Randa Baligh

Randa Baligh is an Egyptologist who earned her Ph.D. at Yale University. Randa also has graduate diplomas in Egyptology, environmental studies, and museum studies. She is a member of the specialized committee that selects the objects to be transferred to the New Egyptian Museum under construction in Giza. Randa lectures on Egyptian culture and civilization at the Diplomatic Institute of the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and is also involved in training licensed guides in Egypt.

Q: As a member of the committee that selects the objects to be transferred to the New Egyptian Museum under construction in Giza , how do you choose objects deserving a place in the museum? With the incredible variety and abundance of ancient Egyptian artifacts, it must be a great honor and responsibility to shape the experience of ancient Egypt that museum visitors will encounter.
A: From 1999-2000, I was part of a group of six who were assigned the task of going through the registers and storages to try and determine which pieces should go to the New Grand Egyptian Museum and which would stay in the Museum at Tahrir Square. In 2009, I was placed on a ministerial committee to present a report on the Grand Museum. With around 16,000 pieces in the present museum in Tahrir Square in Cairo and many more in the storage areas, the original plan was to select certain collections to go and leave masterpieces at the present Egyptian Museum in Cairo. The plan has gone through many changes. I enjoyed working at the museum so much and I will always be attached to the old museum and look at it as home. However, the new Grand Egyptian Museum on 117 acres of land represents the future and should provide excellent protection for the antiquities in terms of climate control, conservation facilities, as well as a more modern display which will display the pieces to their best advantage.
Q: How do Egyptologists explain the engineering sophistication inherent in the monuments, mathematics and surveying, shipbuilding, etc., even as long ago as 3000 BCE? What characteristics of life in Egypt 5000 years ago account for it?
A: Most history books dealing with different disciplines such as engineering, physics, astronomy, art, chemistry, calligraphy and even aviation, tend to have a section dealing with ancient Egypt as part of their historical development. The settled life in the Nile Valley must have allowed people leisure time to observe the stars and develop all these theories concerning creation, and to develop religious thoughts and ideas. Egyptians were very religious and had a deeply rooted belief in an eternal life after death. Their faith made them excel in their attempts to build great monuments to appease the gods and to ensure a decent after life with a proper burial. The burial of the king of Egypt or the pharaoh was a particularly important event since it was necessary to maintain the order of things and to keep balance in the universe. They did, however, go through a lot of trial and error! The builder of the great pyramid was Khufu or Cheops. His father Seneferu actually built three pyramids, and possibly a fourth. One of the pyramids is called the bent pyramid since it was built with two different angles of alignment and probably developed a massive crack in the base due to the larger angle. The ancient Egyptians were a hard working, inventive people intent on achieving perfection in everything. Their writings indicate a very developed work ethic and an atmosphere which encouraged learning and knowledge. Most princes had statues in the form of a seated scribe. Scribes, architects and doctors were particularly respected in society. As in the Islamic civilization that followed, ancient Egyptian scholars excelled in different specializations.
Q: Archaeological work has gone on in Egypt for several centuries – actually since the 9th century. What is the direction of Egyptian archaeology today – is the emphasis on excavating new sites or deepening our understanding the ones already excavated?
A: Archaeological and Egyptological studies are constantly developing to include new ideas in the disciplines. Since the year 2000, Dr. Zahi Hawass, the famous archaeologist has recommended more work on preserving and displaying what we have for a number of years as opposed to unearthing new discoveries all the time. Moreover, there will probably be a DNA analysis conducted on royal mummies in the near future which will tell us a lot about their parentage, genetic diseases, and other important aspects of their lives.
Q: Archaeological research has both identified the mummy of Hatshepshut and revealed her unusual position of power in the eighteenth dynasty as a [female] pharaoh. Are there other women known to have ascended to Pharaoh?
A: There were seven female monarchs in ancient Egypt including Cleopatra VII of the Ptolemaic dynasty. As a general rule, the king was supposed to be the personification of the male god Horus. Female monarchs were generally royal women whose husband or father died without an heir. However, women in ancient Egypt had many rights, such as the right to own property, and were allowed divorce and received a third of the husband’s property in divorce. Prof. Abdel Halim Nuraldin and Dr. Zahi Hawass, the former and present secretary generals of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, both wrote books on women in ancient Egypt since most societies measure their advancement by the way they treat women and the rights they give them. We had monarchs and grand viziers such as the Lady Peseshet in the 6th dynasty who held the titles She of the Curtain and Chief Physician. They were priestesses and even viceroys of the entire south during the 25th and 26th dynasties.