Visual Arts

Exhibit provides an education in ancient Egyptian life

From gilded wonders to everyday items that somehow lasted thousands of years, Excavating Egypt: Great Discoveries From the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, opening in Lexington on Sunday, offers an intimate glimpse into ancient life.

With 221 artifacts ranging from exotic golden funeral masks to a stone rat trap, the exhibit is the most extensive display of Egyptian objects to come to Central Kentucky.

"I don't think there has ever been anything like this before in Lexington," said Janie Welker, curator at The Art Museum at the University of Kentucky, where the exhibit will live through June 14.

With such an array of artifacts, all of which are on loan from the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology in London, it's easy to overlook some of the most fabulous. Here are some items that, for various reasons, merit an extra glance:

Mummy portrait on wood: What's stunning about this piece is the humanity in the simple painting. It is a realistic image of an ancient man, minus elaborate makeup or costume, who could easily be your neighbor.

Gold mask: Glorious in its detail, the mask shows a woman with carefully constructed ringlets and elaborate jewelry. The original glass eye is complete with eyelashes that would make J.Lo proud.

Block statue of Yey: This statue of a priest who lived sometime between 1279 and 1213 B.C. tells as much as it shows. The sitting position is one of submission, and the sculpture inside is of the god Plath, the deity to whom he devoted his life.

Wooden doll: The simple doll, with its stylized hair and womanly figure, is more than an ancient Barbie. It was probably used not as a toy but as a talisman of rebirth.

Dyad: Much like modern tombstones favored by couples, this single sculpture depicts a husband and wife. An inscription asks for continued blessings in the afterlife.

Bead and scorpion pendant: The exquisite detail of this necklace, like the tiny carved frogs, belies the true intent of the piece. The gold scorpion was intended to protect the wearer from the insect's sting. Not a bad idea if you are living in the desert.

Rat trap: You apparently can't build a better rat trap. This stone cage, which originally had a door attached to a trigger that would trap prey, operates on the same basic principle as some traps today.

Menat amulet: Even in 1550 B.C. a gal couldn't have too much bling. This type of amulet was originally created to be a counterbalance to elaborate necklaces but over time evolved into a piece of art unto itself.

Stela of Nesikhonsu: The inscriptions show the place of importance of the particular queen and her family held in Egyptian history. But the colorful remnants of pigment offer a glimpse into the grandeur of objects we've become accustom to seeing in shades of beige.

Mummy case: The rock star of any Egyptian exhibit is the mummy. And the UK exhibit has an elaborately decorated mummy case, though the body has been removed. It is made of cartonnage, a mixture of mud-plaster and linen.

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