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Treasures of The Walton Hall of Ancient Egypt

“The Carnegie Boat,” excavated from the pyramid complex of a pharaoh named Senwosret III, is one of only six such crafts ever discovered.





Above Photos: Mindy Mcnaugher        Photo: Karen meyers

The “bog mummies” of northeastern Europe aren’t the only mummies at rest and on view at Carnegie Museum of Natural History. The museum’s Walton Hall of Ancient Egypt is the permanent home to a collection of Egyptian mummies dating as far back as 664 B.C., surrounded by more than 600 other ancient Egyptian artifacts, some dating back to 3,100 B.C.

While Egyptian artifacts have been a hallmark of the museum since Andrew Carnegie purchased a mummy and its coffin in 1896, it wasn’t until February 10, 1990, that an entire exhibit hall devoted to the exploration of Egypt’s ancient civilizations opened to the Pittsburgh public. Aside from the hall’s mummies, its most popular artifact was, and still is, a 30-foot royal funerary boat—“The Carnegie Boat”—excavated from the pyramid complex of a pharaoh named Senwosret III who reigned more than 3,800 years ago. Located about 20 miles south of Cairo, the site was unearthed by French archaeologist Jacques de Morgan in 1894-95. Word of the rare find got back to an astute Andrew Carnegie, who quickly acquired the boat for his new museum. To this day, it’s one of only six such crafts ever discovered.

The hall’s two human mummies—an adult male who lived sometime between 1 and 200 A.D., and a child who lived about 300 B.C.—are accompanied by the mummies of a cat, an Ibis bird, a Nile Perch, and a juvenile crocodile. Scientists learned what was inside all these tightly wound packages the modern way: they x-rayed each one, and those x-rays are on display in the hall.

“ Ancient Egyptians considered certain animals sacred to the gods,” explains Dave Watters, curator of Anthropology for the museum, “and mummified animals were often presented as offerings to those gods.”

The most prominent exhibit in The Walton Hall of Ancient Egypt doesn’t have anything to do with mummies or death, but rather how creative and industrious the ancient Egyptians were in life: it’s a diorama that shows life-size Egyptian craftsmen making glass beads for jewelry. Surrounding the lifelike scene are hundreds of artifacts from daily life thousands of years ago, such as ceramic and stone vessels, jewelry, and tools.

Still, it’s the stuff of death—the burial rituals, the ancient artifacts entombed with the remains of an ancient people—that seem to fascinate us the most, and visitors to The Walton Hall of Ancient Egypt aren’t disappointed. Hardly a day goes by that excited kids and curious adults don’t wait in line to crawl through a short tunnel leading to the hall’s replica tomb, which includes a model of one of Andrew Carnegie’s first Egyptian purchases—a mummy’s coffin.

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