Ancient Near East
The Near East collection holds the personal documents of Bedřich Hrozný – photographs, slides and journals documenting his excavations in Kültepe (Turkey), Tell Erfad and Shech Sa´ad (Syria). As the finds were incorporated in the collections of the Museum of Anatolian Civilisations in Ankara and the National Museums in Damask and Aleppo, and as the artefacts that were actually brought to Prague were divided between the Philosophical Faculty of the Charles University and the National Gallery in Prague, this excellent set of documents provides the most complete overview of the only Czech archaeological research in the Middle East so far. It is complemented by a small collection of tablets from the estate of J. Petraš, an architect working at Hrozný’s excavations and his guide on the journeys through the Orient.
The collection further includes sets of stone tools, ceramic vessels, cylinder seals and stamps, amulets, sculptures, tombstones, decorations, clay tablets with reeds and cosmetic accessories from Asia Minor, Syria, Palestine, Mesopotamia and Iran.
In the Czech lands, the collecting of Egyptian antiquities reaches back to Renaissance times. A major development came after Napoleon’s Egyptian Campaign, when the Czech lands, just like many other European countries, were under the spell of Egyptomania. In the 19th and the early 20th centuries, many travellers from the Czech lands – whether they spoke Czech or German – set off to Egypt and brought back many antiquities as souvenirs of their journeys. On rare occasions, entire mummies were brought back.
In 1818, the first Egyptological exhibition took place in Prague. Subsequently, a number of exhibits went to the Patriotic Museum of Bohemia (later the Museum of the Kingdom of Bohemia, which finally became the National Museum). Some of the most significant gifts that found their way to the Museum of the Kingdom of Bohemia were the collection of František Colloredo-Mansfeld and several gifts from the first Czechoslovak ambassador in Egypt, Cyril Dušek, and his wife.
In 1937, through the Egyptologist Jaroslav Černý, the National Museum acquired a donation from the French Oriental Institute in Cairo. The French Institute presented the museum with a selection of objects excavated in Deir el-Medina, a village of royal artisans that worked on the tombs in the nearby Valley of the Kings (the New Dynasty period, around 1543 to 1069 BCE). Thanks to Jaroslav Černý, this collection was later supplemented by a significant set of hieratic ostracons. Around the same time, the founder of Czechoslovak Egyptology, František Lexa, and the German Egyptologist working in Prague, Ludwig Keimer, made donations to the museum collections.
In the post-war period, the Egyptological collections grew, thanks mostly to the research of the Czechoslovak Institute of Egyptology at the Philosophical Faculty of the Charles University, but also due to the centralization of regional institutions in Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia.
In the 1960s the Czechoslovak Institute of Egyptology, headed by Zbyněk Žába, took part in the UNESCO programme for the preservation of ancient monuments in Lower Nubia. The Institute made five expeditions to Nubia between 1961 and 1965. Their share in the finds (from the Temple of Taffeh, Kertasi Temple, Wadi Kitna, Kalabsha south, Tombs at Nag El-Fariq and Nag el-Girgawi) was taken to Prague and transferred to the Náprstek Museum.
As a result of the Nubian programme, a new department (nowadays a collection) opened in the Náprstek Museum called the Collection of the Near East and Africa in Prehistory and Antiquity, where all Ancient Egyptian objects from various departments of National Museum were transferred.
Along with the work in Nubia, the Institute of Egyptology launched research in the pyramid fields in Abusir. The museum collections hold the finds from the Mastaba of Ptahshepses, the complex of the Pyramid of Khentkaus II and the Pyramid of Neferefre, and the Pyramid complex of Pharaoh Djekdare Isesi (the Old Kingdom, around 2700–2150 BCE).