COSI’s Lost Egypt Exhibition

A Send-Off from Lost Egypt Exhibit Producer, Kate Storm by Carli

It’s been an amazing summer with “Lost Egypt” at COSI. There were several particularly memorable experiences for me.

  1. After years of looking at a small table-top paper scale model of the exhibit, it was incredible to walk into the gallery for the first time and see the real exhibits and murals and walls. Seeing the large scale murals of Egypt, as well as Brad Feinknopf’s photos in the hallway, reminded me of our trip to Egypt.
  2. Watching visitors at our member event with archaeologists Dr. Mark Lehner and Ana Tavares from Ancient Egypt Research Associates, and Dr. Jonathan Elias from the Akhmim Mummy Studies Consortium, was so great. I got to introduce two girls who want to become archaeologists to Ana as they walked through the exhibit!
  3. I saw hundreds of people climb on the camel, build a pyramid, search out the archaeological clues from the Lost City site, move a pyramid block, discover artifacts, watch a show about the afterlife, come face to face with a mummy, explore tomb art, and study the forensic science behind mummies. I really hope we managed to capture some of the excitement and sense of wonder that is the science of archaeology, and share it with our visitors.
  4. We performed formal evaluations, received written comments, and overheard lots of conversations about “Lost Egypt”. We really value all the comments from visitors and colleagues – everything that was said about what you liked and didn’t like, what you found compelling, beautiful, or boring, is so useful in planning our future exhibits. Thank you to everyone who participated.

Now we’re preparing to close “Lost Egypt”. I feel a bit like I’m sending my kid off on her first day of school. “Lost Egypt”is heading out into the world to tour the U.S. for the next several years. It was the most wonderful, exhausting, amazing and challenging work project I’ve ever had. I’m so grateful for the help of Josh, Carli, Jenn and all the others at COSI who helped turn the idea into reality. And the Science Museum of Minnesota team who brought it to life was incredible – I miss working with all of you, and hope we can head off to Jordan or Greece or Mexico for the next adventure some day soon! It’s been a privilege to work on Lost Egypt, and I can’t wait to see what’s next.

An interview from the top of the world.

An interview from the top of the world.


Stump Dr. Mark Lehner by COSI
June 17, 2009, 9:36 am
Filed under: From the Field | Tags: , , , ,

Author: Carli

Dr. Mark Lehner, who was at the Lost Egypt exhibit opening, is featured in COSI’s weekly podcast segment called “Stump the Scientist.” This week’s question comes from a young girl who attended the Member Preview on the exhibit opening day. She wanted to know how old the pyramids were, and how anyone could tell their age. There may not be anyone on the planet better equipped to answer that question than Dr. Mark Lehner, Director of Ancient Egypt Research Associates and foremost expert on the Sphinx.

Dr. Lehner recently paired up with Dr. Zahi Hawass, of the Supreme Council of Antiquities to film a documentary about the Sphinx, the Lost City, and the AERA Field School. The filming was a chance for the two archaeologists to take a walk down memory lane together. According to Hawass:

“On the third day of filming, Mark Lehner and I talked about how we met over thirty years ago, and how our friendship grew as we worked together, starting our first excavation to the northeast of the Sphinx. We found evidence from the different ages that the Sphinx has witnessed, including the Old Kingdom, the New Kingdom, and the Roman Period. We have been working together for decades to understand this amazing monument, and I am so happy that the two of us could tell our story together – as two boys who met in front of the Sphinx, became friends, and grew up to reveal its secrets.”

Dr. Lehner talks more about the project in the AERA newsletter. For more of Dr. Zahi Hawass on the Sphinx film, visit his blog.

Another Day, Another Pyramid by COSI
November 11, 2008, 2:26 pm
Filed under: The Big Picture | Tags: , , ,

Author: Josh

Another big announcement out of Egypt: Dr. Zahi Hawass has just announced that a team of archaeologists has discovered the remains of a previously unknown pyramid at Saqqara, the 118th pyramid that we know of in Egypt.

Djoser Pyramid Complex

Djoser Pyramid Complex

You may recall that one of the stops we made in Egypt was in Saqqara, and it’s an amazing place. It’s the location of the first Egyptian pyramid, the pyramid of Djoser, and a great deal of Old Kingdom mastabas. You may also remember that this is the second pyramid to be uncovered at Saqqara this year, which seems unreal until you consider how much Egyptian history remains buried in the sand.

Consider this from Dr. Sarah Parcak, one of the Egyptologists whom we’ve had the pleasure of interviewing… Her work uses satellite imagery and other remote sensing methods to locate new archaeological sites in Egypt. When she compares the size and number of the new sites that she has discovered to the size and number of all current and previous Egyptian archaeological digs, she estimates that only 0.01% of the archaeological sites in Egypt have been examined!

There’s truly a lot of Lost Egypt left to find. Here’s another link that gives a taste of some of what’s left to be uncovered.

I know I’m going to keep an eye on Dr. Hawass’s website

Creating an Exhibit that Won’t Fall Through the Floor by COSI

Author: Josh

Exhibit design is exciting, and it’s definitely rewarding, but it’s not without its challenges.  Take for example the development that our “Pyramid Rock Challenge” as gone through to this point:

Our concept for this piece was to create an experience that gave visitors a taste of just what a daunting task moving the pyramid stones would have been.  We started out designing something that replicated the size of some of the largest stones.  This would have been a simple piece (a frame that showed in three dimensions the size of one of the stones), but it definitely would give a person a feel for just how big one of these stones really is.

Wooden Frame Model

Wooden Frame Model

As we thought about this more, we decided that we wanted to design a piece that was more tactile and preferably something that was more interactive (a place where visitors could do something rather than just look at something).  As we discussed this, someone came upon the idea of having a piece of limestone inside the exhibit that was the same size as one of the pyramid stones.  What a great idea!  People could touch the stone and even try to move it, and it would feel much more authentic than a wooden frame.

We contacted a local stone company, and they said they could provide a stone of that size (about six feet by six feet by three feet).  We even looked into getting two stones so that we could use one in the Atrium to let people know about the exhibit and one in the exhibit itself.  Unfortunately, that’s when physics started getting in the way of our plans.  We had originally figured that our floor (and the floors at other museums) could support a stone that weighed about 5,000 pounds.  Unfortunately, a stone the size of the pyramid blocks would weigh considerably more than that.  A cubic foot of granite weighs roughly the same amount as a cubic foot of limestone, and if you’ve ever been in Big Science Park you know that our 5,000 pound granite sphere is a lot smaller than 6’x6’x3’ (well, it’s a sphere and this would be a rectangular prism, but you get the point).   The size of the stone got even smaller after we spoke with an engineering firm.  It turns out that we needed to not only think about the weight of the stone, but also the weight of the forklift that would be moving the stone.  The forklift we use weighs around 3,000 pounds.  When lifting a 5,000 pound stone, most of the combined weight would be focused on the front two wheels of the forklift.  That breaks down to 4,000 pounds of weight per wheel (5,000 lb. stone + 3,000 lb. forklift / 2 wheels), and the maximum load the wheels could safely support on the upper floor of our building is 3,000 pounds per wheel.

So our 5,000 pound stone had to become a 3,000 pound stone.  That’s not a very big stone!   It became time to rethink the activity again.  And when we thought about it, we realized the intent of the activity was to show that while it would have been very difficult to move these stones, ancient Egyptian technology would have made it easier.  So we came up with this:

Sled Moving Activity

Sled Moving Activity

This lets the visitors move a weight over different surfaces using technology (wooden sleds and ropes) that would have been available to the Egyptians when they were building the pyramids.   It’s much more interactive than a big stone, and it should give our guests a good idea of how the ancient Egyptians may have moved these tremendous objects.  It’s also a lot less likely to fall through the floor, which makes our facilities people quite a bit happier.

Photo Panoramic Views of Giza and Cairo by COSI
March 5, 2008, 9:07 am
Filed under: Trip to Egypt | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Here are some images that have multiple photos stitched together to give you a panoramic view of what we’re experiencing. It’s pretty amazing:

Giza Pyramids and Cairo View from Mountain

View from the Giza Plateau

Night View of the Sphinx and Giza from the Ground

Ascending to Heaven by Carli
March 3, 2008, 11:45 pm
Filed under: Trip to Egypt | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Author: Carli

The world fears time. Time fears the pyramids. These monuments have defeated time. Built in 2650 BC during the “Old Kingdom” 4th Dynasty, these colossal structures reach 481 feet, use 2 million blocks of limestone, and weigh 2.5 to 15 tons per block. They cover 13 acres of land, built entirely on bedrock.

The architecture is flawlessly built at a 52-degree angle, with all 4 sides nearly equal, and the skillfully cut blocks each absorbing pressure from the layers above it. The word pyramid is actually Roman. The original Egyptian word is “mer” meaning “ascending to heaven.” And when you stand in their shadow, touching the cold 5000-year-old limestone, you truly feel like they could reach the sky.

Giza Plateau Panorama Video

At the Base of the Giza Pyramid Video

Interviewing Ana will be the highlight of my trip. She was eloquent, conversant, and the camera loved her. We asked her questions about the process of archaeology, the Field School, the Lost City, careers in archaeology, conservation / preservation, sustainability, her own goals and aspirations, and on and on. It was a remarkable interview and will result in incredible sound bites for both the exhibit and our media needs.

A Serendiptious Day of Interviews and Pyramids by Kate
March 3, 2008, 5:12 pm
Filed under: Trip to Egypt | Tags: , , , , , ,

Author: Kate

Group shot of us: Carli, Josh, and Kate
Our guide on this trip is a friend of Ana Tavares, co-director of the Giza Field School and member of the Lost City archaeological team. We called her yesterday, and met up with her today at the Giza Plateau. We were able to go behind-the-scenes and join her and part of her team at the Lost City site. They are currently dealing with the issue of rising groundwater at the site. Even though the excavated buildings have been back-filled with clean, sterile sand, the salt is still leaching to the surface in several areas, showing the effect on the architecture, as it flakes away.

Ana was amazing. She spent most of the day with us, letting us interview her on a variety of subjects and pose her on rocks, sand, and elsewhere for photos and the high-definition videography for the project. The time with her was more than any of us could have hoped for, and we overwhelmingly felt that this day alone made the whole trip worthwhile!

This afternoon another member of the team joined us – Jessica Kaiser. She is the author tell in the exhibit, and we interviewed her in the sand, with a pyramid behind her, on the exact spot where she and the osteology team had uncovered the bones. She told us about the field of osteology, and how she can determine gender, diseases, age, and other information from studying bones. She told us about the amulet necklace found with the girl, and its significance. All in all, it was an amazing and serendipitous day.

Getting ready – Carli Gives an Overview