ATHENS, Greece: A priceless ancient Egyptian collection opened to the public Wednesday, featuring a wooden body tag for a mummy, a stunning bronze statue of a princess, and a 3,000-year-old loaf of bread with a bite-sized chunk missing.
The National Archaeological Museum in Athens is putting more than 1,100 pieces from the collection on permanent exhibition, as more of its halls open to the public following years of renovation.
The previous Egyptian display, shelved six years ago, included just 350 artifacts.
Most of the current collection – which museum officials say is one of the best in the world – has never been shown to the public before due to lack of space.
A further 6,000 Egyptian artifacts remain in underground storage.
One piece that made it into the display is the round, brown loaf of bread, which is missing a bite-sized chunk. Baked during the New Kingdom, between 1550-1075 BC, it was placed in a tomb for the occupant s use in the afterlife. Museum officials are unsure what happened to the missing bit.
Archaeologist Lena Papazoglou, curator of the museum s prehistoric, Egyptian and eastern collections, said Egypt s dry, hot climate helped preserve organic materials – food, wood and leather – for thousands of years.
The exhibition includes intact birds eggs, she said Tuesday. If you shake them gently you can hear the yolks rattling inside.
The exhibition centerpiece is a bronze statue of the princess-priestess Takushit, dating to around 670 BC. Standing 70 centimeters high and wearing a gown covered in hieroglyphs, the statue was found south of Alexandria in 1880.
This kind of bronze statue is very rare, said archaeologist Eleni Tourna.
At the other end of the sculptural scale is a thumb-sized bronze figurine of an African boy at a street market.
He has his wares spread in front of him and has dozed off in the heat, his pet monkey perched on his shoulder, Tourna said.
The miniature was made in the 3rd century BC in Alexandria, the Greek-Egyptian port city founded by Alexander of Macedon that grew into a major intellectual and administrative center.
Alexandria was the center of the then-known world, Tourna said. Like the New York of antiquity.
The exhibition includes products from what Tourna calls Egypt s death industry, such as pierced wooden tags from embalmers workshops. They were inscribed with the name and designated grave of the corpse, to avoid embarrassing mix-ups.
The core of the museum s Egyptian collection was donated more than 100 years ago by two rich merchants from Alexandria s then-thriving Greek community.
They had access to the art market and were able to buy top-quality pieces, Papazoglou said.
Other pieces were donated by the Egyptian government in the late 19th century, while some were excavated in Greece.
The relationship between Greece and Egypt, two of the ancient world s major powers, peaked in the Hellenistic era, between 304 and 30 BC. But interaction began some 4,000 years ago, during the Minoan period in Greece. Mycenaean pottery has been found in large quantities in Egypt, while Egyptian artifacts were excavated in the royal tombs and citadel of Mycenae, in southern Greece.
Another display due to reopen Wednesday at the National Archaeological Museum is the Stathatos collection, which focuses on ancient jewelry. In the future, museum officials plan to display important groups of glass, terra-cotta and ivory artifacts.
Built in 1866-89, the museum hosts some 20,000 exhibits from prehistoric to late Roman times.