Friday, September 10, 2010

Into the tombs of the pharaohs

The Telegraph, UK (Sophie Campbell)

She was lying on her back at the bottom of the sarcophagus, legs pressed together under a fitted tunic, arms by her sides, bobbed hair immaculate, gazing skywards like a sunbathing tourist. This was Nut, the Egyptian goddess of the night, who swallows the sun every evening and gives birth to it again every dawn. She was very beautiful and her tunic was sprinkled with stars.

"That's a mirror you're looking at," said Khaled, Egyptologist and guide, as we squatted by the stone sarcophagus in the Cairo Museum. "She's actually carved onto the lid."

I tried not to look startled. Nut had been imprisoned in darkness for 3,000 years or more, staring not up at the sky and stars but down at a mummy-form coffin. It gave me an odd sensation – part claustrophobia, part morbid fascination – that seems to lurk about Ancient Egyptian history.

Khaled faced a mammoth task. I find our own kings and queens tricky enough to memorise, and they are a paltry 1,000 years' worth, a blink of a kohl-lined eye by Egyptian standards. He had four days to explain the "Book of the Dead", the subject of an exhibition opening at the British Museum in November, which covers millennia of Egyptian royals.

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