Preface to the GEM advanced mode (first edition)
Although the Global Egyptian Museum (GEM) is geared to a general public interested in the cultural heritage of Ancient Egypt, the basic idea has always been to create an international electronic database of Egyptian objects as a tool for scholarly research. In this respect the GEM can be seen as the outcome of a long process of crystallization of ideas and initiatives.
When I outlined my ideas about an international electronic Egyptological database in an article entitled "Eine internationale ägyptologische Datenbank zwischen Traum und Wirklichkeit" (Studia in honorem Fritz Hintze, Berlin 1990, 237-243 [= Meroitica, Band 12]), and another entitled "IEDS - ein Integriertes Ägyptologisches Databanksystem. IED - eine Internationale Ägyptologische Datenbank" (Zeitschrift für Ägyptische Sprache, 119 (1992) 38-43), the graphical interface for the PC, compression techniques and the Internet were still in their infancy.
The present electronic database only has become feasible thanks to the enormous increase in facilities in the domain of Information and Computer Technology (ICT) and intensive international collaboration over many years.
In order to be able to build common and compatible databases, a high degree of standardization is required. In this respect the decision taken during the ICOM/CIPEG meeting in Moscow (1991) to form an international committee to develop a multilingual Egyptological thesaurus has been an important step. After five years of preparation, the ICOM/CIPEG meeting in Boston (1996) concluded and recommended the Multilingual Egyptological Thesaurus (MET, PIREI XI, Utrecht/Paris 1996) as the first standard for the description of Egyptian objects in electronic databases. Originally published in English, French and German, the MET is now available in Dutch, Italian, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish as well. For an account of the standards and conventions adopted, see the publication mentioned above. The MET, which is implemented in the search engine (retrieval system) of the GEM, forms the heart of the Integrated Egyptological Database System (IEDS) that has been used for data entry.
It will come as no surprise that the members of the committee represented different scholarly traditions and views. It is possible, for example, to argue in favour of classifying a shabti both under “sculpture in the round” and under “tomb equipment”. The committee has always been of the opinion that decisions had to be taken and furthermore that they had to be practical. Although the actual version of the MET functions quite satisfactorily – by now more than 18,000 objects have been entered in the database from thirteen locations and in seven languages – there are many areas which can be improved and refined. For example, the section “technique” (section 6) urgently needs to be extended and some terms in the section “category” must be subdivided, e.g. “pottery”. Within these cases, and also in others, we plan to link the terms with line drawings.
The Advanced mode offers more detailed information to the professional. The free texts of the “comment fields” counterbalance the restrictions of the thesauri fields. Unlike the free description of the Basic mode, which is accessible in seven languages, the Advanced mode lists the free texts in the national language of the museum concerned, plus translation into English, French or German.
Many objects presented here have not previously been published. Each of the participating museums is responsible for its own data entry content. As a consequence, different opinions and interpretations can be found. Only in some cases have I reconciled the differences. For example, the funerary title mAa xrw is translated both as “justified” and “true of voice”. Because of the automatic hyperlinking to the glossary, in all occurrences the title has been rendered “true of voice”. Since the computer is not able to distinguish between Hapi (inundation god) and Hapi (son of Horus), based on the hieroglyphic writing, the name of the latter has been changed into Hepi.
We decided to abandon one important aspect of the object description, namely the iconography. Although the MET deals with iconography in section 8, the subject is still too complicated and tricky. I still believe that one of the most promising aspects of a scholarly multimedia database is the facility to do combined searching on texts and representations, going into small details. Therefore theoretical reflection on a detailed classification system and its practical consequences must have priority in the years to come (see Dirk Van der Plas & Robert Vergnieux, “Computer-aided Research on Egyptian Stelae from the Middle Kingdom’, Informatique & Égyptologie N0 9 (= PIREI IX), Utrecht/Paris 1994, 139-151). The possibility of adding images to a multimedia database is the result of recent developments in ICT. The precise and detailed description of the representations is a challenge for scholarly Egyptology.
Another priority for our discipline in future decades should be an electronic corpus of hieroglyphic and other texts. In view of this, the IEDS is equipped with a module for hieroglyphic (plus transliteration), Coptic, Greek and Latin texts. Computer-generated hieratic and demotic scripts are still awaiting further development. Because of the limited time and budget we had at our disposal, it proved impossible to add all the hieroglyphic inscriptions and texts. Only a few of them have been recorded here, and some of them are fragmentary. We endeavoured to format the hieroglyphic texts as far as possible in accordance with the position on the objects. The presence of the images may compensate for the absence of facsimiles. The lack of standards and conventions in the delicate matter of transliteration is demonstrated by the diverse methods applied by the partners, which can be found in the text database. In order to optimise the potency of an electronic database, in future we will have to reach practical solutions for a standardized transliteration system.
It is my opinion that the Corpus Textuum Aegyptiacorum (CTAe) which I proposed in the context of the “Wörterbuch Tagungen” (see “Wörterbuch und Textcorpus”, Zeitschrift für Ägyptische Sprache 121 (1994) 132-142 and “Utrechter Datenbank der großen Sammlungen religiöser Texte. Pyramidentexte, Sargtexte, Totenbuch“, in: Textcorpus und Wörterbuch. Aspekte zur ägyptischen Lexikographie (Stephan Grunert/Engelore Hafemann ed.), Leiden 1999, 232-237) can be integrated into the international Egyptological (object) Database, presented on this site. A search option for Egyptian words in transliteration and hieroglyphic code will be added as soon as possible.
The electronic network offers the possibility not only to update and upgrade the information, but also to add new objects from public and private collections world-wide with the help of an online IEDS data entry module, which is accessible on demand for interested collections. CCER will remain responsible for the co-ordination of the activities and the maintenance of the site. In this way CCER can control the quality of both the content and presentation of the site.
It is obvious that the development and maintenance of an international multilingual database like the Global Egyptian Museum demands considerable investment. The daily reality is that a single university or national research foundation can no longer afford the necessary budget for long-term research projects. Projects like the GEM are supposed to be self-supporting these days. Therefore, the future of the GEM depends on financial contributions from private persons and institutions who want to make use of the information. The membership fee for individuals and the income from institutional subscriptions are thus a matter of life and death for the GEM.
I would like to emphasise that the Global Egyptian Museum would not have been feasible without grants from the European Commission and the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO), or the enormous effort of many colleagues and museum employees who are involved in this project. All data entry, both preparation and verification, was performed by junior and senior Egyptologists. The majority of the digital images were also taken by them. Furthermore, all the translations into seven languages were done by native speakers, junior and senior colleagues. I would like to thank all of them with all my heart. This applies also to the CCER team for its unrelenting dedication, notwithstanding the crisis CCER had to overcome in the last two years. Because the Faculty of Theology of Utrecht University turned out to be unable to continue the (financial) support to CCER, it was decided to transfrom CCER into an independent research Foundation, December 2003.
I am glad that the partners in the Champollion project agreed upon making the ca. 7.400 objects, that could not be published so far, available to the public in a depot, which is integrated in the GEM. The objects concerned are supplied with a special label. Their object information and photographs must still be checked and improved. Translation of the free texts into the seven languages of the project will be done depending on the financial means which come available. The final editing for definitive inclusion in the virtual museum will be done step by step in consultation with the curators of the collections. Together with the depot the GEM will show ca. 14.000 objects by the end of 2005.
It is hoped that Egyptian collections from all over the world will contribute to the GEM for the benefit of scholarly research and educational knowledge and the understanding of ancient Egyptian culture. Egyptian collections which are considering taking part in the GEM are warmly invited to contact us via the a-mail address GEMfirstname.lastname@example.org
Horssen, November 2004
Dirk van der Plas