Seated statue of Hem-iunu

Sitting statue of Hem-iunu at its excavation

The seated statue of vizier Hem-iunu is a one of a kind monument of it’s time. No other private people’s image comes even close to the dimension of the famous figure in Hildesheim. The quality of the stone and the workmanship are also extraordinary. The statue was found in a chamber of his tomb, which is situated in close vicinity to the Cheops Pyramid. Even though the tomb was looted during the Roman period, the figure of Hem-iunu remained. That might be due to the fact that the statue is extremely heavy: It weighs more than a ton. The massive damage of the head leads to the assumption that the eyes were made of quartz. Tomb robbers have forced them out, so that the face had to be reconstructed in a modern way.

The figure was in a small above-grounded room, a so called Serdab, which is adumbrated in the exhibition. It was standing behind a false door and could therefore not be seen by visitors of his tomb. Statues in such chambers were not meant to represent the dead in an earthly context, but were exclusively built for living on beyond. What is unusual is Hem-iunu’s liveliness, because other figures from Serdab are normally shaped timeless and without individual features. Hem-iunu’s head rather shows similarities to the so called reserve heads, which depict the dead in a naturalistic way and were found in the area of the coffin chamber. Hem-iunu’s stoutness is particularly conspicuous. The chest seems almost feminine, the stomach has several folds, the stoutness of the legs evokes the image of tree trunks. All this, like his size, are signs of wealth and power. The real looks or appearance of Hem-iunu can not be imagined precisely from this.

An inscription on the statue’s foot plate provides considerable information on the high status of Hem-iunu and his influence in the Egyptian state:

The Prince and Mayor, Taiti [title of an official] and Sab [title of an official], the Vizier and Keeper of the seal of theking of Upper and Lower Egypt, the Guardian of Hierakonpolis, he who is responsible for the seating arrangement, the Priest of Bastet, the Priest of Schesemtet, the Priest of the ram of Mendes, Keeper of Apis, Keeper of the white bull, who is loved by his lord, des eldest of the working area, biggest of the five of the house of Thot, who loves his lord, the only friend (of the king), Hem-iunu. Master of the scribes of the king, Master of [unknown title], Leader of the singers of Upper and Lower Egypt, Overseer of all works of the king, the bodily child of the king, Hem-iunu.

The Old Kingdom

The sitting statue of Hem-iunu in the exhibition

The first part of the permanent exhibition concentrates on the beginning of ancient Egypt history (ca. 3250 – 2707 BC) until the culture’s first revival during Old Kingdom (2707 – 2216 BC). The subject “From Mastaba to Step Pyramid” sums up evidence of the prehistoric age as well as the early worshipping of gods, but also the first examples of arts and crafts. The visitor understands how simple pit tombs evolved into pyramids. Already on ancient world the Pyramid of Cheops was declared one of the Wonders of the World.

The architect of this monument was Hem-iunu, the nephew of Pharaoh Cheops. A whole room is dedicated to him and his time. The sitting statue of Hem-iunu is the most famous exhibit in Hildesheim’s collection and therefore the centre of the exhibition. In the subject area “Giza and the Great Pyramids” this one-of-a-kind figure and other objects from dignitaries’ tombs show the lifestyle of the ruling class at that time. Funerary objects like tomb statues, tomb reliefs, false doors, so-called “reserve heads” and the extraordinary head of Pharaoh Chephren’s statue, as an example of royal art, still show the cultural revival and wide range of power during that time.

A touch screen monitor provides further information on particular exhibits and the sites, where they were found. By using this multimedia station the visitor can virtually participate in the excavations in Giza. Old photos, letters and the excavation’s documentary form a picture of scientific searching for clues.

Objects from the late Old Kingdom highlight another aspect: “From the times of Solar Temples” presents the monuments of the 5th dynasty (2405 – 2347 BC), among them the famous statue of the writer Heti.

Following the chronological development, the visitor encounters servant figures, which especially appeared in the Old Kingdom. They should provide the deceased with everything necessary in the afterlife and show, among other tasks, the process of grinding grain, baking bread and brewing beer.

Life at the Nile

Agricultural everyday life in ancient Egypt ©Roemer- und Pelizaeus-Museum

In the second part „Life at the Nile“ more than 600 exhibits show the diversity of everyday life in Egypt. The first room, themed “Horus and Saviour”, is dedicated to Ancient Egyptian religion. The exhibition design simulates a temple entrance in front of which statues, and temple equipment represent the variety of Egyptian Gods. This kind of installation enables the visitor to experience the objects like in their original contexts at their original sites.

So it is also possible to reconstruct the difference between temple cult and ordinary people’s personal religiousness. The extraordinary group of the so called Horbeit-stelae, which depict private people praying to Pharaoh Ramesses II, should be mentioned especially. The reliefs from the Amarna period highlight the first belief in just one god (monotheism) in Egypt. But monotheism does not prevail until the dawn of Christianity, to which a special area is dedicated. With the theme “Commerce and Craft” a bazaar street has come to life in the second room. The visitor can stroll from booth to booth and experience the great diversity of ancient Egypt’s economy. Agricultural models from the time of the Middle Kingdom convey an animated impression of the daily working, whereas coins show that monetary transactions were primary brought there by the Greeks. Besides trade handcraft is another important subject: Different materials, used by craftsmen to create their artworks, are introduced in workshops. In addition to glass, clay and stone, the focus lies on metal processing. The Roemer- and Pelizaeus-Museum owns a large collection of bronzes, blanks and models as well as casts, showing the steps of bronze casting very well. In the last room the visitor gets an insight into “House and Garden”. The exhibition design imitates an ancient Egyptian house, where the visitor can stroll from room to room with furniture, tiles, cookware, cosmetic and washing jars, textiles and precious jewellery. The jewellery belonged to private as well as royal owners. A model with removable rooftops shows the structure of a private house from the Amarna period (ca. 1350 BC) and allows detailed insight into the model. The final part of the exhibition is dedicated to the results of the Qantir excavations. Qantir is the former capital of Ramesses II, where theRoemer- und Pelizaeus-Museum organizes diggings for more than 25 years.