Journey of the Statue of Khui-en-khufu
Follow the trail of a 5th dynasty statue from its discovery in a Giza tomb to Harvard Camp, and then to a museum thousands a miles away.
This is the statue of Khui-en-khufu, an official who lived more than 4,000 years ago during Egypt’s 5th Dynasty. Khui-en-khufu built his tomb west of the Great Pyramid at Giza.
The statue remained in the tomb until discovery in 1936. It is now in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA). How did it make the journey from the Egyptian desert to a museum in America?
Every ancient object that the Harvard University–Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition team discovered had a long journey from its original location to its location today.
The first step is excavation. Expedition director George Reisner numbered this tomb “G 2407.” His team found the statue in “shaft D” on April 19, 1936, more than 4,000 years after the burial.
The Egyptian “foreman,” Duwy Mahmud, wrote about the day’s work in his diary in the Arabic language. Later, another team member, Mahmud Said, translated the Arabic diary into English.
The Expedition photographer, Mohammedani Ibrahim, brought his large camera down to the tomb and photographed the statue exactly as the men had found it.
You can see here the statue was broken above the knee. If you were a researcher, it might be beneficial to know that the statue was initially broken, then repaired after its discovery.
How do we know this is Khui-en-khufu? The hieroglyphs on the base give his name and job title (“inspector of palace attendants”). The carved stone shows a fancy wig and a kilt made of fine linen.
Next, the men took the statue to Harvard Camp, the headquarters for all of the Harvard-MFA excavations in both Egypt and the Sudan.
Let’s travel back in time to follow the story of Khui-en-khufu’s statue, from the tomb, to Harvard Camp, and then on to a museum.
The Camp stood to the southwest of Khui-en-khufu’s tomb. The statue joined thousands of other objects there from the many tombs at Giza.
Around you is the courtyard which was always full of ancient objects, fragments of pottery, and other antiquities.
Now the Expedition staff was ready to study the statue. They used a large book called the Object Register. They gave the statue a number: 36-4-53, which means in year 1936, month of April, the statue was object number 53.
They added its measurements, its material (limestone), and the exact location where they found it (G 2407, shaft D). They made a sketch drawing, and copied the hieroglyphic inscription too. And they described the statue in detail.
With its new number, the statue of Khui-en-khufu was now ready for photography. Harvard Camp had its own photo studio. The Expedition took about 45,000 photos during their 40 years of work.
Mohammedani Ibrahim had to photograph the statue with good lighting, against a black cloth, to show its condition and all its details.
As the excavations continued, George Reisner and his team studied Khui-en-khufu’s statue, along with many other objects, because they planned to publish everything in a series of books.
They made architectural drawings of tomb G 2407, and typed up descriptions of it, along with the statues and other objects they found there.
The staff also cleaned the statue, and if it needed repair, they did “conservation” work with the tools you see here.
At this point, it was time to decide where the statue would go. The Expedition had a contract and permissions from the Egyptian Antiquities Service. At the end of the dig season, they made a division.
The Antiquities officials decided which objects should go to the Cairo Museum, and which objects should go to Boston. They allowed the statue of Khui-en-khufu to go to America.
In January 1937, they carefully placed Khui-en-khufu in a wooden crate, with lots of padding, and shipped it to Boston.
By August 1, 1937, Khufu-en-khufu had arrived at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The Museum officials gave it a new number, 37.638 (the 638th object added to the MFA in 1937).
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