Ramses & the Gold of the Pharaohs: Illuminating Ancient Egypt’s legacy at the Australian Museum


A new exhibition, held at the Australian Museum, Macquarie University, until 19 May 2024, aims to shed new light on the Egyptian Empire.

Using high-tech special effects, Ramses & the Gold of the Pharaohs will share artefacts from Egypt during the time of one the most recognised pharaohs, Ramses the Great, who reigned 1279-1213 BCE.

An exhibition to suit all ages

Dr Karin Sowada is the Director of the Australian Centre for Egyptology at Macquarie University; she says this exhibition is a great learning opportunity for people of all ages over the summer holidays.

“One of the world’s best preserved ancient societies is that of Egypt, owing to the dry climate and its well-preserved material culture,” she told EducationDaily.

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“Thus, children can visualise the ancient world more easily through the eyes of the ancient Egyptians and their temples and tombs, colourful art, statues, mummified bodies, and many beautifully preserved objects.

“Through this, they learn about how a group of people from the past visualised their world and made sense of it, including the cycle of life and death. From the study of ancient Egypt, students take away skills such as an understanding of how the past has shaped the present day, cultural differences, and past religious traditions.”

Ramses II led Egypt’s expansion

Ramses II was a military leader, warrior, and diplomat who lived for 92 years and ruled for 67.

Egypt expanded its national borders under Ramses; he negotiated the world’s first peace treaty and built cities, temples, and monuments.

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According to Fran Dorey, the Australian Museum’s Head of Exhibitions, “logistically, it’s been the biggest production we’ve ever had to do – an exhibition on steroids”.

Immerse yourself in a fascinating era

The exhibition utilises multi-sensory immersion, using sound and visuals to tell the riveting tale of one of history’s most prominent leaders – including the 1274 BCE Battle of Kadesh, a virtual reality experience of the rock-cut Abu Simbel temples in Nubia and the highly decorated tomb of his beloved royal consort, Queen Nefertari, in the Valley of the Queens. The star of the show is the coffin of Ramses II.

The exhibition will change the way we perceive ancient Egypt, says Dr Camilla Di Biase-Dyson, senior lecturer in Egyptology at Macquarie University’s Department of History and Archaeology.

“People from all walks of life will get an almost visceral sense of what life was like in antiquity. To be able to enter the most beautiful monuments in Egypt – without having to buy a plane ticket – will alter perceptions,” she says.

“The objects, too, are life-changing. Once you’ve seen that level of handiwork, you appreciate what people from those times were able to do.”

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Intensive study starts in senior school

Dr Sowada says that, although Egypt studies are already a part of the curriculum, the subject deserve a greater focus in schools.

“In NSW, Egypt is often introduced in the primary school classroom, but more intensive study begins in Year seven, and then again in Years 11 and 12 through the Ancient History syllabus,” she told EducationDaily.

“Ancient Egypt is included in the senior school syllabus in some states but not others. There should be a larger focus on Egypt, not only because students love it, but because ancient Egypt is a preamble to understanding the ancient Greek and Roman world.”

She told EducationDaily that there is much for big kids to consider about ancient Egypt as well.

“Ancient Egypt was a tremendously enduring society for nearly 3000 years,” she says. “Yet it also experienced ups and downs, crisis and regeneration.”

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A history lesson in coping with climate science threats

Climate science, Dr Sowada says, is helping us see the impact of environmental change over a long horizon in ancient Egypt and how society and its leadership coped (or didn’t) with existential threats – patterns of human behaviour and societal resilience that offer important lessons in how to prepare and manage such events.

“Many new discoveries have been made in the last couple of years, including a significant number made by Egyptian archaeological expeditions. We know much more about how the Egyptians prepared the dead owing to the discovery of mummification workshops at the necropolis of Saqqara near Cairo,” says Dr Sowada, adding that the “discovery of a hidden chamber in the Great Pyramid of Khufu was amazing”.

But with discoveries still being made – both in the laboratory and in the field – Dr Sowada says there are still things budding history teachers can share with their students.

“There is still so much we don’t know about ancient Egypt.”

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