When the Houston Museum of Natural Science unveiled a state-of-the-art, $85 million Hall of Paleontology last summer, it was inevitable that a more substantial, permanent space exhibit to the wonders of Ancient Egypt would be next.
"People expect that," Dr. Dirk Van Tuerenhout, curator of anthropology at HMNS, tells CultureMap. "The dinosaurs and the mummies."
And visitors will get just that when a 10,000 square foot Ancient Egypt Hall opens on May 24 as the most thorough ancient Egyptian display in the southwestern United States.
"We're definitely trying to give people an immersive experience."
"It hasn't been legal to take objects from Egypt in 30 years," explains touring curator Tom Hardwick, who is helping to carefully and purposefully build up the museum's own collection of Egyptian material.
Although that process may be painstakingly slow, the museum has partnered with the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Roemer und Pelizaeus Museum in Germany; the Salford Museum and Art Gallery in Manchester, U.K.; the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University; and Chiddingstone Castle in the U.K. for a "permanently changing" display of items dating back more than 5,000 years.
As Van Tuerenhout tells it, a visitor will begin their experience in the Ancient Egypt Hall with an exhibition that focuses on the lay of the land — literally. A focus on the dessert climate, the River Nile and how its wildlife influenced the ancient Egyptian peoples' deities and day-to-day life.
Visitors will get a glimpse of that daily life, gain an understanding of the pharaohs, visit the interior of a temple, see three mummies and a dozen sarcophagi up close and personal before moving into the present day — the initial Western discoveries, the efforts in the 1920s and the new technologies in artifact gathering.
"We're definitely trying to give people an immersive experience," Van Tuerenhout says.
The Houston Museum of Natural Science Ancient Egypt Hall opens for members on May 24, with a public opening on May 31. Find more information here.