Ancient Egyptian History … Who Cares?

I was surprised to stumble on a news story this week about the damage recently done to King Tut’s mask (his beard broke off and was “hastily glued back on with epoxy”) which resides at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo … surprised, honestly, that anyone at the museum cares.

Several years ago, I traveled to Egypt to work with a Hong Kong-based ultra-marathon company called 4Deserts — 100 people from all over the world running through the Sahara for 7 days, enduring insane heat, ripping their feet to shreds, eating freeze-dried gruel and ultimately emerging alive and elated. I was a willing lackey, and it was a wild ride, speeding in ‘60s Range Rovers over the dunes, and clinging to tentpoles during sandstorms. The finish line was next to THE Sphinx, located in Geeza. I grew up thinking the Sphinx is massive, but it’s not.

On the one day we had to explore the city, a friend and I jumped in a cab whose nice driver agreed to squire us to a few tourist spots, including the Egyptian Museum. Arriving in Tahrir Square (this is pre Arab Spring), we hopped out and approached the entrance of the century-old red stone building.

For a museum that contained (at that time) some (120,000) of the most ancient, valuable, important bits of world history, it was not what we expected. Coming from countries that preserve and display their histories with care and serve up fancy gift shops and blockbuster exhibitions, we were shocked. What we found was a place that, despite the almighty King Tut’s presence, was on the verge of total neglect.

It was enough to make a conservator cry. The museum’s tall windows were open to the outside and the rooms inside were filled with all of the pollution and humidity any big city has to offer. Museum guards lazed about, smoking cigarettes and dozing. Like some sort of guessing game, many artifacts had no identification. The impressive collection of ancient statuary had been tagged by graffiti artists and visitors wielding carving devices. “I LOVE U” was inscribed on a 16th-century woman’s giant foot!

We soon discovered that King Tut had been loaned to a museum somewhere else — that’s ok, that happens — and there was no gift shop unless you count the man holed up in a closet outside the museum with some picture books of Egypt — that’s just a big missed opportunity for revenue. These things were forgivable.

But I don’t know why the Egyptian Museum was in such a deplorable state. No budget, no interest, no love? I just don’t believe nobody cares because people seemed so proud of their country’s history. In fact, during the 2011 uprising in Tahrir Square, citizens formed a human chain around the museum but failed to keep looters out.

Unfortunately, things haven’t changed much according to a news story on Jan. 24, 2016. Tut’s mask was damaged by somebody trying to change a light bulb in the display case. “Workers” tried to fix it and messed it up. Egypt’s history is more important than this, folks.