Egypt’s Sunken Treasures

Today, I went to Bonn with three friends, to see the exhibition “Ägyptens versunkene Schätze“. You can see many objects that were found by divers in the lagoon of Alexandria, and must have belonged to the residential area of the palace of the Ptolemaic kings. Some objects were really beautiful, like the head of the Nile god at the beginning of the exhibition and a large stela of pharaoh Nectanebo I. The displays themselves were excellent and the explanations were adequate.

Still, I was a bit disappointed. This exposition is certainly worth a visit -no doubt about that- but it must be noted that taking photos is not allowed. I sincerely regret this, because I like to study objects later, at my leisure. We bought a catalogue, but the details one wants to study are never the ones selected by professional photographers. There is something wrong here. A museum that obstructs study has something to explain.

My main objection, however, is that most objects were just art for art’s sake. There were some ceramics and coins, but utensils from daily life (which must have been the majority of the finds) were almost neglected. As a consequence, the context of the finds was missing; it was just art and some explanation, but the real questions remained unanswered. What I would have liked to know was, for example:

  • Who were the artists? Greeks, Egyptians, Macedonians, others?
  • Were these sculptures unique, or must we assume that other Hellenistic capitals had similar statues, busts, inscriptions?
  • Did these discoveries change our perspective on Greek and Egyptian art?

Et cetera. None of these questions received an adequate answer. Instead, there were several beautiful photos,like the one to the right. Now look how carefully this photo was arranged, with the light source that illuminates the statue hidden behind the obect in the hand of the diver. I can not remember one single photo odivern which I could see the tools of an archaeologist, like measuring tape. Was I looking at the finds of a professional underwater excavation, or at the results of mere treasure hunting?

Oh yes, the exhibition conveyed a sense of adventure. And it was all very beautiful. But the real questions remained unanswered, and it was more show than science. Consequently, my overall impression was that it was all rather empty.

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