Egypt is a pretty incredible country to visit. Giza, for example, is one of the most quintessential places at which to take photographs as it offers the world-renowned pyramids, not to mention the sphinx. New pan-global research released by Sony Mobile in 2017 revealed that Egypt’s Giza Pyramids is within the top 50 most photographed places in the world.
Apart from the massive pyramids and the sphinx however, Giza is pretty much empty. There is very little else remaining of the ancient Egyptian culture in this place and this is also the case with a lot of other places around Egypt.
With this in mind, it baffles me entirely that Egypt is left, to a great extent, empty, however there are Egyptian archives to be viewed in almost all major museums around the world. At a rough estimate, there are over 2 million objects from ancient Egypt kept in about 850 public collections, scattered over 69 countries around the world.
If you find yourself in Paris, for example, you need only visit one of the most well-known traffic circles in the world as, at the bottom of the Champs Elysées, stands an ancient Egyptian obelisk from the Luxor Temple.
In London? Take a walk by the River Thames on the Victoria Embankment and see the ancient Egyptian obelisk, Cleopatra’s Needle.
In Rome? Lucky for you as you are offered a choice of 13 Egyptian obelisks from which to choose.
Considering the purpose of Obelisks – this being that obelisks were religious object constructed in order to honor the Egyptian sun-god Ra – is it right that this archetypal symbol of sacred ancient Egyptian culture should be found in and amongst the most western cities?
How much does the West have?
The Egyptian Museum in Cairo houses approximately 160,000 objects covering 5,000 years of Egypt’s past. This is the largest archive of Egyptian artefacts (as it should be?) however the number of Egyptian artefacts that Western museums house is staggering.
- The Penn Museum (USA) – in excess of 42 000 items of Egyptian artefacts
- The Boston Museum (USA) – 45 000 items
- The Musée du Louvre (France) – around 50 000 items
- The Neues Museum (Germany) – around 80 000 items
- The Petrie Museum (UK) – 80 000 items
And the staggering archive of London’s British Museum, which houses the largest collection of ancient Egyptian artefacts in the world outside of Egypt, contains in excess of 100 000 objects.
Most notably of which is their (problematic?) ownership of the Rosetta Stone.
There is, of course, a number of different ways by which these countries acquired these Egyptian artefacts and the shared history that these countries have with Egypt is something to be acknowledged. However, whether the West has the right to own the great array of Egyptian artefacts that it currently does is greatly contested.
There is an argument to be made that the culture of Egypt is an integral part of the history of all humanity and the remains of which should thus be spread around the globe in order to allow for the greatest accessibility.
The history of a nation and of a people, albeit ancient, is still held with significant value by those alive today. So is it right that these countries should have so much of the Egyptian culture in their archives and on public display whilst Egypt remains largely stripped of its own cultural history?
Some countries have made an effort to return Egyptian artefacts to Egypt.
But is Egypt the rightful owner of these artefacts, and if so, should international museums be obligated to return their Egyptian artefacts to the country from which they originated?
Or is the history of Egypt so integral to the history of all civilization that it is acceptable that the historical remains of this culture be spread around the world to be consumed by as many people as possible?
I offer no answer to these question however I feel that it is something most worthy of contemplation.