The British Museum has launched a major exhibition to honor 200 years since the decipherment of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs.
The exhibition, which opens to the public on October 13, explores the inscriptions and objects that helped academics unlock an “ancient civilisation” exactly two centuries ago.
A star object in the upcoming Hieroglyphs: Unlocking Ancient Egypt display will feature “the enchanted basin” – a large black granite sarcophagus covered with hieroglyphs from about 600 BCE.
Detail of The Book Of The Dead Of Queen Nedjmet papyrus (British Museum/PA)
The hieroglyphs were believed to have magical powers and bathing in the basin could offer relief from the torments of love.
The reused ritual bath was discovered near a mosque in Cairo in an area still known as al-Hawd al-Marsud, meaning “the enchanted basin’.
It was later identified as the sarcophagus of Hapmen, a nobleman of the 26th Dynasty.
Curator Ilona Regulski told the PA news agency: “We are celebrating 200 years of decipherment of hieroglyphs this year which happened in 1822.
“We thought it was the opportune moment to celebrate this very important achievement and to also share the latest research on Egyptian writing.
General view of the interior of the British Museum (Tim Ireland/PA)
“We built the exhibition in the spirit of Jean-Francois Champollion. He used the Egyptian writing system as a gateway into ancient Egypt, so by deciphering the hieroglyphs, he really unlocked an ancient civilization that people didn’t really realize was there at all.
“In that spirit, we built the exhibition, so we tell the story of decipherment and how people got to the point where we are now that we can read the text constantly.
“The second half of the exhibition is the impact of decipherment, so what do we know about the ancient culture now that we can read the text?
“We do that through addressing topics that people perhaps associate with ancient Egypt, such as the pharaohs and the afterlife, but we also talk about the personal stories of the people and really show the diversity of writing and that people in ancient Egypt were concerned about the same things that we are concerned about today.
“So it is really about people and the fact that hieroglyphs represent the spoken language.”
The British Museum exhibition will feature conservators cleaning the sarcophagus while open to the public, using a combination of methods to remove the build up of environmental dust and surface dirt.
Conservation work is carried out regularly to care for the collection.