In the 19th century, two years before the publishing of Charles Darwin’s Origin of species, English naturalist Philip Henry Gosse published Omphalos, an attempt to reconcile theology and evolutionist biology. Darwin had demonstrated that some fossils were billions of years old, much longer than the thousands of years that the Genesis states the Earth to be. In response, the omphalos hypothesis proposed that in order to create a logical world, God had created men with navels (as Adam was represented in painting at that time), trees with growth rings and footprint and fossils much older than the moment of their creation. In other words, God created artefacts not meant to compose a present or a future, but rather to construct a past. More specifically, a past much older and much greater than the moment of their creation.
How does a civilisation tell itself its own history? How does a museum operate as a political and cultural Statecraft device? Omphalos delves into a past set in dispute, not only in its understanding, but also in its chronology. Archaeological artefacts currently function as disputed touchstones of a past not necessarily as old as it is wanted to appear.
The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities houses the world's largest collection of Pharaonic antiquities, approximately 120,000. Since 1902 it is located in the heart of Cairo in Tahrir Square. This area was the playing court of the 2011 revolution which overthrew the military government for two years after which a military coup reestablished the regime. During the revolution, a mob broke into the museum destroying two mummies, damaging several other objects and stealing 50 artefacts. 25 of those artefacts were recovered and put in display in 2013 two months after the military regime was re-established. The exhibition was titled Damaged and restored.
Since the military coup, the square and the museum exist as political hotspot. A symbol of both contested freedom and the revolution. The square is highly militarised and a disputed spot for the current regime. In the first place, to suffocate any attempt of insurgency and secondly to protect the tourists visiting the museum. In 2010, tourism provided revenues of $12.5 billion, 11% of the GDP and employing 12% of the workforce in official records (estimated to be more than a third in submerged economy). In 2013 after the political convulsions, revenues were less than half, the country starved in absence of any other funcional industry.
The Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM), currently under construction, is planned to be the largest archaeological museum in the world. Sited far from the center of Cairo, next to the Great Pyramids of Giza, the museum is part of a plan to revitalise a neighbourhood heavily depressed after the downfall of tourism.
2002: Then-Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak laid the foundation stone of the new Grand Egyptian Museum.
2006: The Statue of Ramses II -estimated to be approximately 3,200 years old- is moved from Ramses Square in Cairo to the Giza Plateau, in anticipation of the construction of the museum.
2009: Tendering is due in September, with an estimated completion date of 2013.
2011: Egyptian Revolution: Hosni Mubarak resigns and Egypt holds its first parliamentary election in November.
2012 - January: During the power void, a joint venture between Egyptian and Belgian construction giants is awarded the contract for $810 million (approximately 6500 million Egyptian Pounds).
2012 - June: Mohammad Morsi, initially a backup candidate and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood (a fundamentalist muslim party) becomes the president with 25.5% of votes after the main candidate is disqualified.
2013 - June: The military regains sovereignty after a violent coup d’état and the general Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi becomes president.
2015 : The Minister of Antiquities announced in 2015 that the museum will be partially opened in May 2018.
2018 - May: The last of King Tutakhnamun's chariots was moved to GEM. Latest scheduled opening is now November 2018.
2018 - November: The estimate for a full opening is pushed back to 2020.