Egyptian Mummy Adventure
October 17, 2013
One summer, when I was a young girl in need of something to do over school vacation, my father lent me his giant book on Egyptian Mythology. Its pages kept me mesmerized and I read it out on our back patio for weeks. Each evening I would ask about different things I'd read in the book and finally one Saturday afternoon, Dad announced that he and I were off for an adventure. To my delight, he took me to the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum, in San Jose, Calif. It's an experience I've never forgotten and a few weeks ago, while I was back in California celebrating my parents 60th wedding anniversary at my sister's home, I commented on what fun the museum had been so many years ago. Dad said, "Well, lets explore it again"…and the next day we did just that.
Located on the corner of Park and Naglee avenues, the Egyptian Museum and Rosicrucian Park are still a wonder to see. When we arrived that sunny afternoon, the park was bursting with colorful blooms and the scent of roses filled the air. Elegant palm trees rose above the quiet walkways and several sphinxes reclined beside a bubbling tiled fountain. In one corner of the garden there stands a three-quarter-sized replica of the oldest surviving Obelisk in Egypt. Its surface is filled with hieroglyphics copied from the original, celebrating the Heb-Sed Festival during the Twelfth Dynasty.
Nearby, a Bird of Paradise plant was in full bloom, its large glorious flower a crowning beauty in this outstanding garden of unusual plants, trees and flowers.
The museum's entrance is almost like walking into a temple in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt. The stepped-walkway is lined with stone rams, pharaoh figurines and large urns of papyrus plants. Rows of beautiful soaring columns lead visitors to the huge copper front doors….and upon entering, a chance to travel back in time and discover the mysteries of ancient Egypt.
The Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum is an educational institution owned by the Rosicrucian Order, who opened its doors to the public in 1928. Over the years, the artifact collection has grown to over 4,000 objects, becoming the largest display of Egyptian artifacts in western North America. The vast majority are authentic ancient artifacts, although as a teaching institution, educational replicas are often used for learning workshops.
As my father and I wander the "Daily Life" exhibit gallery, we discovered "everyday" objects, centuries old. Here, tablets, covered with writings, filled one display wall, documenting everything from household goods to Pharaoh's orders. One rare terra-cotta tablet was cylindrical shaped, like an giant oval bead and covered in cuneiform (wedge writing) script. It was a written proclamation by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon in 604 B.C. and was found buried in the temple of the Sun God. It is one of only four of its kind known to exist. Beside this was another intriguing tube-shaped tablet, crafted hollow, so a hand-held rod could be inserted and the inscribed tube could be inked, then rolled upon papyrus paper, creating a printed written page. Many of the flat tablets depicted animals, which were often Egyptian gods, and the colors were so vivid that they looked as if they had just been painted.
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The "After Life" gallery had an outstanding exhibit of mummies and tomb objects. Most of the mummies were animals, including bulls, cats, birds, wild jackals and even a crocodile. Many were beloved pets, including one gazelle, which were often favorite pets of royal ladies. Four human mummies are on display, several complete with their sarcophagus (casket) and burial items. One male mummy even has his own unique mystery….an X-ray showed he had a metal pin in his leg. It is unknown if he had had knee surgery before he was mummified, several thousand years ago, or if his leg was attached after he died. Beside the mummy were beautifully carved alabaster canopic jars. It was in these urns the internal organs of the dead were preserved in the tombs. Each urn was topped with a carved representation of a head of an Egyptian god (animal) and was suppose to protect the organs into eternity.
I remember when I first went with my father to this museum, one of my favorite exhibits was the Pharaoh's Tomb. This carefully detailed Rock Tomb, modeled on several originals in the Beni Hasan desert and the Djoser Step Pyramid complex, was crafted by the museum staff and volunteers and is definitely well worth the trip to the Egyptian Museum.
I was delighted to again explore the tomb, entering through its dark cave-like rock opening. As before, I found it almost mystical when we walked through the dimly lit narrow hallway…. the rock walls lean close and are cool to the touch. It feels as if we are deep underground, inside a great pyramid, the Pharaoh's Tomb.
Around the first corner is a door…but it is one of the famous "false doors" famously found in Egyptian tombs….so we keep walking down the torch-lit tunnel. Beyond, we stepped into a room, its walls vividly painted with hieroglyphics, life-sized animals and dozens of humans. Even the ceiling is brilliantly painted with stars on a dark-blue night sky. In the middle of the room we look into an opened pit, where a sarcophagus lays, its top aslant and broken, its interior seemingly empty…..
"Where's the mummy?" my dad whispers…. and I'm suddenly 12 again and VERY happy my father is standing beside me on this Egyptian adventure! ❖