COSI’s Lost Egypt Exhibition


Is This How the Ancient Egyptians Built It? by COSI
September 9, 2008, 8:20 am
Filed under: Construction News | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Author: Kate

This is one of the rooms that will be in the Lost Egypt exhibit – an area talking about tombs, artwork and hieroglyphics.

Hieroglyphic Room 1

Hieroglyphic Room 1

When the ancient Egyptians built the pyramids and tombs, they used solid materials like limestone and granite. On the Lost Egypt project, we need materials that are going to be durable (although not quite as durable as the Pyramids!) to last for the entire 6+ year tour of the exhibition, as it travels around the U.S., but also lightweight and easy to assemble at each new location. Wood panels that fit together using camlocks are a good solution. Showing up at the next venue with semi trucks filled with limestone ready for assembly would be a bit challenging….where are those pyramid builders when you need them?

Hieroglyphic Room 2

Hieroglyphic Room 2

Hieroglyphic Room 3

Hieroglyphic Room 3

We modeled the front façade of this room after the Karnak and Luxor temple complexes we saw in Luxor, Egypt. Transforming the simple wood structures into something that looks like stone is going to take some work, and involve the help of our Science Museum of Minnesota partners and scenic painters.

Temple Complex

Temple Complex



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.



The Egyptian Goddess, Sekhmet, and Me by Kate
March 5, 2008, 8:23 pm
Filed under: Trip to Egypt | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Author: Kate

We’ve had the most amazing time here – it doesn’t seem real. The pyramids, the Sphinx, the tomb of Ptah-hotep, the Step-Pyramid, the Bent Pyramid, holding ancient pieces of flint and pottery in our hands, meeting Ana Tavares and her team, seeing camels, the Andalusian Garden, watching our guide read hieroglyphics, and always, the desert. The sand and the warm wind and the feel of it. Timeless. Whispering secrets of the past. This place will never again be a stranger to me, a place to be experienced only from books and other people’s stories.

The sunrise over the desert this morning was incredible! The window of the plane faced east, and I watched as the sky went from velvet dark to the fire of day, a crimson stripe spreading slowly across the horizon. The late phase crescent moon hung near the horizon, reminding me of the mosques we’ve seen.

Once we landed in Luxor, we headed first to the Luxor Temple, and then to Karnak. Each new row of columns was something to be discovered, with amazing scenes of Alexander (Alexandros) the Great and towering statues of Ramses II at Luxor, and the row of sphinxes connecting the two complexes. Karnak is indescribably beautiful, with golden light bouncing off the many hieroglyphic-covered columns, and the voices of hundreds of tourists calling to one another in every language, to look at the next amazing scene.

My best moment occurred when we were looking for images of the gods and goddesses of ancient Egypt with our guide, Bahaa. He showed me three worn statues of the goddess Sekhmet, who has the head of a lion and the body of a woman. She was a goddess of destruction to the ancient Egyptians but was also associated with medicine.

The statues were so old and damaged that only the bottom part of them was left on two of them, and on the third one, you could barely see her lion face. I feel a special affinity for this icon, so put my hand on the sun-warmed hand/paw of the most complete statue. Our guide saw this, and said, “Do you want me to show you a complete statue? There’s one here, hidden away where most people never see it.”

By pure serendipity (that’s been the standard for this trip!), I ran into Brad Feinknopf, our photographer, as Bahaa and I were walking towards the small tomb of Ptah (Brad had been photographing elsewhere on the complex until then). He came with me, far away from the tourists and noise, to a very small and dark set of two rooms. In one of the rooms, which was almost pitch black, except for a small rectangular hole about a foot across which had been carved into the high stone ceiling above, there was the faint silhouette of my favorite goddess.

She was large – probably 8-10 feet high – and standing, still and silent in the darkness. I thought there was no way Brad could get the shot – so little light penetrated the room. He set the camera to a very long exposure, with Bahaa’s niece and nephew standing impatiently beside us, and we all waited. And waited. Eventually, the image was done, and Sekhmet was brought to life in Brad’s photograph. Wonderful.



Some Colors of Life Never Fade by Kate
March 4, 2008, 7:19 pm
Filed under: Trip to Egypt | Tags: , , , , ,

Author: Kate

One of the most amazing things was seeing colors still on the walls after thousands of years. Many of the images of everyday life in Egypt were faded to the color of the original stone, but there were bits of rust-orange, blue-green faience, and ochre yellow contrasting with the warm brown of the stone.

We ended up at the Tomb of Ptah-hotep, which was absolutely beautiful. Relief-carved hieroglyphics were right next to intricate images of life in Egypt, with scenes of offerings to the deceased and scenes from life in ancient Egypt – people preparing food, a scribe writing, idealized figures of men and women in rich colors adorning the walls.

Yesterday I thought nothing could be as incredible as seeing the pyramids and the Sphinx – that every day after that couldn’t help but be a bit of a letdown. Instead, each day brings new surprises and stories.

Carli Asked Our Guide What the Hieroglyphics Mean