Unveiling Egypt's Ancient Marvels: A Retrospective on Past Exhibitions

This year the state of the art exhibition Egypt: In the Time of Pharaohs came to the Museum, drawing over 100,000 people from Tāmaki Makarau and beyond. Some may remember that this is not the first time Tāmaki Paenga Hira has hosted collections from Egypt. In addition to our permanent collections from Egypt, two international exhibitions were hosted, one in 1997 and another in 2007. The ways in which information is shared has changed over the years, but the essence and themes have largely stayed the same, and are testament to the enduring interest of ancient Egypt in the modern world.

Blog by Josh Emmitt, Curator Archaeology 

Bellsouth Pharaohs: Life and Death in Ancient Egypt


The name Bellsouth may be a blast from the past for some people, relegated to their memories of the 90s much like the Spice Girls and Tamagotchis. Right before Bellsouth was acquired by Vodafone in 1998, they sponsored the exhibition Life and Death in Ancient Egypt from the 13th December 1997 to 8th February 1998. This exhibition featured artefacts from the National Museum of Antiquities at Leiden, The Netherlands and was organized by the Western Australian Museum. The objects used for the exhibition from the National Museum of Antiquities were collected from Egypt beginning in the 1820s and contained objects ranging from stela to coffins. The exhibition was centered around four themes; The Egyptian World, the King and his Officials, Daily life, and Life after death.

The theme The Egyptian World incorporated objects to do with gods and temples, creation myths, and the Egyptian environment. Of note was the 11m papyrus from the third intermediate period of the book of the dead of Tajoeheryt. Tajoeheryt was a singer of Amon-Ra (Chief of the Egyptian gods). The was to help the deceased find their way to the afterlife.

The King and his Officials featured statues of pharaohs but also of Preists and other officials, but also seals marked with officials and kinds names. The Daily life theme focused on items commonly used such as jewlery and vessels. Several letters were also displayed, including one found at Deir-el-medina and dated to the 20th Dynasty. One letter is between the Scribe of the Burial Place Djehutymose and his son and deputy Butehamun. During the correspondence the father tells his son in specific detail what fields need managing and how, who to look after, and what else needs doing with the estate. The final theme featured in the exhibition Life after Death featured coffins, depictions of the gods, models used in funerary contexts, and ushabti figures.

Egypt: Beyond the Tomb


Ten years after Life and Death in Ancient Egypt, the Museum again hosted an exhibition from the National Museum of Antiquities at Leiden, this time in collaboration with the Australian Museum Special Exhibitions. Egypt: Beyond the Tomb was hosted from 25 May to 12 August 2007 and centered on a mummified Egyptian woman called Keku. Over 200 objects were on display, and also included the mummified remains and coffin of Keku.

Egypt: Beyond the Tomb followed the Keku’s journey from her death to her entry into the afterlife. Visitors went through the exhibit following the various stages including: her preparation for death, the embalming process, her crossing of the Nile to the west (where mot tombs were situated), her journey to the underworld, and how she was remembered after her death. There was also information on who Keku was and what her daily life as like.

Egypt: In the Time of Pharaohs


Egypt: In the Time of Pharaohs

The latest of our international Egypt exhibitions, Egypt: In the Time of Pharaohs, ran from 14 June to 12 November 2023. It was a joint exhibition with material from the Lokschuppen Exhibition Center, the University of Aberdeen Museums and the Roemer and Pelizaeus Museum, Hildesheim. Egypt: In the Time of Pharaohs had some clear points of departure from the previous exhibitions of Egyptian material. It is the largest travelling exhibition of Egyptian of the three, with over 300 original artefacts. It also has a slightly different focus in addition to the familiar themes seen in previous exhibitions.

Egypt: In the time of Pharaohs explores the Egyptian environment, gods, daily life and the after life, and also hosts the mummified remains of the woman Ta-Khar. However, it also hosts objects and information on particular kings and queens such as Khufu, Rameses II, and Hatshepsut amongst others. In particular information on the 18th Dynasty ruler Akhenaten is given, with a scale model of capital city Amarna. There are also many other models of pyramids and tombs, with a life-size replica of the tomb of Sennedjem.

The future

The future

While Egypt: in the Time of Pharaohs has just closed, perhaps one day there will be yet another ancient Egyptian exhibition at Auckland Museum. What this will look like though is anyone’s guess - with the development of technology and increasingly interactive displays. It would be safe to say though that some of the themes would feature the Egyptian world, both physical and environmental, aspects of daily life, the afterlife, and representations of kingship. Despite the overlap of themes, the objects themselves all have different stories to tell to the modern world.

Header image from the exhibition Egypt: Beyond the Tomb.