Archaeology’s Dirty Little Secrets by Sue Alcock Part 8 (Merenptah Museum)

Unit 8 Option #2: Museum displays

Visit a local museum or historical site (any ones, any where) and write a critique of its style of presentation.

Consider and respond to at least three of the following questions:

  1. What is chosen to be on display?
  2. How is it arranged? (By period? By subject?)
  3. How accessible and interesting are the displays to different parts of the population? (For example, would children or foreign visitors understand what is being shown to them?)
  4. What ‘story’ about the past does the museum or site try to tell?
  5. Would you tell others to visit? Why?

Appropriate questions will obviously depend upon the place you choose to visit. Images are optional, but helpful; please check first, however, the museum’s policy on photography.

Your response should be between approximately 400 and 750 words (with 750 as a maximum).


I have chosen the temple and museum at the temple of Merenptah, the heir to Ramses the Great and his 13th son, the rest all died before Ramses did. A site museum is very different from a normal museum as it only shows what has been found so there can be big jumps or gaps.

The site museum at the temple of Merenptah is very small but has some wonderful objects. What they have on display is discoveries made on the site during the excavations by the Swiss and although the temple is for a 19th dynasty king, objects from as far back as the 18th dynasty and Queen Hatshepsut have been found there. This is probably as they were reused; Merenptah reused lots of stone from other temples. The most famous being the Israeli stele but there is lots from the temple of Amenhotep III which is next door.


The first thing you see is several display boards detailing the work at the temple in the 30 years the Swiss were working there. There is a very good layout showing the differences between what they found and what early excavators said was there. Then the larger objects are arranged in chronological order starting with the earliest and finishing with Merenptah. Then there is a wall of coloured fragments and some display cases of smaller artefacts. My favourite piece is the jackal headed sphinx; they think there was an entire avenue of them going round the temple. There are also lots of human head sphinxes usurped from Amenhotep III. The idea of jackal headed sphinxes is that you are on the west back and this is the realm of Anubis. Ram’s headed sphinxes are on the east bank around the temple of Amun at Karnak, rams being one of his symbols.

The signage and display boards are in English and Arabic but with English predominating. It is not at all geared to children or to be honest lay persons or tourists, it is made by Egyptologists for Egyptologist although these don’t have to be qualified they would have to have a serious interest. There is not cafe, shop or rest area, just this small room.

What makes this museum unique is that only does it tell the story of the temple it also tells the story of excavation at the temple from the earliest excavation by Flinders Petrie in 1896 to the Swiss lead by Horst Jaritz 1971-2000, it describes the difficulties of excavation and the surprising things found.

I really like this museum and encourage people to visit as the way the Swiss have described things by use of diagrams is excellent. They have used steel or aluminium plaques which are engraved or etched, the entire context of the piece is shown and then the actual piece on display is outlined heavily. This makes it really easy to understand. Also in the temple itself, rather than building mud brick walls they have left the outline in carefully placed small paving stones, like cobbles, which give a great idea of the plan of the temple. By visiting other temples like Seti I and the Ramasseum which have more of the building remaining this is all you need to get a great picture of the building.

However, sadly it is not possible to visit the museum only the temple as something was stolen from the museum about 2 years ago and since then the authorities have locked it so my visit was not recent but I have been there over a dozen times.

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