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14 December 2023

One of the world’s finest Egyptian collections comes to Canberra

The wonder of ancient Egypt with treasures from one of the world’s finest collections, is on show in the Discovering Ancient Egypt exhibition, opening at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra on 15 December 2023.

Ancient Egypt has captured the imaginations of people around the world and the show from the acclaimed Dutch National Museum of Antiquities (Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, or RMO) features stunningly decorated coffins, ornate sculptures, rare Book of the Dead scrolls, exquisite jewellery and mummified people and animals, including a cat and a crocodile.

Illuminating life in the land of the pyramids, Discovering Ancient Egypt offers visitors the opportunity to immerse themselves in an ancient culture that continues to inspire and intrigue.

Featuring rare objects never previously seen in Canberra, Discovering Ancient Egypt showcases more than 220 intriguing objects dating from 3700 BCE to 15th century CE, which illuminate ancient Egyptian rituals and their belief in an eternal afterlife, how their culture evolved and endured over millennia and how archaeologists have studied and recorded this rich cultural heritage.

The RMO is home to one of the world’s foremost Egyptian collections outside of Egypt.

With a focus on the RMO’s prolific archaeological work in Egypt over decades, the exhibition explores new insights into ancient Egyptian culture made possible through excavation, 3D-scanning and other new research undertaken by the RMO and its partners.

The exhibition highlights key archaeological moments such as the finding of the Rosetta Stone during Napoleon’s military campaign to Egypt, and the rediscovery of the tomb of the young pharaoh Tutankhamun.

Recent CT scans have been conducted on the mummified people and animals from the exhibition, with the results being made public in Australia for the first time via an intriguing digital interactive. These scans reveal valuable information that illuminates the lived realities and health conditions of ancient Egyptian people.

Other highlights include the first sheet of a long papyrus scroll that the priest Padikhonsu took to his tomb to ensure his passage to the afterlife; a necklace with a centrepiece depicting the head of a ram, a symbol for Amun ‘the king of gods’; and the outer coffin of the priest Panesy, which is adorned on each side with depictions of the sons of Horus.

Andrew Barr MLA, ACT Chief Minister and Minister for Tourism, said the ACT Government is pleased to be able to support the National Museum of Australia in staging this blockbuster exhibition.

‘The ACT Government’s Major Event Fund has an outstanding track record of supporting major events and exhibitions that generate significant benefits for our visitor economy. I am excited by the arrival of Discovering Ancient Egypt in Canberra, its fascinating artefacts and displays, and the opportunity to attract interstate and international visitors to the nation’s capital over an almost nine-month period,’ Minister Barr said.

Dr Mathew Trinca, Director of the National Museum of Australia, said the legacy of ancient Egypt continues to intrigue today.

‘Ancient Egypt’s enduring power is evident in societies still to this day, encompassing art, design, architecture and culture. Visitors are going to be truly captivated by this exhibition,’ Dr Trinca said.

The stunning art, exquisite jewellery, detailed sculptures and intricate funerary materials on show are mesmerising.’

Dr Wim Weijland, Director of the Dutch National Museum of Antiquities, praised the collaboration between the institutions.

‘The National Museum of Antiquities of the Netherlands is proud to collaborate with its Australian counterpart. It is important to show heritage and archaeology from all over the world in many museums around the world. This beautifully designed exhibition gives the visitor more knowledge and profound understanding of ancient Egyptian culture,’ Dr Weijland said.

Dr Daniel Soliman, curator of Egypt and Nubia collections at the Dutch National Museum of Antiquities, acknowledged the range of impressive experiences and the stunning objects featured in the exhibition.

Discovering Ancient Egypt shows visitors everything from the grandiose to the intimate. Masterpieces from the renowned collection of the RMO allow visitors to explore artistic creativity, daily life, writing, religious beliefs and burial customs of the ancient Egyptians. A board game, fine jewellery and private letters bring you deep into the ancient lives. Visitors will discover fascinating stories and behind-the-scenes insights into the RMO’s current archaeological fieldwork and its unique working relationship with museums, universities and the community in Egypt and Europe,’ Dr Soliman said.

Craig Middleton, senior curator at the National Museum of Australia, said the Museum had consulted widely on the exhibition.

‘We have consulted with Egyptian– Australian communities across the country and the Egyptian Embassy, acknowledging their role as the custodians of this ancient cultural heritage,’ Mr Middleton said.

‘We all know about the pyramids, and most of us can even name famous pharaohs. Alongside remarkable and well-known stories of ancient Egypt, this exhibition spotlights the lives and practices of everyday people, including women – Egyptians who lived, worked and prepared for their eternal afterlife more than 3,000 years ago.’

The five mummified people rest in a dedicated room of the exhibition space and include the women Sensaos and Ta(net)kharu or Tadis, the man Harerem, an unknown male and an unknown female. They are all preserved in their original linen bandages.

Discovering Ancient Egypt is the result of a collaboration between the RMO, the National Museum of Australia, the Western Australian Museum, and Queensland Museum Network. It is supported by the Australian Government International Exhibitions Insurance (AGIEI) Program. This program provides funding for the purchase of insurance for significant cultural exhibitions. Without AGIEI, the high cost of insuring significant cultural items would prohibit this major exhibition from touring to Australia.

Discovering Ancient Egypt is on show at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra from 15 December 2023 to 8 September 2024. Tickets $25

Media contact: Matthew Heap, 02 6208 5006, 0459 949 172 or

Photos: Contact Matt to download high res images of the exhibition and collection objects.

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