Local Museum's Centennial Arrives With Global Exhibit

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The newly renovated Phoebe A. Hearst Museum celebrates today 100 years of displaying artifact collections from around the globe with a new 600-piece exhibit.

Shedding light on antiquated lifestyles of people from different eras and geographies, the new exhibit will be available for public viewing tomorrow when the museum opens its doors for the first time since it closed for renovations in October.

Among the rare pieces that will be on display is The Stele of Prince Wepemnofret, an ancient Egyptian slab that dates from around 2650-2150 B.C. It is one of the most notable artifacts of all of the museum's collections.

Only 14 stelae have been preserved in the world. The Hearst Museum houses four of them excavated in the early 1900's in Giza.

When the stele was uncovered, it was in extremely pristine condition, because it had been protected by another stone slab. The brilliant painted surface depicting the prince and other Egyptian symbols makes it one of the most remarkable and rare pieces on display in the United States.

Before being returned to the university, the piece, along with other artifacts in the university's ancient-Egyptian collection, traveled to the Musée du Louvre in Paris and the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.

Other prized artifacts at the museum include the limestone face of an Egyptian official, the woven shoes of ancient Chinese elite and an old Peruvian tapestry.

A climate-control device was installed in the museum gallery to regulate the humidity and temperature to protect the delicate collections. Also new to the museum is a permanent gallery devoted to one of the the country's largest collections of Native American artifacts.

Funds have come from private donations as well as the office of UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Berdahl.

Spanning a time period of over 6,000 years and originating from all around the globe, most of the university's highly valuable 3.8 million artifacts are locked away in four storage facilities on or near campus.

Many of the items that will be on display in March are from what was the private collection of museum founder Phoebe Hearst before it was turned over to the university.

Several pieces in the new ancient Egyptian display are the result of Hearst's collaboration with leading Egyptologist George Reisner, famous for introducing photography into the study of archaeology.

Barbara Takiguchi, coordinator of public programs, says the new displays are organized by time and geographical origin and demonstrate the changes in anthropology and archaeology over time.

"One of the things we are trying to do in our displays is provide a balance between the cultural and historical aspects (of the artifacts) and a balance between who collected the pieces and who made them," Takiguchi says.

By displaying artifacts that will capture people's attention and by adding narrative cards detailing the history of the pieces, Takiguchi says she hopes that the displays will provide better context.

"There are a multitude of stories that go along with each object," she says. "Through time and across geography, we want to show the overlapping human connections- rights of passage, birth and death."

Takiguchi says certain objects show how elements of the human condition transgress all boundaries of time.

Ranging from a carved wooden courting device of an ancient Chinese man to an oddly shaped black lump of salt, the items on display have vastly different histories behind them.

The story that goes along with each artifact and the pieces themselves are only the "tip of the iceberg" says Carol Redmount, curator of Ancient Egyptology. She says one of the greatest tragedies of the museum is that it has neither the financial support nor the physical space to show the many pieces of the collection that have interesting anecdotes behind them.

Though Redmount recognizes the need for more space, she says the grants from Chancellor Berdahl did help to improve the museum.

To celebrate the museum's centennial anniversary, museum officials are holding a ceremony tonight, expected to be attended by university elite.


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