Egyptologist working to explore, preserve culture of nation
By James D. Watts Jr. World Entertainment Writer 7/23/98
Then, as Saleh points out some of the details, it becomes obvious that this object looks a great deal like a small airplane -- the round-tipped wings, the tail set perpendicular to the body.
"This is a toy," Saleh said. "It is made of wood, and children would throw it," he mimed the proper action, "and it would glide on the air.
"The configuration of this piece is very similar to the modern airplane," he said. "What makes this unique, however, is that it is more than 2,600 years old."
And that, Saleh said, sums up why the history and culture of ancient Egypt continues to fascinate the modern world. In Egypt's past are the roots of much of our contemporary culture, from religion to science to art.
Saleh makes these observations from a unique vantage point. He is director-general of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, as well as director- general of Development of Museums and Sites in Egypt, overseeing a massive project to establish state-of- the-art museums throughout Egypt to preserve and present the treasures that continue to be found there.
"We have so much to learn from the ancients," he said. "About art, architecture, tolerance, family, faith. The incredible feats of engineering they accomplished, the methods of crowd control they developed to accomplish projects like the Pyramids, the great obelisks. The discoveries in astronomy and chemistry. And throughout all their daily lives, they were concerned about what would happen after the end of life. That is why they strove to be honest, good people -- doing good work, raising good children, establishing a good reputation -- in order to guarantee for themselves a place in the afterlife."
Saleh is in Tulsa to meet with officials of the Philbrook Museum of Art, to explore the possibilities for an exhibit that would be presented at the Tulsa museum in 2000. The exhibit, drawn from the collections of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, would focus on objects associated with children and family life in ancient Egypt.
Saleh also will present two lectures during his time in Tulsa. He will talk about "Egyptian Masterpieces: Recent Rediscoveries" when he speaks at 6 p.m. Thursday at Philbrook, 2727 S. Rockford Road.
On Friday, Saleh will talk about ancient Egyptian caricature at the Arkansas River Historical Society Museum, in the Port Authority Building at the Tulsa Port of Catoosa, 5350 Cimarron Road in Catoosa. A reception will be held at 6 p.m., with Saleh's lecture beginning at 6:30 p.m.
These caricatures were a form of subversive literature in ancient Egypt -- a combination of "Aesop's Fables" and editorial cartooning. People wanting to speak out against the upper classes, or wanting to teach moral lessons in an entertaining way, would create drawings in which the characters were animals.
"It was a way to avoid punishment, by transposing one's ideas onto animals," Saleh said. "But it also was a way in which people could deal with their feelings of injustice -- they could express what was in their hearts in a satiric way."
Egypt has been a mecca for archaeologists for much of this century; even today, Saleh says there are as many as 100 archaeological excavations going on in the country at any given time.
One thing that has changed in recent years is the fate of the items found. Since 1981, it has been the law in Egypt that all archaeological finds remain within the country. The discoverers are entitled access to the materials for any publications they wish to create, but the objects cannot leave the country.
This is one reason for the massive museum building project that Saleh said should be completed by 2005, at a cost of between $500 million and $750 million.
"Discoveries are still being made all the time," he said. "Just recently an intact tomb of a high official, Iwfaa, who died around 700 (B.C.E) was found. The mummy was still in the sarcophagus, and his viscera still in the containers.
"Discoveries like these are thrilling, not only for archaeologists but for the Egyptian layman," Saleh said. "It proves that Egypt remains fertile, and that we are continually adding to the knowledge of our heritage."