Glencairn Museum News | Number 4, 2011
Earlier this month the curator of Glencairn Museum boarded a US Airways flight to Germany traveling with much more than just his suitcase in the plane’s cargo hold. Ed Gyllenhaal was accompanying the Museum’s 4,400-year-old Egyptian "spirit door," which weighs half a ton, packed into three separate crates for shipping. The door, which comes from the 5th Dynasty tomb of Tep-em-ankh in the western cemetery of the Great Pyramid of King Khufu, is now an important part of a major international exhibition, “Giza: Gateway to the Pyramids.”
According to Gyllenhaal, “One of Tep-em-ankh’s titles was ‘the Priest of Khufu,’ meaning that he served in the mortuary cult of King Khufu, the builder of the Great Pyramid at Giza. This exhibition constitutes the first major Tep-em-ankh family reunion. Many museums around the world have worked together to make this possible. The Glencairn spirit door is now reunited with two other limestone reliefs from the tomb’s offering chapel. Other objects include a seated statue of Tep-em-ankh, a group statue of Tep-em-ankh with his wife and a son, and canopic jars, which once held the internal organs of the deceased. Statues, reliefs, and burial equipment have traveled from museums in Cairo, Paris, Copenhagen, Berlin, Leipzig, and Bryn Athyn. They are now together again for the first time since Georg Steindorff excavated Tep-em-ankh’s tomb in 1905.”
The exhibition is at the Roemer- und Pelizaeus- Museum in Hildesheim, Germany, which features one of the premier Egyptian collections in the world. The relief that adjoins Glencairn’s spirit door was sent by the Louvre Museum in Paris, France, and the spirit door of Tep-em-ankh’s wife, which adjoins the other side of the Louvre relief, was sent by the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen, Denmark. For four months these three parts of the tomb wall will be together again, reassembled like a giant—and very heavy—jigsaw puzzle.
The ancient Egyptians believed that a “spirit door” allowed the ka or soul of the tomb owner to pass through it, thereby connecting the world of the dead with the world of the living. Friends and relatives placed offerings before the door, located in the offering chapel, to allow Tep-em-ankh to receive nourishment during his new life in the Netherworld. The offerings, which included bread, cakes, beer, oxen, fowl, and “every good thing,” are specified in hieroglyphs in the dozens of square compartments carved in stone between the two spirit doors. If the offering rituals were neglected, this so-called “menu list” would magically supply the deceased with whatever he wanted.
According to Gyllenhaal, “Glencairn Museum has played an important role in the story of Tep-em-ankh. In the early 1980s David Pendlebury, a graduate student who was cataloguing Glencairn’s Egyptian collection, became interested in our door, which led to the re-excavation of the tomb under the auspices of the Pennsylvania-Yale Giza Mastaba Project. During the excavation 138 objects were recovered, and the team produced a complete photographic and epigraphic record.”
Glencairn’s spirit door will return to Bryn Athyn in August, where it will enjoy an updated and improved reinstallation in the Museum’s Egyptian Gallery. All costs associated with the loan, including important conservation work done to the relief by Linda Lennon, an expert conservator, are being subsidized by the borrowing institution. An excellent hardcover catalogue of the exhibition is available in German, Giza: Am Fuss der grossen Pyramiden (www.rpmuseum.de).