The new Egyptian galleries at the World Museum

On Friday, 28 April 2017 at 9.45 am, I was sitting outside the World Museum in Liverpool waiting impatiently for it to open. Why? It was the official opening of the newly refurbished and expanded Egyptian galleries we’d been waiting nearly two years to see.

I headed straight up to the third floor with my trusty camera in hand. Even before getting into the galleries, I was impressed.

Visitors are greeted by some beautiful, large photos from Egypt on the approach to the entrance.

The corridor with the entrance to the gallery. There are photos of Egypt, such as the pyramids and a farmer gathering crops

The doorway to the galleries has a gorgeous representation of the sky goddess Nut, painted dark blue and covered in yellow stars, stretching over it.

The doorway to the Egyptian galleries. It has a reproduction of the Egyptian goddess Nut arching over the doorway. She's dark blue with yellow stars along her body

When you walk through the door, the new galleries stretch out in front of you.

Anyone who’d been to the galleries previously will know that the Egyptian collection was tucked away behind the Anglo-Saxon, Greek and Roman collections. Not now. The whole space that was the ancient worlds galleries is now the realm of ancient Egypt only.

When you first enter the galleries, a huge timeline and floor map of Egypt grab your attention. The timeline has niches along its length, containing artefacts from the relevant periods. There’s replicas of artefacts low down for children to touch, and ‘elsewhere in the world’ events to help visitors get a sense of historical perspective.

A large timeline of Egyptian history on the wall. There are niches in the wall containing artefacts from the different periods

The galleries then move through displays covering the Nile valley and some of the religious and funerary aspects of Egyptian life.

Eight objects displayed each in a tall, rectangular perspex case on blue stands. Behind them is a large photo of a rocky bank on the Nile mounted on the wall

Coming around to the far side of the gallery is a section on Nubia, and the enormous, granite sarcophagus you might remember from the old galleries (the only item, understandably, that never actually left the galleries throughout the refurbishment).

Looking across the gallery past the 'African Kingdoms' section, displaying Nubian artefacts. There's also a large, granite sarcophagus in the middle of the room

There are displays covering excavation and collecting, then you reach the Mummy Room.

Looking at a yellow, curved display case entitled 'Collectors'. There are eight tall, rectangular windows, each with a small number of artefacts displayed in each one. The centre window has a large, ceramic container in it

The doorway to the Mummy Room’s flanked by the two Sekhmet statues that used to sit at the bottom of the museum’s main staircase.

The entrance to the mummy room. The museum's two large, stone statues of the goddess Sekhmet are either side of the doorway.

The room itself is beautifully lit and the coffins and mummies thoughtfully displayed. The back wall’s covered with a most amazing reproduction of a funerary text.

The mummy room - there are two coffins with their mummies. The coffins are open, with the mummies and coffin lids suspended above each other. The room is quite dark with lighting over the mummies

There are then two further rooms with more funerary goods. These were the two rooms that were the afterlife rooms in the old galleries. There are pages from the Book of the Dead, more coffins and a case containing a lot of shabtis. I did wonder to myself how long it took to come up with the ordering of the shabtis in the case …

A case full of shabti statues.

Returning to the main gallery, as you come back towards the entrance, there are information panels covering topics such as animals in ancient Egypt and heart scarabs, with more artefacts to see. There’s also a really fun ‘make your own deity’ activity for the children.

Looking down the main gallery towards the timeline on the wall. There are a couple of people looking at the timeline

Old favourites

There are, of course, a lot of items from the old galleries on display. Though it did feel a little strange seeing them displayed so differently.

But, the new displays are just gorgeous. There are curved cabinets with large windows, allowing objects to have their own space. These, and the tall, rectangular cases for individual objects look familiar. They’ve either been inspired by, or were reused from, the Mayan exhibition at the museum a couple of years ago. Not that I’m complaining; the Mayan exhibition was amazing, and the displays work very well.

A few of my old favourites that jumped out at me are:

  • Some of the stone items, such as stelae and the pyramidion of Nefer-ron-pet. They were crowded and hard to see in the old galleries. Now, they get their own space and are lit better so you can see the inscriptions more clearly
  • The inscription from the tomb-chapel of Ptah-shepses no longer has its own niche, but welcomes visitors to the Sacred places section (right, top)
  • The Rameses III girdle – one of the highlights of the collection – has better lighting than before
  • The pages of the Book of the Dead are now displayed in a sloping case, making them easier to see, especially for smaller people. Again, the lighting is superior to that of the old galleries
  • The shabtis are no longer tucked away at the back of a small room. They have a much larger case and are very beautifully laid out
  • Papyrus Mayer B (another of the collection’s highlights) from the corpus of tomb-robbery papyri has its own case and is now upright, rather than lying flat, making it much easier to see
  • The Greco-Roman sculptures are better arranged and lit and, again, not tucked away at the back of the room (right, bottom)
A hieroglyphic inscription on limestone from the tomb chapel of Ptah-shepses. It's been broken in a few places.
The inscription from the tomb chapel of Ptah-shepses
A collection of Greco-Roman sculptures of Egyptian pharaohs and deities
Greco-Roman sculpture

New displays

The redesign has included some major improvements to the way objects are displayed.

All around the galleries, at a low level, are lots of things to touch and feel, making it more interactive for the children (though I did see a good few grownups bending down to have a go, too).

A replica carving of the hieroglyps spelling out the name of Khufu. The text next to it encourages visitors to feel the carving

The bigger space and the new cases, as I’ve already mentioned, resolve the problem of overcrowding in the old galleries.

More objects get their own space and some, such as the stela of Sobek-em-hat, have reprints of archival photographs, giving the objects more context.

A carved, painted funerary stela in a display case with an old photo of it in situ when it was first discovered above it

Some artefacts, such as inscribed scarabs and a selection of shabtis, either have mirrors underneath them or are in narrow, double-sided cases, so visitors can get right up close and see both sides of the objects, such as this shabti in a double-sided display case.

A shabti viewed from the back. It has an old, handwritten label in beautiful cursive script, from many years ago

Thumbs up or down to the World Museum?

I’m sure this will come as no surprise to you, but I’m blown away by the new galleries. The large space and new display cases are a vast improvement. Overcrowding is no longer an issue. The lighting is just beautiful. The colours and images on the walls are gorgeous.

The galleries are now second only in size in the UK to the British Museum; it’s certainly worth a special visit to the city to see.

The only thing that might an issue for some people is that the expansion of the Egyptian galleries means there’s no Anglo-Saxon, Greek or Roman displays now. As far as I know, the museum doesn’t have plans at the moment to get these collections back out on display, though I think that’s more a matter of logistics than anything else. This may change in the future. For now, The Atkinson in Southport has some of the Roman sculptures on display.

Before I go, I have just a couple of things left to mention:

If you visit the museum keep an eye out for these little guys. Dating to the reign of Rameses VI, they’re not going to win any beauty awards, they but sure do have a certain charm to them.

Three small shabtis. Unlike many shabtis that are beautifully carved and inscribed, these are crudely shaped, with the text, faces and arms painted on in black ink

Also, my one-and-only complaint is that there’s no bench in front of this coffin stuffed full of gorgeous hieroglyphs for me to perch on. I could sit and stare at this all day …

Looking inside the top half of a coffin. It's filled with neat rows of hieroglyphs written in black ink

Have you been to see the galleries yet? What did you think? Do you have plans to travel to the city to see the collection? Do you think it was right of the World Museum to sacrifice the Roman, Greek and Anglo-Saxon displays in favour of the Egyptian? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section.

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Unless otherwise credited, all photos on in this post are © Julia Thorne. If you’d like to use any of my photos in a lecture, presentation or blog post, please don’t just take them; drop me an email via my contact page. If you share them on social media, I’d appreciate a link back to this site or to one of my social media accounts. Thanks!

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