The Imhotep Museum
by Ashraf Mohie El Din and Ruth Shilling
It was with great excitement that the new Imhotep Museum was opened in April 2006 by Dr. Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities. A modern museum, both in technology and security, this is a place not to be missed on your next visit to Saqqara. Located twenty kilometers south of the Giza Pyramids, Saqqara is the site of the Step Pyramid and the funerary complex of King Zoser (Djoser), the Pyramid of Unas, the Teti Pyramid, Old Kingdom tombs with scenes of daily life, and much more. The Step Pyramid of Zoser is Egypt's first pyramid, designed by Imhotep, for whom the museum is named. The sands of Saqqara have yielded treasures from the Archaic Period, the Old Kingdom, Middle Kingdom, New Kingdom, Late Period and Greco-Roman Period. And there is still much yet to be discovered! The excavations are continuing and each season more treasures are found.
In 1997 the building of the new museum began. The idea was to have a special place dedicated only to the many discoveries from this area. Located near the entrance, not far from where the ticket office was formerly located, visitors will be pleased to find artifacts that are attractively displayed, well air-conditioned buildings and modern toilet facilities.
The museum consists of five halls: 1) Theater and model of the funerary complex, 2) Main Hall including the architectural elements, 3) New Discoveries, 4) Model Tomb Hall, and 5) Library of Jean-Philippe Lauer.
In the theater visitors can watch a short film made by National Geographic about the Imhotep Museum. In the center of the room is a model of the funerary complex showing the Step Pyramid and surrounding buildings in brilliant white, the way they would have looked when they were new. The model was constructed by Jean-Philippe Lauer (1902-2001), an archeologist that made many discoveries at Saqqara and dedicated his long life to restoring these monuments. One of the halls of the museum is dedicated to preserving his library.
The most noticeable feature of the Main Hall is the blue-green faience. These tiles were collected in the anti-chamber and burial chamber of the Step Pyramid and reconstructed to show visitors how the walls of these chambers and those of the Southern Tomb would have looked in ancient times.
There is also a statue is of a scribe, Ptah-Shepses (5th Dynasty) from Abu Sir. There are two types of scribe statues reading and writing. This statue of Ptah-Shepses is a reading scribe.
An impressive collection of large alabaster jars, some over one meter high, date back to the 2nd and 3rd Dynasties. These jars came from the chambers below the Step Pyramid. Included in the display is a block that shows the steps to making the alabaster jars.
One of the masterpieces now displayed in the "New Discoveries" hall of the museum is a mummy that was found during recent excavations around the Teti Pyramid. When we moved the sands we found a mummy that was the most beautiful mummy I have ever seen. When I saw the mummy for the first time I was shocked. The colors looked like it was painted yesterday yellow, blue, red and black. We know that it dates to the 30th Dynasty, but regrettably we do not know the name of the owner because there were no inscriptions to tell us. The mask is gilded. The mummy itself was wrapped in linen and is 176 cm in length. The casing is painted with scenes. On the chest there is painted a pectoral with a winged scarab. On each side there are five gods holding scepters. Under the necklace there is a winged goddess, Ma'at, with two feathers. On the legs of the mummy are scenes of the god Anubis performing the mummifications.
Also in this hall are artifacts found during the excavations of Dr. Zahi Hawass near the Tomb of Qar. This newly discovered tomb was owned by a dentist from the Old Kingdom. There are surgical tools and bronze statues of the gods and goddesses, including Isis, Horus, Osiris, Ptah, Anubis and others. Dr. Zahi Hawass has made enormous contributions to Egyptology.
Doing excavations, restoring monuments, opening new museums, publishing numerous books and articles, recovering stolen artifacts and increasing public awareness about Ancient Egypt and the new discoveries through the media, under his leadership the face of Ancient Egypt in today's world has reached heights never before achieved. Just as the Ancient Egyptians might say, "His name will live forever."
Hall #4 contains a model of a small tomb and shows the typical burial elements, including the coffin, a wooden statue, pottery jars and offerings. There are also some offering jars that still contained some cheese when they were found! Other pieces in this hall include a pyramidion that was found by Dr. Zahi Hawass near the Teti Pyramid, some limestone maces, a wooden coffin from King Mery-en-Ra of the 6th Dynasty, a limestone block with pyramid texts from the Pepi I Pyramid, some canoptic jars of alabaster, and a limestone sphinx of King Unas.
Despite all the wonderful things on display here in the museum today, we are still looking for more. Perhaps someday we may even unearth the tomb of Imhotep himself. It is said that only 30% of the treasures from Ancient Egypt have been discovered to date. Who knows what we may find tomorrow, or next week, or next year, or the excitement and suspense of the search continues. No one knows what the sands of Egypt may hide, only that it will continue to yield the secrets of time.
This article was written by Ashraf Mohie El Din, an archeologist/Egyptologist presently working at Saqqara, and Ruth Shilling, an AETBI member and owner of All One World Egypt Tours. All photos are by Ruth Shilling. For additional information about the authors: www.Ashraf-EgyptTourGuide.com and www.1worldtours.com.