Al-Ahram Weekly Online   11 - 17 June 2009
Issue No. 951
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Taking a shot at archaeology

A photography exhibition highlighting more than a century of archaeological cooperation between Europe and Egypt was inaugurated last Thursday at the Egyptian Museum. Nevine El-Aref went along

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Exploration at Bir Al-Showish; restoration work at the funerary temple of Thutmosis III; copper melting experiment in Ain Sokhna

From the beginning of the 19th century, archaeology in Egypt has enticed a multitude of European travellers and academics. These pioneers rediscovered the main characteristics of history from the ancient Egyptian to modern eras, and thus contributed to establishing strong scientific links not only between the nations of Europe and Egypt but also between those nations themselves.

To illustrate this early and long lasting common interest and cooperation, the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) and the European Commission in Egypt are holding a two-month- long photography exhibition at the Egyptian Museum entitled: "Europe-Egypt: A long lasting Archaeological Cooperation".

In the temporary exhibition gallery on the museum's first floor, a collection of 40 photographs recreates in images some of the shared projects operated by European and Egyptian researchers. These photographs have been presented for the exhibition by 16 European countries. They are organised around six subjects illustrating the main aspects of European activities in the field of archaeology: background, training, cooperation, excavations, restoration and valorisation.

The exhibition focuses on the main practices prevailing nowadays among Egyptologists. Here are junior Egyptian restorers at the British Museum studying along with veteran restorer Philip Kevin the techniques for restoring a wooden sarcophagus. There, another group in the Tel Al-Dabaa archaeological area is reconstructing pottery vessels in an attempt to better understand the daily and cult life of ancient Egypt, especially at a site so rare in epigraphic sources. In front are Egyptian stonemasons, workmen, foreign and Egyptian conservators, all helping to restore a column capital at the entrance of the Madrasa of Sultan Al-Nasser Mohamed.

Excavation works are also displayed in photographs showing Egyptian and Swiss excavators during their rescue excavations at the Aswan souq (market) where they uncovered remains of a quarry harbour dating to the Fifth Dynasty that indicated the ancient position of the riverbank. Adjacent to this picture is a collection of photographs featuring different work of excavations in the Theban necropolis, the Western Desert, Alexandria, the Delta and the Eastern Desert. Underwater excavations under the Mediterranean are also represented. Photographs showing documentation and mapping work are also displayed, as well as those featuring experiments in ancient production still used up to now, such as one featuring the smelting of copper with air tubes at Ain Sokhna. It illustrates French specialist Philippe Fluzin with a group of workers blowing the air down cane tubes onto the lower opening of the hearth of a kiln, thus raising the temperature up to 1,200 degrees.

Drawings and black and white photographs telling the history of the cooperation between Europe and Egypt since the early 1800s are also on show.

"These photographs are an important testimony of the great efforts to discover and restore our past," Zahi Hawass, secretary-general of the SCA, told Al-Ahram Weekly. "It also demonstrates that Egypt's monuments belong to the whole world as well as enriching our knowledge about the field of archaeology, and show the enduring magic and mystery of ancient Egypt."

Klaus Eberman, the ambassador of the European Commission delegation to Egypt, described the exhibition as a glimpse of the long lasting archaeological cooperation between Egypt and Europe as seen through the lenses of hundreds of archaeologists who have spent the best days of their professional lives in many Egyptian archaeological sites. He pointed out that these images allowed the observer to gaze into the rich kaleidoscope of people captured in a particular moment of their work, completely absorbed by their search for an ancient piece of art or engaged in its restoration, evoking an atmosphere that was quintessentially drawn from a timeless Egypt. "[The exhibition] conveys a sense of the profound mutual respect and dedication prevailing in the archaeological laboratories and on the sites," Eberman concluded.

The director of the French Institute for Oriental Studies, Laure Pantalacci, said the exhibition was launched under the French presidency of the EU in July 2008 and was carried out this year under the Czech presidency through the strong support of the SCA and of the EU delegation in Egypt. She continued that a call for photographs was launched by an international steering committee, which received positive answers from 16 countries acting in Egypt through a variety of institutions reflecting the diversity of national traditions and history. Some countries had one or several permanent archaeological centres; others carried out their archaeological activities through cultural centres or the cultural sections of their embassies. "If the exhibition reflects the specific approach of each of the countries involved, it also expresses their endeavour to collaborate. To paint an overall picture both accurate and harmonious of the current European work in Egypt was an exciting challenge; we hope to have successfully met it," Pantalacci said.

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