Wadi El Sheikh study Click to enlarge image
Thomas Hikade and Sarah Carter studying artifacts from the Wadi El Sheikh quarry, Eastern Desert, Egypt. Image: Stan Florek
© Australian Museum

The Australian Museum’s Egyptian Collection includes over one thousand artefacts. It is probably the largest public collection of Egyptian antiquities in Australia. Nearly a hundred human remains were acquired in the late 19th century. By 1930 almost 70% of the Collection was assembled. Only a few artefacts were acquired in the second half of the 20th century.

The largest contribution to the Collection was the donation by Ernest and his brother Alfred Wunderlich (over 35%), followed by the Egypt Exploration Fund (30%). Other significant contributors were archaeologist John Garstang, Drs Schmidt and Mook, Arthur David and George H Abbott, who donated or sold their collections to the Museum.

Most of the artefacts have no archaeological documentation or data on their specific geographical origin, but some came from well known locations. These include Abydos, one of the most important archaeological sites in Egypt - the sacred city with numerous ancient temples and tombs. Another is Deir el-Bahari – a temple and mortuary grounds near Luxor. There also are artefacts from Edfu - with the temple of Horus, from Serabit in Sinai Peninsula; from Sedment – a large burial complex south of Cairo and from Beni Hasan in central-east Egypt.

One Ushabti figurine is believed, but not proven, to be from the tomb of Amen-em-Heb - a minister of war - in Thebes and one ceramic pot is believed to have come from the tomb of Thutmosis III (18th dynasty) in Abydos.

Some artefacts from Deir-el-Bahari are associated with the site of the temple built by Nebhepetre Mentuhotep II (King 2066 – 2014 BC) - a Pharaoh of the 11th dynasty who reunited Egypt into the so called the Middle Kingdom. A sample of stone artefacts is from an important Egyptian mining site - Wadi Maghara - in the Sinai Peninsula. A small selection of ornaments is from the site of Temple Serabit el-Khadim, also in Sinai Peninsula.

Chronologically the Collection covers a large extent of Egyptian history from the 1st to 30th dynasty, but most artefacts with chronological data belong to the second millennium BC. A significant part of the Collection is associated with two groups of dynasties (11-12th - the Middle Kingdom and 18-20th - the New Kingdom) but the 1st dynasty and the Late Ptolemaic dynasty are also represented.

A large part of the Collection is made of ceramic or stone containers (35%), small figures (30%) and body decorations. There is a small selection of textiles and their fragments. About a quarter of the collection is made up of pots and vases, reflecting its archaeological character. The human-like and animal figures are the most common among art, while the ceramic beadwork prevails among body decorations. 

Please note: a large part of the Egyptian collection is currently on loan and not available for viewing at the Australian Museum.


BC (or BCE) – means Before Common Era, and indicates the years counted back from the first year of the Western Calendar. For example, in 30 BC Rome conquered Egypt and Cleopatra took her own life.


Shenali Boange (Australian Museum), Natalie Cassaniti (Fairfield City Museum and Gallery), Penny Walker (Macquarie University) and Penny Zylstra (Australian Museum).