Ancient Egypt, the land of the pharaohs. This early empire achieved a lot of firsts – the first board game, the first paper making. Four thousand years ago, with no cranes of any kind, the Egyptians built the pyramids, stone structures taller than any other. What isn’t amazing about that?
Egypt is, to me, magical. The mind-boggling part about studying ancient Egypt is that there are 3,000 years to choose from and that doesn’t count the 10,000 years of the Pre-Dynastic period before the pharaohs. There is always something new to learn, no matter how obscure.
You may ask me where I get this information. It comes from two main places. One is my library. I have been collecting books on ancient Egypt since I was three years old. Some are even in foreign languages! But my biggest source of information is the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection, one of the greatest in the world.
The Met is a really fun place.
The Met’s Egyptian wing is organized as a “time loop.” When you enter room 100, the under-rated Tomb of Perneb in front of you offers the opportunity to walk inside. Most people will then head left, through the Roman Period and backwards in time because it is the fastest way to the spectacular Temple of Dendur. But the true way through Egyptian history is to take a right past the granite lion. This will take you first to the Pre-Dynastic Period, then onto my favorite, the Old Kingdom, the Middle Kingdom and the New Kingdom. Only then do you arrive at the Temple of Dendur, one of the most amazing rooms in New York.
I like to concentrate on the Old Kingdom. My favorite piece of Egyptian art at the Met is the stele of Raneb, the 2nd pharaoh of the 2nd dynasty who lived around 4,800 years ago. The stele is a granite stone that shows the boundary of a place and which some people think is the oldest of its kind to be written on. It’s easy to find, right in the first room of the Egyptian collection. I like it because it’s the only object from the time of my favorite (and obscure) pharaoh that I can see in person.
I also love the Meketre Miniatures. Commissioned by a rich nobleman, the models are of little wooden people doing various activities of everyday life. They are often mistaken for toys and kids love to see them. What are they? The ancient Egyptians believed that any object of effigy with a spell inscribed on it would come to life and serve you in the afterlife. So these figures would turn into Meketre’s servants. There are even small luxury boats that show him enjoying himself on the water! Some of the models are currently on display in a fantastic special exhibition at the Met on the Middle Kingdom that I highly recommend.
Another object I enjoy is often missed. If you look carefully at a hole in a false door in the Old Kingdom collection, you can see a small wooden figure peeping out. It is amazing that a wooden statue survived for as it is such a fragile and corrosive material. It lacks a face, but still has the ability to make you laugh if you peek in with its sudden surprise quirkiness. I think that’s a great quality for an artifact.
When and how did I get into this? It’s not your usual “I saw the art in the museum and fell in love” story. I was actually watching “Little Einsteins,” an educational TV show that aired 10 years ago with a red plane inexplicably called “Rocket.” There was a special episode on Egypt entitled “Secret of the Sphinx” and something triggered my mind and my passion began. I immediately read every book I could get my hands on and my parents brought me to the Met. I loved it! Since then, I have continued to learn and have become friends with many famous archeologists.
I love Egypt. I think you should, too. You can read about what they thought (since they actually wrote stuff down), see the art they made, and even play the board games they played! And for me it all started at the Met. I hope you swing by the Met sometime soon and visit the Egyptian collection. Who knows? Maybe you’ll get as obsessed as me!
Asher Hurowitz is a seventh grader in Manhattan. His Q&A with a Met curator, about the mummification process, is part of #MetKids, a new online feature from the Met made for, with, and by kids. For more information, go to www.metmuseum.org/metkids