Welcome to the exhibition The Magic of Ancient Egypt. Let’s embark on a thrilling journey through the hot sands of the desert, the rushing waters of the Nile and fertile valleys. Wandering through winding corridors like archaeologists in the tombs of the pharaohs, we will uncover the secrets of Egyptian civilisation, which lasted several thousand years.
In order not to get lost in this dangerous maze, let’s follow the red scarabs that will lead us safely to the exit.
The history of ancient Egypt in the 3rd century BC was divided by the Egyptian priest Manethon into great epochs – the Old, Middle and New Kingdoms, when all of Egypt was ruled by a single ruler. In between, there were Periods of Transition, when central power weakened and there were internal struggles and rivalries between different centres.
Egypt was ruled for thousands of years by pharaohs, who also served as high priests, judges and military commanders. Their duties included erecting temples in honour of the gods and performing daily rituals. They were seen as intermediaries between humans and deities, and after death they became one of them. It was also believed that the will of the rulers determined the life and prosperity of their subjects both on earth and in the afterlife. They were therefore held in high esteem.
Egypt was ruled by a total of 31 dynasties of pharaohs, including women, such as Hatshepsut and Cleopatra. It was after her death in the year 30 BC that Egypt became a province of the Roman Empire. After the division of the Empire, it became part of the Byzantine Empire and finally in 641 AD it entered the Muslim world.
In the middle of the graphic we can see one of the most famous Egyptian images – the golden tomb mask of the pharaoh Tutankhamun. Also visible are the insignia of power: a shepherd’s crook – ‘heka’ in Egyptian, a flail – or ‘nekhakha’, a striped shawl – ‘nemes’, and a figure of an attacking cobra with the head of a vulture, called uraeus.
Let us now look at the left-hand display case behind us.
The ruler of the country himself – the pharaoh – was considered an incarnation of Horus, and at the moment of his death he became Osiris. The figure on display in the showcase depicts Osiris sitting on a throne – the god of fertility and agriculture, but also the ruler of the afterlife. Despite the rather schematic figure of the deity, the insignia of power is clearly visible: on his head rests the crown of the atheph, composed of a white crown symbolising the rule of Upper Egypt and two ostrich feathers. In his hands, Osiris holds the heka crook, signifying power, and the nekhakha flail, a symbol of eternity. Also worth noting is the long, straight beard. In fact, due to the standards of beauty at the time and hygienic considerations, the pharaohs were shaved smooth and wore attachable wooden beards.
Let’s look at the object on the right.
It is a clay seal in the shape of a scarab with the head of the Sphinx. His face is indistinct, but visible on his head is a nemes, a striped headscarf with halves hanging down the sides, which was worn by the pharaohs. At the bottom of the seal are two cartouches of King Seti I. The cartouche is an oval field in which the ruler’s name was written. Stamping with the seal was done by imprinting it in a soft material. The relic is the only example of this type of seal in Poland.
Now go and look at the graphic on the wall to the left.
Egypt was considered the gift of the Nile. Its ancient name is Kemet, or Black Earth. When the Nile flooded, it fertilised the nearby land with fertile black soil, which enabled rich farming. The lands along the life-giving river were not uniformly fertile, so initially Egypt was divided into two areas with wide geographical variations. Upper Egypt stretched across the Nile Valley, whose boundaries were defined by the First Cataract in the south and Memphis in the north. The Nile delta was in Lower Egypt and was a less desert-like area with more fertile soil. The unification of the two states took place around 3100 BC, probably through a leader named Narmer or Menes. Let us now look at the estampages on both sides of the map.
Estampages are impressions made on wet paper of inscriptions and wall decorations that were used by archaeologists especially in the 19th and 20th centuries. They were used to document the reliefs adorning the walls of tombs and temples. This method was not without its drawbacks –applying wet paper to the surface of a relief usually irretrievably destroyed the polychrome, which came away from the wall along with the paper. On the other hand, these prints are often the only documentation of buildings that have been damaged by thieves, who tear off fragments of reliefs from the walls.
Such was the fate of the tomb of Khaemhat, known as the overseer of the granaries of Upper and Lower Egypt. The estampages on display, which come from a tomb that no longer exists, show images of the tomb’s owner, namely Khaemhat himself on the right, and the then-reigning Pharaoh Amenhotep III on the left.
Let’s move further along the corridor. To the right is a stone block.
The stone block was found in the 1960s. In the 1970s, during research by Polish archaeologists in an area of the Lower Nubia that was set to be inundated by the waters of Lake Naser due to the construction of the High Dam on the Nile. The researchers, headed by the doyen of Polish archaeology, prof. Kazimierz Michalowski, discovered a Christian cathedral with numerous paintings in the village of Faras. As it turned out, fragments of buildings from earlier periods were used in its construction, including from the temple of Horus from nearby Buhen. The block shown here was used as building material and built into the walls of the Christian cathedral. Partially preserved on it is a hieroglyphic inscription, containing cartouches with the names of Thutmose the Third. The wall decoration of the Pharaonic temple has been partially reconstructed, which is how we know that originally the text containing the cartouches was placed above the representation of the Pharaoh’s figure. Let us now look at the images around the exhibit. A unique feature of the Egyptian landscape are the pyramids, which were built as tombs for the pharaohs. On the one hand, they symbolised the strength of the deceased, while on the other, they were meant to protect the bodies buried there. The first pyramid was built for Djoser, known as Netjerikhet, in the 22nd century BC in Sakkara. Even up to now, exactly how these majestic structures were built remains a mystery to modern researchers. It is estimated that up to several thousand people worked on the construction of the pyramids. They were not slaves, but skilled professionals divided into teams. Their work was managed by the chief architect. The construction of one pyramid took more than a dozen years. The Nile and then a network of canals supplied the building material – primarily stone, and silt bricks used to build ramps, houses for workers and warehouses. The stone blocks were dragged on wooden skids along specially built ramps that inclined at a slight upward angle. The average block measured 127x127x71 cm and weighed 2.5 tonnes. To reduce the friction against the ground, water or diluted silt was poured under the skids to increase the glide. The interior of the pyramid was constructed of less well worked blocks, while the final layer of cladding was made of finely detailed slabs, usually of limestone, which reflected sunlight. At the top of the pyramid rested a stone called a pyramidion, which may have been gilded. This created a spot that shined in the sun, visible from a great distance.
Let’s move on to see the writing exhibits.
The ancient Egyptians used the pulp extracted from the stems of the papyrus cane to produce writing material. It was cut into thin but wide strips, which were soaked to make the fibres flexible. The strips were then laid side by side so that their edges overlapped, before being moistened with water to join them. The next layer was laid across and the protruding ends trimmed. A stone slab was placed on the finished sheet and dried in the sun, then smoothed. Sheets prepared in this way were often joined together in rolls using a glue made from flour, water and vinegar. One scroll consisted of around 20 sheets of papyrus.
The type of writing most commonly associated with Egypt is hieroglyphics, or sacred signs, which we saw on the previous stone block. However, other ways of writing were also used over time. Hieroglyphics were mostly reserved for inscriptions in temples, tombs, on stelae and statues.
They could be written in rows or columns. The direction of the reading, on the other hand, was shown by human or animal figures, which always faced the beginning of the verse. During the Old Kingdom, only 1% of the population could read and write.
Hieroglyphs could not be read until 1822, thanks to the Rosetta Stone. The stone slab was engraved with identical information in three versions of writing: hieroglyphic script, demotic script and Greek. This made it possible to decipher the meaning of the individual characters, which was done by the Frenchman Jean-François Champollion.
Hieroglyphs were originally used for all kinds of texts. Over time, the signs began to be simplified, omitting details or combining signs with each other, leading to the production of hieratic writing – seen on the papyrus on display with a fragment of the Book of the Dead.
As a result of further simplification of the forms of writing, an even more ‘handwritten’ system of notation, the demotic, developed in Lower Egypt and came to be used throughout Egypt during the reign of the XXVIth Dynasty. Demotic documents are primarily administrative and commercial texts, such as the document in the exhibition, which is a lease agreement.
The graphic opposite shows a kneeling scribe. In his lap he holds a scroll of papyrus, a cane in his right hand and a palette for black and red ink in his left.
On the opposite side are further examples of the writing used in ancient Egypt.
Ostracons are fragments of earthenware, less commonly stone shards, which were used to record texts such as household notes, messages, letters or even recipes. This material was much cheaper than papyrus, so it was readily available for those learning the art of writing. Many ostracons contain extracts from essays or literary texts rewritten as exercises.
The ostracon shown in the exhibition contains a letter written by an unknown author to her mother. The large number of errors makes the message difficult to understand, but it is presumed to be a request concerning the sale of a house. It was created between the 4th and 7th centuries AD. Coptic represents the last stage of development of Egyptian writing.
Let’s turn around and look at another exhibit.
The interiors of temples and tombs were decorated with wall paintings and reliefs. They depicted religious scenes as well as scenes from everyday life, animals or plants. A red check was painted on the wall to make it easier to draw and set the right proportions. The grid was rubbed away when the work was finished. In the graphic opposite, remnants of this type of grid are visible on the basket. The standing figure was drawn at a height of 19 sections of the grid, the seated figure at 15 sections. The head with neck occupied two rows of of the grid, the hair one row, the torso to the waist four, from waist to knees six, and from knees to the feet six. The figures varied in height depending on their social standing. The artists sought to depict the world from different angles, so figures were simultaneously depicted from the side and en face): the head, torso and legs were shown sideways, while the eyes and arms were shown from the front. The exhibit shown here may have been a pattern on which scenes or images were drawn in a proportion grid and later transferred to a wall.
Following the scarabs, let’s step back and enter the next area of the exhibition.
The prints depict scenes of everyday life for the Egyptians, centred around the Nile. The fertile river was a source of food – it provided fish and fowl, but above all it was of great importance for agriculture. People relied on the annual flooding of the river, which took place between July and October. When the water receded, the rich and fertile silt remained in the fields where cereals, vegetables and fruit were grown. However, if the flooding proved insufficient to irrigate the fields or too great and it took the water longer to retreat – the people of Egypt were threatened with famine. At the same time, the Nile was the main thoroughfare of ancient Egypt, enabling the rapid movement of people and the transport of various materials by wooden boats, including stone blocks weighing tens of tonnes, used to build places of worship. Interestingly, some boats were made from papyrus growing in the Nile Valley, including transport boats even over a dozen metres long. When travelling down the Nile, one had to watch out for hippos, which were considered by the Egyptians to be among the most dangerous animals. Papyrus, however, was used primarily as a paper material and for making everyday objects, including mats, cords, sandals and baskets.
For a moment, let’s take off our headphones and listen to the sounds of the Nile. After that, we’ll move on.
The graphics visible on the right show how wealthy Egyptians spent their free time. Board games also had religious significance, which can be seen by the image of Nefertari playing the game senet. It came from her tomb, so it is presumed that the empty space on the opposite side of the board was intended for the Queen’s living relatives. We can learn about the food habits of the Ancient Egyptians from paintings on the walls of tombs, which depict gifts given to the dead, including large supplies of food. Baskets of bread, fish, roast meats, fruit and amphorae of wine were piled on the lavishly set offering tables.
Another source of knowledge about the cuisine of the Egyptians are the vessels in which food was stored or prepared. Thanks to modern research methods, especially chemical analysis, we can find out what was kept in them. This kind of information is also provided by archaeobotany and archaeozoology, which examine plant remains and animal bones recovered during excavations.
We know that bread was a staple of the daily diet of the Egyptians, which provided an adequate supply of calories and carbohydrates. In ancient times, as many as 70 different types of bread were known. They varied in shape, flavour and baking method. On display is a small bread mould, reminiscent of today’s flowerpots. The moulds with the dough were stacked over a fire and baked.
On the right, however, we find a clay beer vessel. Since the water in ancient Egypt was not drinkable without being boiled first, weak beer was produced and consumed by everyone without exception, even children! It was made from roasted and cooked barley grains combined with dates and wheat flour. It had a thick consistency and therefore did not resemble the beer we know today. It had a low alcohol content and was extremely nutritious. Further on, you can see vessels for storing oil, called bastet, which had a cylindrical form. The pieces on display are made from Egyptian alabaster, which was a popular raw material due to the ease of working with it and its attractive appearance.
In the display case below, you can see, in turn, spindles and weights that were used during spinning and weaving, as well as olive lamps that illuminated the interiors of Egyptian homes. These consisted of a bowl with a spout and a handle. In the middle was a hole through which oil was poured. A wick was inserted through the spout, which, once soaked in the oily liquid, could be lit. Lamps often had decoration with floral ornaments, others may have contained images of deities or animals such as frogs.
Let’s move on to the next
Cosmetics vessels can be found here, including a kohl vessel.
Kohl is the Arabic name for an ancient eye cosmetic traditionally made from ground antimonite, a common mineral. It was used to contour and darken eyelids and eyelashes. It was used mainly by women – Egyptian queens and members of the the elite – as well as men and children. It was intended to serve not only an aesthetic function, but also a protective one. It was believed that darkening the eye area protects against the harsh rays of the sun, dust, wind and insects. For a similar purpose, the soles of the feet and the inner parts of the hands were painted with henna, which inhibited the growth of pathogenic fungi. The dyes were spread on special stone palettes that had a small indentation, like the one on display.
In the display case, you can also see a spindle-shaped flacon and an alabastron, which was used to store perfumes and cosmetic oils. Its flattened spout made it possible to rub the scents used to make fragrant oils.
Wooden combs were used to comb hair, although wealthy Egyptians shaved their heads and wore elaborate wigs. Egyptians could check their appearance by looking through a mirror, even one like the one on display, made of copper.
Let us now look at the headrest in the display case at the bottom left.
The ancient Egyptians did not use cushions. Instead, they used headrests, which they wrapped with a piece of cloth. They were most often made of wood, although examples of stone or faience headboards are known. A rectangular base supported a column, with an arched plank on which the head was placed. These types of structures had a practical function – they allowed air to flow freely, which, given the high temperatures in Egypt, ensured a comfortable night’s sleep. The headrests also allowed Egyptians to take short naps without having to remove the wig they wore on a daily basis. Headrests were also placed in tombs as gifts for the dead. These often had decoration in the form of tutelary deities such as Anubis, the god of mummification, or engraved or painted protective spells.
Let’s now head over to the display case on the right
Ancient Egyptians enjoyed playing board games, which were an attractive form of leisure, regardless of the social status and wealth of the player. One of the more popular games for two players was senet. The playing area was placed on wooden boards, special boxes or limestone tiles. The rectangular senet game board was divided into square fields – ten in each of three rows. To play senet, a player needed seven pawns, which may have looked like those in the showcase. Interestingly, we don’t really know how the game was played. The aim was probably to remove your pawns from the board before your opponent did. The direction of the pawns was indicated by sticks, used like today’s dice. Game boards from the New Kingdom period were sometimes accompanied by incantations from the Book of the Dead, suggesting that they were produced for a tomb gift rather than an item for entertainment.
Let’s turn around and look at the display case on the left.
Ceramic vessels are the most numerous remnants of Egyptian civilisation. They are important because they allow researchers to determine the time when an archaeological site was inhabited.
In this display case is an old Egyptian vessels dating back to the Pre-Historic period, that is before the reign of the First Dynasty and over 5,000 years old.
Take a look below.
Many types of ceramic vessels were produced in ancient Egypt throughout its history. They were mainly used for storing, preparing and serving food, but some had other purposes. In the time of the Old Kingdom, a set of vessels consisting of a jug and a bowl was used to wash hands before and after a meal. The jug contained water mixed with natron, a soda solution. The deep basin was probably filled with sand, which was also used for cleaning. Dishes were not only a part of everyday life, they were also important as grave gifts for the deceased in the afterlife. Since it was believed that life after death was a reflection of temporal life, hygiene had to be taken care of there too.
Let’s turn around and go to the display case on the right
The ancient Egyptians were protected by amulets against the dangers of everyday life and during the journey of the deceased to the afterlife. Some of the most common talismans took the form of scarabs. The Egyptians considered these beetles to be a symbol of the rising sun, as they were most often seen rolling a ball of dung. From their observations, it appeared that the scarabs dropped this ball into a cavity in the ground, and after some time small scarabs came out of the hole. The Egyptians associated this with sunrise and sunset, so scarabs became a sign of rebirth and life in the afterlife. Scarabs also acted as seals. At the time, hieroglyphs were engraved on a flat base. One of the most popular texts read: “With Ra’s support, there is nothing to be afraid of”. Amulets like those here in the exhibition were made from Egyptian faience or stones, and other materials.
Let’s approach the display case on the left.
Let’s see other types of amulets commonly used in Ancient Egypt.
On the right , you can see amulets in animal shapes. They refer to the deities they symbolised. The ram signified Amon the god of fertility. The Falcon symbolied Horus, god of the sky, the Cat – Bastet, goddess of love, and the Crocodile – Sobek, protector of water.
Further on we find the pillar of jed, which signified stability and sustainability. Initially, its appearance was thought to resemble a bundle of grain bundles or papyrus stalks, and during the New Kingdom period it was recognised as the backbone of Osiris, ruler of the afterlife and patron of the dead.
One of the most popular amulets is the udjad eye. According to Egyptian mythology, it is the eye of Horus, who lost it fighting the god Seth in a bid to avenge the death of his father, Osiris. The eye, which had been torn out and cut into pieces, was healed by the god Thot, while Horus offered it to Osiris, who then returned to the world of the living. Thus, udjad, meaning ‘healthy’, became a symbol of healing and protection against all evil.
These amulets were worn around the neck as protection against dangers and were also used during funeral rituals. They were placed on the deceased’s chest next to the heart, which was believed to be the dwelling of the soul, or on the left side, through which the entrails were extracted during mummification. They were also inserted between the bandages of mummies and placed in the burial chamber.
Follow the scarabs to the area on the left.
The tombs of Egyptian dignitaries took different forms from period to period and included pyramids, mastabas or rock tombs. The mummy of the deceased with its grave goods was laid to rest in the burial chamber, while offerings were made to the deceased in the temple area.
The meeting point between the worlds of the living and the dead was the blind gates, which is a bas-relief or painting with the image of a door that symbolised the passage to the afterworld. The blind gates were decorated with a representation of the deceased sitting in front of a sacrificial table, while the names and titles of the deceased, and sometimes their image, were displayed above them. Through a symbolic door, the soul of the deceased could travel to the world of the living to enjoy the gifts offered. The offerings, mainly drinks and food, were placed on sacrificial tables provided for this purpose. In addition to common rectangular stone slabs, tables made of alabaster were also used, with a round, flat top set on low legs, such as the one in the display case on the right.
Above it, to the left, is a clay votive mould for bread. Herodotus, in his Histories, mentioned the Egyptian custom of bestowing bread on the deities. The form shown in the exhibition has a decorative rosette-shaped motif with eight leaves, with visible veins. Intricately crafted, it most likely had a votive function.
Now, let’s turn to the right.
Stele are rectangular slabs, rounded at the top, usually made of wood or stone, which were placed in temples and places of worship. Their purpose was to honour a deity or celebrate a special event. The stele also had a sepulchral purpose – they commemorated the dead and, thanks to the religious texts on them, provided them with food and other gifts necessary for life in the afterlife.
On the stele on display, in the centre is Horus with a curl, the symbol of youth. It is accompanied by symbolic figures and signs. He originally stood on two crocodiles, and above his head was the head of Bes, known from an archive photograph. In his hands, the god holds snakes, scorpions, a lion and an antelope. Similar iconography is known in Christian culture, such as Christ trampling snakes, a lion or a dragon.
This stele was intended to provide safety for humans, protection from dangerous animals, and their bites. Stele of this type were found in the homes of ancient Egyptians or in tombs or temples. They also protected those travelling on the Nile. Often there were tiny holes in the top of the stele through which, for example, a leather cord was threaded allowing it to be hung around the neck, in a room, on a wall or on a boat.
Now, let’s move on.
The Book of the Dead, in Egypt known as the ‘Book of Leaving by Day’, was the most important part of a tomb. It contained some 200 incantations and religious formulas to ease the deceased’s perilous journey into the afterlife and ensure a carefree life in the land of eternity. Individual spells were usually accompanied by colour illustrations, known as vignettes. However, no known book contains all the spells, only a selection, which means that no two Book of the Dead papyri are identical.
The Papyrus of the Bakay is a rare example of a Book of the Dead prepared for a woman. On the sheets on display, you will find chapters containing spells to help the deceased in the afterlife. The text is accompanied by vignettes, or graphics, depicting Bakay standing in front of the shrine and beside the tomb.
Let’s look at the graphic on the right.
The Egyptians believed that at death there was a separation of the human body from its spirit. In order for the deceased to be reunited, their body had to be cared for.
The funeral was highly ceremonial. The mummified body, placed in a sarcophagus , was put on a special sleigh that was pulled by oxen. The deceased was accompanied by immediate family, government officials, priests, musicians and dancers and weepers, who together formed the funeral procession, carrying the grave goods. These included clothing, jewellery, cosmetics, food and drink, in other words, all the things needed for a comfortable life in the afterlife.
Upon reaching the tomb, funeral rites had to be performed, the most important of which was the ritual of opening the mouth. The mummy was placed upright, and the priest touched the eyes, ears, nostrils and mouth of the deceased with a ritual instrument so that he could see, hear, breathe and eat again. This was then a reunion of the human body and soul, separated at the moment of death.
Let’s carry on following the scarabs.
The soul of the deceased had to travel a path full of dangers in order to be reborn in the afterlife, as well as successfully passing the court of Osiris, the god of death and rebirth. Anubis led the deceased to the court, where the deceased, in the presence of 42 judges, had to admit that he had not committed evil deeds. Proof of his innocence and truthfulness was the ritual of weighing the heart – where the soul resided. On one shawl was placed the heart of the deceased, on the other an ostrich feather symbolising maat, or truth. The weighing was done by Anubis or Horus, while the result was recorded by Thot, the god of wisdom, whose animal image was the ibis or baboon. If the heart was as light as a feather, i.e. the scales remained in balance, the deceased could be granted eternal life. If the heart was heavy with sins – then the deceased was eaten by a monster, a hybrid of a crocodile, a hippopotamus and a lion.
You can see an ankh amulet in the hands of Anubis and Horus. The original is in a display case next to the graphic. It signified life, which is why most deities in the afterlife were depicted with this symbol in their hand. In the case of our graphic, the sign represents a promise of eternal life for the soul of the deceased.
Let’s listen to the recording for a moment. These are passages from the Book of the Dead linked to the Judgement of Osiris.
The direction of the rest of the tour is shown by scarabs.
In this part of the exhibition we can see images of the most important deities. In the first display case, you can see the Osiris figures already mentioned. The next one contains figurines of Ptah, who was believed to be the creator of the world, the patron saint of crafts and the arts, as well as artists and craftsmen. The main centre of his cult was Memphis, and his sacred animal was the Apis bull. In art, Ptah was depicted under the figure of a man with a shaved head (usually covered by a close-fitting cap) and a staff. The staff combined the popular anchor symbol, the Egyptian cross, signifying life; the was scepter with a forked end topped with an animal’s head, a symbol of the gods’ power; and the jed symbolising permanence and stability.
Below we find Bes, who was a dwarf god, protector of pregnancy, childbirth and children. Although no remains of a temple to Bes have been found, nor any evidence of worship, he was an important deity in the Egyptian pantheon. Over time, he became a defender of all that is good and an enemy of all that is evil. He was responsible for fighting evil spirits and killing venomous snakes, which were feared by the Egyptians, so his representations acted as amulets.
A statue of Amon, the chief god of Thebes, can be seen in the top right corner. His sacred animals were a ram, a goose and a snake.
Amulets with representations of other deities are in the last display case. They are mostly made of Egyptian faience and have a hole to weave a string through so that they could have been worn as pendants.
Thot – was the Egyptian moon god, patron of wisdom. He was considered the creator of hieroglyphic writing and the inventor of arithmetic, geometry and music. He was believed to exercise special protection over scribes, scholars, artists and craftsmen.
Tawaret – looked after women during childbirth and guarded the home hearth. As the protector of pregnant women, depicted under the figure of a hippopotamus, she was associated with the flooding of the Nile, symbolising Egypt’s fertility. She was particularly revered in Jabal al-Silsila in Upper Egypt, where rituals were performed related to the Nile flooding.
The wall on the right shows a graphic with the most important places of worship of the gods.
Now we shall head to a winding path to the tomb chamber. Make sure you follow the scarabs, so you don’t lose our way.
The human body decays after death, but the Egyptians believed that in order for a person to live forever, his or her soul needed a safe haven. It was for this purpose that the Egyptians used mummification – a special preparation of the body for it to become a dwelling for the soul.
The Egyptians also mummified animals. They were part of the grave furnishings as favourite pets or food for the deceased. The most important group, however, were sacred animals identified with particular deities, which were then offered in temples dedicated to the respective gods. Sometimes animals were bred specifically for this purpose. Later, the demand for animal mummies was so great that they began to be faked en masse, from bones, sticks or twigs, for example, which were wrapped in bandages to give them the desired shape. The process for mummifying animals was not fundamentally different from that of humans. First the entrails were removed, then left in a natron to dry. They were then rubbed with resin, sometimes stuffed with linen, sawdust and the whole thing bandaged. Animals prepared in this way were deposited in temples dedicated to the god or in his necropolises. Several million more animal mummies survive than human mummies, although many were destroyed – they were used as ballast for ships, fertiliser and powdered medicine .
The exhibition features two animal mummies. The first is a mummy of a cat, although there is a sticker attached to the mummy’s bandages stating that it is an embalmed ibis. However, recent radiological examinations have definitively established that it is the mummy of a cat.
Cats were sacred animals in Egypt. Some believe that they were even the highest in the hierarchy. Ancient Egyptians not only worshipped cats – which were associated with Bastet, the goddess of love, joy, music, dance, domesticity and fertility – but they were also pets. Their role was to protect grain from rodents. There was a severe penalty for killing a cat.
The second exhibit is a mummy of a small crocodile. In Egyptian mythology, the god Sobek, who was associated with the forces of nature and rebirth, was depicted in this way and aroused fear among humans. Sobek’s temple was located in Faiyum (known by its Greek name as Crocodilopolis). Crocodiles were also bred at temples and later offered as sacrifices and mummified. Dozens of crocodile mummies have been discovered in cemeteries dedicated to Sobek, including both adults and young, some were also found in wooden sarcophagi.
Let’s look at the display case on the left.
The process of mummification of the human body began with washing the deceased, then shaving and rubbing their body with henna ointment. The brain was pulled out through the left-hand nosehole with a hook and the internal organs through an incision in the left side. Only the heart, which was the seat of the soul, was left behind.
Some of the viscera were removed and mummified separately, and then placed in separate containers, known as canopic urns. These were four, usually earthenware or alabaster vessels with lids depicting images of funerary deities, called the sons of Horus. A vessel with a lid in the shape of a human head held the liver, one in the shape of a baboon held the lungs, a falcon protected the intestines and a jackal the stomach. The canopies were put into special boxes, on the walls of which were images of caring goddesses.
The longest stage of mummification involved drying the body in a soda (natrite) solution for about 40 days. Once completely dry, the insides were filled with linen and sawdust and then the body was wrapped in resin-soaked bandages, which hardened after some time. Amulets were placed between the layers of bandages to protect the soul during the journey to the afterlife. After about seventy days, the body was allowed to rest in a sarcophagus, and this in turn was placed in a specially built tomb.
Let’s continue walking to the left. Here, another exhibit awaits us in an alcove.
This unique type of amulet consists of a scarab with outspread wings attached to it by a string. It could have been attached to the bandages covering a mummy but was usually part of a mummy net made of faience beads that covered the mummy from arms to legs. The scarab was attached to a net at the deceased’s chest. The amulet was meant to guarantee his protection and, as a symbol of resurrection, rebirth in the afterlife.
Now walk to the left to enter the burial chamber.
Sarcophagi, or decorated coffins, were called body devourers. Throughout Egypt’s long history, sarcophagi protecting mummified bodies have undergone significant transformations in terms of size, shape and decoration. They could be box-shaped or anthropoid, i.e. shaped like a human body.
During the reign of Queen Hatshepsut (1473-1458 BC) black sarcophagi, such as the one here in the exhibition, were introduced. The colour was associated with Osiris, the ruler of the afterlife. Hieroglyphic inscriptions were painted on a black background with yellow dye. This colour, which symbolises gold or the sun, was also used to paint parts of the wig and jewellery, as well as the deities depicted on the sarcophagus.
The most famous burial chamber is that of Tutankhamun, discovered 100 years ago. It was the only tomb discovered to date that has survived intact to the present day.
In the background, we hear incantations from the Book of the Dead, which were used to protect the tomb from robbery and destruction.
Let’s take a look in the next display case on the left
In front of us is the mummy of an eight-year-old boy more than 2,000 years old. Visible on his body is a cartonnage – that is, cloth from linen or papyrus glued together with plaster and decorated with paintings.
The oldest mummies were made as early as the Predynastic Period, more than 5,000 years ago. Unfortunately, many of the mummies brought to Europe have not survived to the present day. Some of them were turned into powder, as it was believed from the 12th century that taking such a powder cured practically everything. Paints were also made from mummies.
Let’s take a look in the display case on the right
Wooden sarcophagus masks were sometimes attached to the sarcophagus and were often beautifully carved or painted. Typically, a man’s face was painted brown and a woman’s yellow, but gold or green – a symbol of rebirth – was also used, as well as a more human-like pink or cream colour. Sometimes masks were not painted, and only anatomical details were marked with a black line. Masks decorated in a more elaborate way, with inlays, were also created. Eyebrows and eyes were usually decorated using this technique.
To the right is the final display case.
Ushebti, or small figurines deposited in tombs, symbolised servants who were supposed to perform various activities on behalf of the deceased. Their name comes from the verb ‘usheb’ which means ‘to answer’, because, according to the sixth chapter of the Book of the Dead, they were supposed to obey the orders of Osiris calling the dead to work. For this reason, the figures often hold hoes or pickaxes in their hands and bags on their backs. They were to replace the deceased in the most strenuous work, such as working in the fields, so that the deceased could enjoy blissful peace. In order to make the figurines come alive at the right moment, magic formulas and spells were written on them.
Ushebti were originally intended to represent the deceased himself, so there were only a few of them in the tomb. Over time, they came to be treated as slaves of the grave owner performing tasks for him. Then, the number of ushebti placed in the grave increased significantly, up to several hundred. There could be as many as 365, the number of days in a year. Made mainly from clay and faience, they became the subject of mass production, which significantly affected their quality and precision.
Let us now exit the burial chamber, where the scarab guides will lead us to the exit.
The finale of the exhibition is dedicated in gratitude to them. Passing through a long corridor filled with glistening faience scarabs is supposed to bring good fortune to those walking along it and protect them from misfortune, so that the magic of ancient Egypt can continue.