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Pharaoh on the move
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 13 - 05 - 2015

Scholars and curators from 15 countries gathered at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation (NMEC) in Al-Fustat area to discuss ways of transporting the Tutankhamun collection from the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square, and how, when they are moved, they should be displayed in their new home, the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM).
Gallery space of 7,000 square metres has been allocated to the boy king in GEM, and the display is expected to be ready for the museum's soft opening scheduled for 2018. To date 2,000 of the 4,500 artefacts recovered from Tutankhamun's tomb have been transported to their new home, and many of those that remain are objects that are in an unstable condition.
Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh Eldamaty told conference participants he firmly believes they can furnish appropriate solutions to the transport and display of the collection. The GEM, he said, will provide a permanent home for the priceless Tutankhamun collection and, thanks to aid from the Japanese government, construction of the museum is almost complete. Only $400 million is now needed to see the project to fruition.
The GEM, dedicated to pharoanic life, will be part of a three-museum complex alongside the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir, which will be refurbished as a showcase for the different styles of ancient Egyptian art, and the NMEC, which focuses on Egyptian civilisation from prehistoric to modern times.
Conference head Faiza Heikal described the NMEC gathering as similar to the calls issued in the 1960s to save the monuments of Nubia. International help is needed, she said, to help preserve, move and eventually display one of the most important collections of ancient artefacts in the world.
“Many of the objects, once taken out of Tutankhamun's tomb, began to decay,” Heikal told Al-Ahram Weekly. “Now they need very serious restoration before being moved to their new home. The Tutankhamun is an integral part of the heritage of the world and the international community must share in the responsibility of ensuring it is preserved.”
She continued, “Many pieces have not been restored since they were discovered in 1922. All the shrines of the boy king on display in the museum are among the pieces in critical condition. We need to bring the best restorers to work on the project, whether Egyptian or foreign. Science has no nationality.”
Hassan Selim, professor of Egyptology at Ain Shams University, points out that when Alfred Locus restored the shrines in1922 he used wax. It has now expanded, threatening the stability of several parts of the shrine.
“New restoration techniques are available but the work will take at least 18 months to be complete,” he said.
Selim would like to see restoration work on items from the collection currently on display in the Egyptian Museum actually conducted in the galleries. That way, he said, visitors will not only still be able to access the objects but it will offer an additional element to the usual exhibition: they will be able to see objects being restored through a glass wall and witness the restorer, and the object of his attentions, as they face one another.
“The whole process of restoring and dismantling Tutankhamun's shrines could, for example, be turned into an attraction, bringing in more visitors and raising money that could then be spent on financing further restoration. And it could serve as invaluable publicity for the new museum,” Selim told the Weekly.
It is not as if restoration in situ has never been done before, said Heikal. She cites one episode in the Louvre when curators were unable to remove a large relief and so worked on it in the gallery where it is displayed.
“Despite the fame of the Tutankhamun collection only 30 per cent of it has been studied,” said GEM director Tarek Tawfiq. “Since GEM is to be the new home of the collection I am keen to establish an international forum which will periodically assemble specialists concerned with all aspects of the collection, to discuss the latest research results, innovative display techniques and new conservation methods.
“This will help underline the role of the GEM. It is not intended solely as a venue for display but as a leading research institute and conservation centre. I expect one of the conference recommendations will be to establish an international institute of Tutankhamun studies at the GEM,” Tawfik said.
The aim of a display concept for the Tutankhamun treasures is to be innovative yet inclusive, giving visitors relevant historical background information and making use of innovative digital educational tools.
“The basic display will follow the actual layout of the tomb of Tutankhamun and will explain the significance of the way objects were placed there,” Tawfik said.
Funerary customs, ideas of rebirth and eternal life will be reflected alongside information pertaining to the king's identity, lifestyle and continuing legacy. The latter will include a space for Tutmania, offering visitors souvenirs of the king and his belongings.
In addition, some of the gallery space will showcase the results of the latest examinations conducted on the mummy of the pharaoh, including CT scans to determine his linage and identify the cause of his death.
The 2,000 objects from the Tutankhamun collection already transferred to their new home are in a good state of conservation. Restoration work has been conducted on items that required it at the GEM before the objects were placed in storage to await the opening of the Tutankhamun galleries in 2018.
What's left to be dome, said Tawfik, is the most difficult part of the task since many of the remaining objects need to be stabilised before they can be moved.

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