erected by Queen Hatshepsut (1473-1458BC). It is 97 feet tall and weighs approximately 320 tons (some sources say 700 tons). An inscription at its base indicates that the work of cutting the monolith out of the quarry required seven months of labor. Nearby stands a smaller obelisk erected by Tuthmosis I (1504-1492 BC). It is 75 feet high, has sides 6 feet wide at its base, and weighs between 143 and 160 tons. Hatshepsut raised four obelisks at Karnak, only one of which still stands. The Egyptian obelisks were always carved from single pieces of stone, usually pink granite from the distant quarries at Aswan, but exactly how they were transported hundreds of miles and then erected without block and tackle remains something of a mystery. Of the hundreds of obelisks that once stood in Egypt, only nine now stand; ten more lay broken, victims of conquerors, or of the religious fanaticism of competing cults. The rest are buried or have been carried away to foreign lands to dwell in the central parks and museum concourses of New York, Paris, Rome, Istanbul and other cities.

The use of the obelisks is even more of a mystery than their carving and means of erection. While the obelisks are usually covered with inscriptions, these offer no clue to the function, but are instead commemorative notations indicating when and by whom the obelisk was carved. It has been suggested that the erection of the obelisk was a gesture symbolizing the ‘djed’ pillar, the Osirian symbol standing for the backbone of the physical world and the channel through which the divine spirit might rise to rejoin its source. John Anthony West notes that the obelisks were usually erected in pairs, one obelisk being taller than the other, and that the dimensions of the obelisk and the precise angles of its shaft and pyramidion cap (originally plated in electrum, an alloy of silver and gold) were calculated according to geodetic data pertaining to the exact latitude and longitude where the obelisk was set. “The shadows cast by the pair of unequal obelisks would enable the astronomer/priests to obtain precise calendrical and astronomical data relevant to the given site and its relationship to other key sites also furnished with obelisks.”  Readers interested in the fascinating subject of obelisks should consult The Magic of Obelisks by Peter Tompkins and the Orion Mystery by Bauval and Gilbert.

Ankh: Egyptian symbol of life
Ankh Carving, Karnak, Egypt

Dunhuang Caves In China

Dunhuang and the Cave of ManuscriptsDunhuang has 492 caves, with 45,000 square meters of frescos, 2, 415 painted statues and five wooden-structured caves.

The Mogao Grottoes contain priceless paintings, sculptures, some 50,000 Buddhist scriptures, historical documents, textiles, and other relics that first stunned the world in the early 1900s.

Dunhuang is an oasis town in Chinese Central Asia west of Xian, a former capital of China.

To the west of Dunhuang lies the Taklamakan Desert. The silk road coming from the west split to follow the northern and southern borders of the desert where there were many small oases.

Dunhuang was the town where the two branches of the silk road rejoined for the final leg into China’s capital.

The cave-temples near the town of Dunhuang form what is arguably the world’s most extraordinary gallery of Buddhist art: a gallery whose magnificent mural paintings and stucco sculptures were not collected from distant sources but were created in situ over a period of nearly a thousand years. Moreover, one particular cave contained a sealed library whose contents, consisting of written documents, silk paintings and woodblock prints, reflect contacts with every major Buddhist centre of both Central Asia and the Chinese empire.

The town was founded by Emperor Wudi of the Han dynasty in 111 BC as one of the four garrison commanderies which assured Chinese control over the trade routes to the western regions. For several hundred years after the collapse of the Han empire (206 BC-220 AD), the area was subjected to successive waves of invasions, which often caused great upheaval. For example, in 439, conquest of the area by the Northern Wei (386-535) led to a relocation of thirty thousand of its inhabitants to the dynastic capital in Shanxi province.

In 781, during the Tang dynasty (618-906), Dunhuang surrendered to the Tibetans after ten years’ resistance. When Chinese rule was restored in 848, one local family assumed power, to be followed in the tenth century by other powerful clans. Dunhuang was last considered a place of importance when it was under the control of the Western Xia kingdom (990-1227) and the Mongol Yuan dynasty (1271-1368).

From the time of the Han to the end of the Yuan, a most important trade route developed from China to the West, which later became known by the marvelously evocative name, The Silk Road. The ancient traveler leaving China along this road would pass through Dunhuang before braving the many hazards of the journey westwards through East Turkestan (present-day Xinjiang). Dunhuang has a special place in history because of its location close to the parting of the northern and southern routes that skirted the impassable Taklamakan desert.

Silk was traded along this seven thousand kilometre braid of caravan trails from China right across Asia to the eastern Roman empire on the shores of the Mediterranean, and also to south Asia. Persian and Sogdian merchants travelled the whole length, and were such familiar sights in the Chinese capitals Chang’an (present-day Xi’an) and Luoyang that they can frequently be found, for example, portrayed on Tang dynasty figurines.

This route was also used by Buddhist monks from China and Korea traveling west in search of images and scriptures, and by ambassadors and princes from the west making the long journey to China. It was by means of the Silk Road that all manner of exotic imports reached China, as diplomatic gifts or through trade, and mainly in exchange for silks: vessels made of gold and silver and the techniques for working these metals; fine glass; fragrances and spices; exotic animals such as lions and ostriches; new fruits such as grapes; dancers, musicians and their instruments.

After the splendours of the Tang dynasty, however, trade along the Silk Road was severely curtailed, and Dunhuang was left in isolation. Later trade between China and Europe was entirely by sea. By the late nineteenth century, with the decline of Chinese imperial power, the whole of Central Asia, including Dunhuang, was a political void which invited foreign interest from many sides, including Britain, France, Germany, Russia and Japan. This provided the opportunity for the “rediscovery” of ancient cultures and treasures along the trade routes.

It was not just merchandise, technology and culture that passed along the Silk Road. From the early centuries AD, learned monks from the monastic centres of Central Asia imparted their knowledge and interpretations of the scriptures to their Chinese counterparts by way of these trade routes.

Representatives of Zoroastrianism, the ancient Persian dualist religion, and of Nestorianism, an Eastern Christian sect, also reached China and established themselves there.

Founded in the sixth century BC, Buddhism soon began expanding northwards from the foothills of the Himalayas. In the third century BC, under its most influential convert, the Indian emperor Asoka, it was dispersed by missionaries across Central Asia, where it remained dominant for about a thousand years, until invaders in the seventh century AD brought in Islam.

In China itself, Buddhism was introduced probably as early as the first century BC, with communities of Buddhist monks in existence by the first century AD. Learned Buddhist monks became valued as palace advisors, and it was through imperial and aristocratic patronage that Buddhism made its first substantial progress in the empire. Because of its vitally important position on the Silk Road, virtually every stage of this progress is chronicled in the caves at Dunhuang.


The beginnings of monumental architecture in Mesopotamia are usually considered to have been contemporary with the founding of the Sumerian cities and the invention of writing, in about 3100 BC. Conscious attempts at architectural design during this so-called Protoliterate period (c. 3400-c. 2900 BC) are recognizable in the construction of religious buildings. There is, however, one temple, at Abu Shahrayn (ancient Eridu), that is no more than a final rebuilding of a shrine the original foundation of which dates back to the beginning of the 4th millennium; the continuity of design has been thought by some to confirm the presence of the Sumerians throughout the temple’s history.

Already, in the Ubaid period (c. 5200-c.3500 BC), this temple anticipated most of the architectural characteristics of the typical Protoliterate Sumerian platform temple. It is built of mud brick on a raised plinth (platform base) of the same material, and its walls are ornamented on their outside surfaces with alternating buttresses (supports) and recesses. Tripartite in form, its long central sanctuary is flanked on two sides by subsidiary chambers, provided with an altar at one end and a freestanding offering table at the other.

Typical temples of the Protoliterate period–both the platform type and the type built at ground level–are, however, much more elaborate both in planning and ornament. Interior wall ornament often consists of a patterned mosaic of Terra cotta cones sunk into the wall, their exposed ends dipped in bright colors or sheathed in bronze. An open hall at the Sumerian city of Uruk (biblical Erech; modern Tall al-Warka’, Iraq) contains freestanding and attached brick columns that have been brilliantly decorated in this way. Alternatively, the internal-wall faces of a platform temple could be ornamented with mural paintings depicting mythical scenes, such as at ‘Uqair.

The two forms of temple – the platform variety and that built at ground level – persisted throughout the early dynasties of Sumerian history (c. 2900-c. 2400 BC). It is known that two of the platform temples originally stood within walled enclosures, oval in shape and containing, in addition to the temple, accommodation for priests. But the raised shrines themselves are lost, and their appearance can be judged only from facade ornaments discovered at Tall al-‘Ubayd. These devices, which were intended to relieve the monotony of sun-dried brick or mud plaster, include a huge copper-sheathed lintel, with animal figures modeled partly in the round; wooden columns sheathed in a patterned mosaic of colored stone or shell; and bands of copper-sheathed bulls and lions, modeled in relief but with projecting heads. The planning of ground-level temples continued to elaborate on a single theme: a rectangular sanctuary, entered on the cross axis, with altar, offering table, and pedestals for votive statuary (statues used for vicarious worship or intercession).

Considerably less is known about palaces or other secular buildings at this time. Circular brick columns and austerely simplified facades have been found at Kish (modern Tall al-Uhaimer, Iraq). Flat roofs, supported on palm trunks, must be assumed, although some knowledge of corbelled vaulting (a technique of spanning an opening like an arch by having successive cones of masonry project farther inward as they rise on each side off the gap)–and even of dome construction–is suggested by tombs at Ur, where a little stone was available.

The Sumerian temple was a small brick house that the god was supposed to visit periodically. It was ornamented so as to recall the reed houses built by the earliest Sumerians in the valley. This house, however, was set on a brick platform, which became larger and taller as time progressed until the platform at Ur (built around 2100 BC) was 150 by 200 feet (45 by 60 meters) and 75 feet (23 meters) high. These Mesopotamian temple platforms are called ziggurats, a word derived from the Assyrian ziqquratu, meaning “high.” They were symbols in themselves; the ziggurat at Ur was planted with trees to make it represent a mountain. There the god visited Earth, and the priests climbed to its top to worship.

Most cities were simple in structure, the ziggurat was one of the world’s first great architectural structures.

White Temple and Ziggurat, Uruk (Warka), 3200 -3000 B.C.

This temple was erected at Warka or Uruk (Sumer), probably about 300 B.C.It stood on a brick terrace, formed by the construction of successive buildings on the site (the Ziggurat). The top was reached by a staircase. The temple measured 22 x 17 meters (73 x 57 feet). Access to the temple was through three doors, the main located at its southern side.

Sumerian Artifacts – British Museum