The term culture is one that can be defined in many ways. Culture is defined as: the ideas, activities, and ways of behaving that are special to a country, people, or region. Museums such as the Field Museum attempt to give its visitors a sense of the culture and history of different countries, as well as a sense of US culture and history. In this quest however, museums often focus on one specific nature of the culture [of a country] and lose sight of the whole picture – the entire culture. After all, the US culture is primarily a capitalistic one, and museums – in addition to their quest to educate the American public – overemphasize what they feel is the most intriguing aspect of a specific culture. In this manner, museum officials are looking to attract more people and consequently bring in more money. Capitalistically speaking, it is in their best interest to overstress the parts of an exhibit to which the public will be attracted. In doing so, however, the museum visitor does not get an objective view of the culture of a country. The Field Museum’s approach to Ancient Egyptian culture attempts to cover all bases of the culture, but falls seriously short of doing just this. The Museum focuses too much on the Ancient Egyptian approach to death and the afterlife in a serious, informative aspect. This is done by the sheer location of the exhibit, providing numerous historical plaques, and by the mysterious, alluring atmosphere of the pyramid exhibit that the Museum gives to the visitor. Yet the Museum downplays the daily life of the Ancient Egyptians by pushing this less intriguing exhibit behind the afterlife exhibit, by providing few informative historical plaques, and by filling the exhibit with cartoons of the everyday life of the Ancient Egyptian, thereby simplifying the exhibit. Therefore, although the Ancient Egypt exhibit preserves a good sense of the preparation of death and afterlife aspect of the ancient Egyptian culture, it lacks in providing such a sound exhibit for the daily life of the ancient Egyptians, thereby portraying a false impression of Egyptian culture to the public.
Located on the first floor of the museum, the Ancient Egyptian exhibit attracts visitors immediately; the ominous immense pyramid creates a dark, mysterious presence, and invites visitors to step inside. The first impression of the exhibit is of a focus on death and the afterlife. This may lead to the false impression that the Ancient Egyptian culture was driven around embalming and entombing dead bodies. As one makes its way through the labyrinth of the pyramid, one is surrounded by recovered organ jars, tombs, mummified Egyptians and the artifacts that they were buried with. The walls of the pyramid are authentic limestone taken from actual sites in Egypt. Large woven tapestries hang from one of such walls and describe the afterlife and the gods involved. Gods are all represented as having animal heads, and bodies of humans. Wooden cases that would be placed inside the immense stone tombs, stand upright and are open for public viewing: hieroglyphics on the inside of the wooden encasing describe the procedure of the afterlife for the person entombed inside. The pyramid houses many mummies, some of whose wrappings have come undone and allow the visitor to see the actual body of the mummy. The pyramid is a very captivating exhibit, and it’s location – its proximity to the entrance of the museum creates a false sense of the Ancient Egyptian culture. A visitor who knows nothing about the culture is lead to assume that the majority of Egyptian life was used to prepare for the after life.
At the end of the pyramid, the visitor is lead to a small exhibit whose purpose is to portray a sense of the daily life of the ancient Egyptian. The location of this exhibit, behind the pyramid, gives the impression of being a less important and less frequent aspect of Egyptian culture. The visitor is lead through a less cramped exhibit of the every day live of an ancient Egyptian. There is a display in which one can “envision himself as an Egyptian”: the visitor can put his face up to a pane of glass, behind which is a model of an Egyptian face. The visitor is shown how he would look as a typical ancient Egyptian. This exhibit, while interesting and entertaining, has very little to do with every day life of the ancient Egyptian. Through out the exhibit, there are few artifacts, and even less information on the daily events of an ancient Egyptian. Two to three small, five-foot tall walls are painted with cartoon images of different scenarios that were “typical” of ancient Egyptian culture. This exhibit pales in comparison to the pyramid exhibit of ancient Egyptian life. In an attempt to give a complete view of ancient Egyptian culture, the Field Museum falls short. The impression that the museum gives to an uninformed visitor is that Ancient Egyptians spent most of their life preparing themselves for death and the afterlife. This is due to the set up of the Ancient Egyptian exhibit; the after life exhibit is put before the daily life exhibit, thereby making the afterlife more important and prominent.
In addition to the difference in location, another aspect of the Ancient Egypt exhibit promotes the emphasis on the afterlife and gives a biased view of the entire culture of the Ancient Egyptians. As one enters the pyramids, there are numerous informative historical plaques that give detailed information about the artifact or aspect of Egyptian life it is explaining. In contrast, the daily life exhibit gives little or no information on the daily life of the ancient Egyptians. As the visitor walks into the pyramid, he is presented with a plaque describing the hieroglyphics on the wall. The visitor is given a sense of the significance of the hieroglyphics, the meaning of them and the era in which they were written. Farther into the exhibit, there were plaques describing the significance and the role of the jars which contained the organs of the person being mummified. Some plaques described the hieroglyphics inside of the wooden cases that the mummies were placed, before being buried in the large stone tombs. This kind of informative plaques was given for several, if not all, of the exhibits in the pyramid. On the contrary, in the daily life exhibit of the ancient Egyptians, there were no plaques having as extensive information as in the pyramid. Of the few plaques that were in the daily life exhibit, they consisted of only the name of the object and the date that it was presumed to come from. Information maybe have been extracted from the five feet tall walls that were scattered through out the small exhibit: one of such walls shows a cartoon like scene of a man kneeling and holding up a cup. In front of him was a man holding a pitcher filled with some liquid. In between the men was a little description of the scene that said something to the extent of: ‘the man kneeling is at a bar and has been drinking. He is drunk and is thirsty for more! The bartender is going to pour him another drink.’ The purpose of this exhibit in the daily life exhibit seems fairly trivial and is not portrayed in the serious and informative manner as exhibits are portrayed in the pyramid. There are no plaques giving any further information such as the kinds of drinks served, the way a typical bar may have looked, or even the utensils used to serve the alcohol (i.e.: what the pitcher may have looked like), perhaps. Therefore, although the museum attempts to give the visitors an overview of ancient Egyptian culture, it gives numerous detailed descriptions of the procedures, significance, and roles that the artifacts in the pyramids played in ancient Egyptian life, yet gives very little or no information as to the daily life of the ancient Egyptian. The historical plaques in the pyramid are far more extensive than the few historical plaques in the daily life of an ancient Egyptian exhibit. This lack of sufficient information in the daily life exhibit further fosters a bias towards the importance of the ancient Egyptian techniques for preparing themselves for the afterlife, rather than giving the visitor a balanced view of Egyptian culture.
Another aspect of the exhibit that gives the false impression of an Egyptian culture that is infatuated with death is the atmosphere of each exhibit. In the pyramid, the artifacts and exhibit are displayed in an orderly, informative manner. There is information about each artifact, and the majority of the artifacts are enclosed in cases so that they are not destroyed. The mummies are enclosed in a special airtight chamber that ensures the preservation of the body and it’s wrapping. Artifacts found inside the tombs are displayed behind the glass cases to ensure that they are not broken. The pyramid has a grave and mysterious atmosphere; this mysterious atmosphere instigates curiosity. The artifacts are similar to a Pandora’s box that as visitors, we would like to open and find out what’s inside. The jars filled with organs are sealed; the plaques describe its contents, but it is natural to be curious to want see the actual contents. The tombs are comparable to Russian dolls which have many different layers within it; as soon as one doll is opened, there is another doll in side of that, and so on. There are many layers to the tomb, like the doll: the initial stone covering, the wooden casing, the wrapped mummy, and finally the body of the dead person. Some tombs have been dissected and taken apart, while others remain as is, in their wooden cases. This also evokes a sense of curiosity for the visitor. Along with the mysterious aspect which visitors fall prey to, there is also a lot of historical information provided with the after life exhibit. The historical plaques add to the more informative atmosphere of this exhibit, while the daily life exhibit lacks the educational and informative nature of the after life exhibit. The daily life exhibit consists of cartoon scenarios and “fun” activities, rather than the artifacts and information of the afterlife exhibit. As mentioned before, the scene with the bartender and the drunk Egyptian man gives very little information about the Egyptian culture: they knew about the effects of alcohol, and bars may have been an established part of their culture. The exhibit that allowed visitors to envision themselves as an Egyptian does not give any further insight to the Egyptian culture other than what the Egyptians may have typically looked like; rather, the exhibit is placed there for entertainment than information. In contrast to the pyramid exhibit, the daily life of an ancient Egyptian was more well lit (since it was separate from the pyramid), and gave the impression of being less mysterious and therefore less intriguing. The pyramid exhibit was more informative and stimulated more curiosity than the daily life exhibit, which seemed to be placed as an exhibit primarily for entertainment than an actual informative exhibit. The exhibits in the daily life exhibit were more tangible than the ones in the pyramid. This lended the exhibit to be less mysterious and evoked little curiosity – thereby being less captivating than its enigmatic counterpart. Therefore, the atmosphere of the pyramid and the daily life exhibit created an impression of the preparation of the after life as being the primal function of the Ancient Egyptians. The light, less informative, and “fun” atmosphere of the daily life exhibit does not give a sound background of the entire Egyptian culture; instead, it allows the visitor to focus on the more informative aspect of the entire exhibit, and they walk away with understanding that the Ancient Egyptians spent the majority of their life preparing themselves for death and the after life.
In its attempt to inform the public of ancient Egyptian culture, the Field Museum fails to paint a complete and informative picture. The Field Museum concentrates heavily on Ancient Egyptian methods and purposes of the preparation of the body for the afterlife, yet does not give much information on the daily life of the Egyptian. The Museum does this through their specific location of the after life and daily life exhibits, the historical plaques (or lack there of), and the strikingly different atmospheres of the two exhibits. This gives a false impression to uninformed; these visitors are not informed of the complete culture of the Egyptian. Thus, the Field Museum preserves a good sense of the preparation and preservation of the afterlife aspect of Ancient Egypt while lacking in having a such a thorough exhibit for the daily life of the Ancient Egyptians.