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Exploring the Met's Work in Egypt

Thomas P. Campbell, Director and CEO

Posted: Monday, November 22, 2010

«In eighteen months on the job, I have traveled all over the globe, and it is incredible to understand the scope of the Met's international reach. In fact, I have just returned from a tour of the Met's archaeological work in Egypt, activity that extends back to the earliest days of the Museum.»

HatshepsutTemple

Hatshepsut Temple. In the 1920s, the Met's excavation team discovered hundreds of fragments of the destroyed statues that had once embellished the funerary temple of Hatshepsut, the great female pharaoh who ruled during Dynasty 18 (ca. 1473–1458 B.C.) and the first important female ruler known to history.

It was more than one hundred years ago, in 1906, that J.P. Morgan, then president of the Museum, hired Albert M. Lythgoe to be the Met's first curator of Egyptian Art, establishing the Metropolitan's Egyptian Expedition, which continued for the next thirty years. Many of the thirty-six thousand objects in the Museum's Egyptian collection today were excavated in Egypt by the Museum's staff of archaeologists from 1906 to 1936 under the system known as partage, which allowed the Met to excavate and then split its finds with the Egyptian government. Indeed, it was interesting to visit the Cairo Museum during my trip and see objects in their collection that are directly related to our own.

The Met still participates in active excavations in Egypt at the Middle Kingdom pyramid sites of Lisht and Dahshur, south of Cairo, and the New Kingdom palace and temple complex of Malqata, near Luxor. This activity goes on without any system of partage or opportunity to acquire the objects excavated. It is a scholarly endeavor, scientifically executed, and critical to understanding the cultures represented in our collection and extending the Met's work beyond the walls of the museum. I hope you will keep this history in mind when you next visit our Egyptian collection; it is a fascinating part of the Met's past, and very much a part of the research and scholarship that are the core of our mission today.

Dahshur enclosure wall

Present-day excavation of the enclosure wall of the Senwosret III pyramid complex at Dahshur, about thirty miles south of Cairo. The pyramid of the Middle Kingdom pharaoh Senwosret III (reigned ca. 1878–1840 B.C.) is in the background. In order to ensure the preservation of fragile ancient monuments, excavation work entails painstaking and delicate manual labor, here carried out by skilled Egyptian workers.

Senwosret III storerooms

Egyptian Department staff members gave me a tour of relief fragments discovered in the Senwosret III pyramid complex.

Mastaba

The reconstructed northeast corner of a mastaba tomb that belonged to a high official named Khnumhotep, who served under Senwosret III. It is the only standing example of this elaborate architectural form and was reconstructed by Metropolitan Museum Egyptologists and conservators using ancient and modern stones.

Dahshur Relief Portrait

A relief depicting the high official Sobekemhat, who must have been one of the most important men in the court of Pharaoh Senwosret III. This powerful work of art is one of the most outstanding relief "portraits" from the Middle Kingdom. It was discovered in the private cemetery north of the Senwosret III pyramid complex.

Dahshur causeway

Causeway of the Senwosret III pyramid complex. This long passageway provided a secluded and sacred connection between the pyramid complex in the desert and the cultivated land. Although most of the structure was destroyed by ancient stone robbers, the Metropolitan Museum excavation has recovered many fragments of the beautifully sculpted limestone reliefs that originally lined the interior walls. The subjects depicted included the seasons of the Egyptian year, military operations, and the divine origins of the king. The latter scene type was previously known only from later periods.

Malqata

The palace of Amenhotep III (ca. 1390–1353 B.C.) at Malqata, across the Nile from the modern city of Luxor, is part of a vast complex that the pharaoh built to commemorate his jubilees. The Museum excavated much of the remains of the palace before World War I and our curators resumed working there in 2008.


Read a recent article about the joint announcement from the Met and the Egyptian government recognizing Egypt's title to nineteen objects in the Met's collection.

Tag(s): Egypt
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About the Author

Thomas P. Campbell is the director and CEO of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

About this Blog

Now at the Met offers in-depth articles and multimedia features about the Museum's current exhibitions, events, research, announcements, behind-the-scenes activities, and more.