“That is a modern rope.”
He glanced in the direction of his mother’s voice showering upon him in a tone of disapproval. Eyes wide and wondering, they silently spoke back, “Yes it is. So what?”
The young boy’s arms stretched upward as his feet remained planted far behind; his shins, knees and pudgy belly skimming the earth below. Tightly grasped between his dimpled hands, the coarse rope swung slightly under his weight.
“That is a modern rope,” his mother repeated. “You can hang on modern rope anywhere. Today we are in Egypt. Let’s look beyond the rope. What do you see?”
Slowly, the boy’s feet walked their way under his hips and he was able to stand straight again. All three feet, six inches of his frame no longer needed the support of the ‘modern rope.’ Instead, they could move and explore, seeking to examine antiquities of Luxor’s West Bank. In front of him, stretching high into the bright blue skies, stood sand colored figures contrasting with vibrantly painted backdrops. The Osirian statues built thousands of years ago as representations of the transport of pharaohs to the world of the dead, simultaneously stood guard of the tombs of Egypt’s royal women. Appearing in a singular row, the stone men stand in matching form, feet planted firmly and arms crossed gently across their chests. From a distance, the Osirian statues combine to form the striped facade of just one columnar level of the three that make up the mortuary temple. The young boy stared in awe at the figures before turning to his mother once more.
“They are ancient. Am I modern?” he asked with an innocence only a child can muster. As he waited for her response, he too crossed his arms across his chest, hands in tight fists at opposite shoulders. His mother looked down with a glimmer in her eye and a slight upward turn of her lips. “Yes, you are more modern than even I!”
Below them, the first level is covered in more simple columns, creating a walkway for visitors to examine incredible images hidden at the back walls. These images illustrate some of the great events of Hatshepsut’s twenty year reign. For better or worse is up for debate, but these particular images are undergoing many changes as a team from Poland works to restore them to their original color and style. The restoration allows visitors such as the little boy and his mother to enjoy stories of old in a new light. Butt does this restoration also make the images less authentic? Like so many of Egypt’s treasures, if they didn’t undergo a facelift, it’s quite possible that time would continue to wear down on their appearance, and eventually their stories would be left only in photographs and books.
These books would one day be studied by this same little boy, who over time would come to realize the importance of this journey. Imagine the stories he’d be able to tell teachers and classmates as images of Sphinx and Pharaohs pass by on slides of future social studies presentations. Would they believe him? Would he remember?
As the little boy and his mother continued to wander, I lost track of them and reunited with two others I had met that day. One was on a short vacation from work stateside, and the other was an Aussie in the midst of a multi-year traveling binge. In an act equal to that of swinging on modern ropes, we joined forces to take a modern picture in front of the Osirian statues, our feet firmly planted on the stone ground, hands clutched in fists and arms crossed over our chests. While careful not to smile for the camera in order to maintain the sobering characteristics of our replicates, we broke into laughter soon after the shutter clicked.
From the temple, we continued to The Valley of the Queens and The Valley of the Kings. Neither allowed photographs inside, and both contain the most magnificently maintained stories of days gone by.
As I stepped inside the buried tombs of Great Egyptian Kings and Queens, my eyes and heart grew colossally. The colors were fascinatingly bright, as if they had been painted just days prior. Reds, blues, yellows and oranges overwhelmed the spaces as hieroglyphics danced along each tomb’s walls in perfectly formed tales.
King Tutankhamun’s tomb stands near the entrance to The Valley of the Kings. Surprisingly, it is a tomb so well hidden that it wasn’t discovered until November 1922, only months before a researcher’s multi-million dollar funding in search of the structure was set to expire.
Shamefully, I will let go of a secret here. Had you mentioned the name King Tutankhamun a few months ago, I wouldn’t have known that you were indeed referring to King Tut. Yet these experiences are leading to a more true form of learning, one that I’ve mentioned before as a marvel of traveling and one that the young learner at Hatshepsut’s temple was experiencing in ways he might not even be aware of.
King Tut, whose distinguished blue and gold Death Mask is perhaps the most well known artifact belonging to any 19 year old in history. Passing at a young age, the tomb of which he lay buried was composed of several rooms containing jewels, gold, walking sticks (it’s believed he had a severe club foot), perfumes and toys, and over 3000 other artifacts. Because of its cleverly hidden location underneath another more noticeable tomb, King Tut’s tomb remained sealed and therefore nearly untouched for thousands of years. Unlike so many other tombs in The Valley of the Kings and The Valley of the Queens, looters did not gain sufficient access to his tomb, leaving the thousands of artifacts intact and in pristine condition.
Lucky for us, the artifacts can now be found and enjoyed in museums around the world. Unlucky for us, modern day looters have made their way into those museums and destroyed or stolen some of these artifacts. Some things never change.
While a great deal of Egypt’s ancient relics have been lost over time, those that are remain behind modern ropes tell vivid stories strong enough to captivate even the youngest of audiences. Now if only I could read hieroglyphics, perhaps I could share a few more with you!