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June 11, 2001

Renovations set the stage for mummies' debut in October

By Michael Terrazas


Portions of the Carlos Museum will be temporarily closed on a rotating basis this summer and fall as the museum undergoes moderate renovations before unveiling its new and vastly improved Egyptian and Near Asian collection—no small feat considering the Carlos already prided itself on its holdings from the land of pyramids.

Ever since the museum acquired the ancient Egyptian holdings of a Canadian museum near Niagara Falls in 1999 (for the price of $2 million, most of which came through donations from the Atlanta community), Director Tony Hirschel knew renovations would have to be made. Though the museum has displayed some of the pieces in limited exhibitions, the rest of the catalog has not be made public.

“It was clear that the community paid for this and we should move quickly, but our building was full,” Hirschel said. Another reason had to do with the objects’ scale; many pieces in the acquisition—now known as the Charlotte Lichirie Collection of Ancient Egyptian Artifacts—would be best displayed stood on end, and the current Egyptian galleries feature lower ceilings than other parts of the museum.

Basically, the two Carlos end galleries will flip, with the Ancient Americas holdings moving to the space presently occupied by Egyptian pieces, and vice versa. However other sections of the museum will close temporarily to facilitate the renovations. The Ancient Americas galleries have already closed. On June 24, the John Howett Works on Paper Study Room will close, and on July 9 the rest of the first-floor galleries will close, including the Greek and Roman, Egyptian, Near Eastern and Asian rooms.

But all the inconveniences will pay off in October, when the new Egyptian galleries debut, “New Acquisitions of Old Masters: Dürer to Delacroix” opens and “The Arts of India and the Himalayas” reopens on Oct. 6. At no point during the renovations will the entire museum close, and the third-floor exhibit, “The Collector’s Eye: Masterpieces of Egyptian Art from the Thalassic Collection,” will remain open throughout.

“[The museum] will be quite significantly transformed,” Hirschel said. “I think it will be very dramatic.”

However, visitors might be disappointed to learn that one of the more anticipated pieces in the Lichirie collection, the mummy believed possibly to be Ramesses I, will be kept in isolation and out of public view. Ever since Emory acquired the collection, researchers have been working to define a protocol by which they may determine whether this particularly elderly gentleman is in fact the only former pharaoh residing outside of Egypt. But Hirschel said the answer may be a long time in coming, if ever.

“It was easy to overlook in the enthusiasm [when the mummy was acquired], but the difficulties are significant” in making the identification, Hirschel said.

The most promising technique could be through a paternity-tracing method that tracks Y-chromosomes. The test gained some notoriety recently when it was used to try to determine whether Thomas Jefferson fathered any children with slave Sally Hemings.

“There are three possibilities—we find out conclusively that he is Ramesses, we find out conclusively that he is not Ramesses, or we never find out,” Hirschel said. “At this point, all three are equally likely. The mummy is almost certainly royal, but is he Ramesses? We may never know.”

Back to Emory Report June 11, 2001