Dutch Archaeologists Banned from Excavating Saqqara Necropolis in Egypt

A team of archaeologists has been barred from conducting excavations in Egypt’s renowned Saqqara necropolis, a significant burial ground located south of Cairo and home to the Egypt’s oldest pyramid, due to a contentious exhibition which sparked condemnation from Egyptian Authorities. This ban adds onto the ongoing debate surrounding the portrayal of ancient Egypt and its cultural heritage.

The ban came after the museum unveiled its exhibition, which was accused of presenting an “Afrocentric” perspective and falsifying history. The National Museum of Antiquities (RMO) in Leiden, Netherlands, received an email from the head of foreign missions of the Egyptian Antiquities Service accusing the museum of “falsifying history” with its “Afrocentric” approach in the exhibition leading them to deny the institution a permit for the upcoming excavation season at Saqqara.

The “Kemet: Egypt in Hip Hop, Jazz, Soul & Funk” exhibition, which runs from April to September explores the influence of ancient Egypt and Nubia on musicians of African descent. It delves into the depiction of the ancient Egypt in music and showcases contributions by renowned artists such as Beyoncé, Sun Ra, Rihanna and Miles Davis by examining the messages conveyed through their music, this exhibition seeks to bridge the gap between ancient Egyptian culture and contemporary musical expressions. Beyoncé and Rihanna have both appeared on stage or in music videos as the Egyptian queen Nefertiti, and the cover art for Nas’ legendary album I Am depicts him as the Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun.

During her performance at the 2018 Coachella festival, Beyoncé donned a costume inspired by Nefertiti.

The exhibition, sadly, has faced criticism, primarily from Egyptians who find it disrespectful, arguing that the museum is propagating a skewed representation of ancient Egyptian culture. This has led them to leave racist and offensive remarks on RMO’s social media pages. In response to this controversy, the RMO has added a note on its website explaining what the goal of this exhibition is, additionally, they have also pledged to remove the offensive comments from its social media platforms.

This shady entanglement isn’t the only one Egypt has been involved in lately. Recently, Egypt also objected to the portrayal of their ancestors in a recent docuseries on Netflix, Queen Cleopatra which depicted her as a woman of colour. Zahi Hawass vehemently opposed the representation, “no one with even a little education could make a film showing Cleopatra as black,” and he did not shy away from being rude about it!

These controversies underscore the ongoing discussions surrounding the interpretation and representation of ancient Egypt’s cultural heritage, the museum encouraged people to “visit the exhibition and form their own opinions,” emphasizing that it “welcomes respectful dialogue on the cultural heritage of Egypt and Nubia.”

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