‘Buried Beneath the Sands’: Unearthing Ancient Egypt

Our current exhibition charts the rediscovery in the 19th century of the temples, tombs and monuments of Ancient Egypt, which had been largely forgotten in Western Europe.

SCH00061, Vol1, pl.18By the time Napoleon invaded Egypt in 1798, the ancient civilisation of that country, its temples, tombs and monuments had largely been forgotten in Western Europe, in many cases literally hidden beneath the sands of the desert. Our current exhibition charts the rediscovery of that civilisation in the 19th century, using materials from the University’s Special Collections.

The Pyramids of Giza were a source of fascination, because of their unparalleled monumental scale and the mystery that surrounded their construction and purpose.  An ascent of the Great Pyramid was often an essential part of a visit by early travellers, with ample assistance from the local guides and perhaps even a flask of wine at the summit to dispel any faintness.

In spite of the many hazards facing early travellers on the Nile, a voyage on the river was the obvious way to see many of the ancient sites.  Perhaps the most beautiful of these was ‘The Pharaoh’s Bed’ on the island of Philae, which David Roberts described in 1838 as a ‘paradise in the midst of desolation’.

Two hundred years ago, on 1 August 1817, the remarkable adventurer-Egyptologist Giovanni Belzoni was the first to set foot inside the great temple of Abu Simbel, which had been sealed for centuries, the doorway 35 feet under the sand.

The exhibition runs until 12 November in the basement of the David Wilson Library, and may be viewed from Monday to Saturday between 9.30am and 5pm and on Sunday between 12.30pm and 5.30pm on Sunday. Entry to the Library is free but security controlled. Ask for admission to the Special Collections exhibition at reception. See Maps and Directions for further information about how to find us.

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