A collection of Roman-era gold treasures has spent centuries hidden from view, either concealed by thieves in a clay jar, buried under the desert or languishing in a dusty corner of Cairo's rambling Egyptian Museum.
On Tuesday, the set of magnificent gold necklaces, crowns and coins dating back to the second century were put under the spotlight when Cairo's 102-year-old museum launched a program to give prominence to many of its neglected exhibits in new monthly displays.
The pieces being exhibited were discovered in 1989 by a French archaeology team digging in Cairo's vast Western Desert.
"These golden treasures will be the first of many other exhibits in the Egyptian Museum that will be 'excavated' from its corridors and halls and put on display with various educational tools explaining their significance," Zahi Hawass, chief of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said at the exhibit opening.
Egyptian antiquities officials acknowledge that one of the museum's greatest flaws has been the poor manner in which its thousands of artifacts have been exhibited in its building in downtown Cairo.
"Like our vast desert, the Egyptian Museum has thousands of hidden treasures that people don't know about," Hawass said.
Attempts have been made to improve a visit to the museum by offering hand-held digital guides. Lots more space will be made available once 60 percent of the exhibits are transferred to the new $350 million Grand Museum near the Giza pyramids, where construction is to finish in 2008.
The lack of space in the existing museum — designed to exhibit about 5,000 artifacts — has consigned many of the more than 100,000 pharaonic, Coptic, Greco-Roman and Islamic objects in basements and warehouses.
"The Golden Jewelry of Dush" exhibit will be the first monthly display of "lost" pieces to be polished and exhibited in a main gallery, Hawass said.
The display includes several necklaces of various sizes and a stunning crown made of multiple pieces of gold fashioned into the shape of leaves. One necklace weighs more than 17 ounces and comprises 77 individual golden pendants bearing the image of the Greek-Egyptian god Serapis. A composite, Serapis was formed by the merger of the lesser gods Osiris and Apis during the Ptolemaic Period, which ran for about 300 years before 30 B.C.
The museum's director-general, Wafaa El-Sediq, said thieves stole the second century treasures from a temple built by the Romans in Dush, an area south of Kharga Oasis, about 370 miles southwest of Cairo.
"The robbers dismantled the items and hid them in a clay jar which they placed into a wall of a building," El-Sediq said. "But, thanks to God, the deserts later covered the treasures and the robbers could not find them again."
Egypt's western and southern deserts are some of the country's most neglected in terms of archaeological excavations, El-Sediq said. They are believed to conceal many more treasures.