Traditional museum structures have insufficient protection from natural and manmade influences for the effective preservation of mankind's cultural heritage. The ancient Egyptians discovered that even such mighty structures as the pyramids could not provide sufficient security and thousand of years ago exchanged overground structures for subterranean construction in which the very artefacts, now in danger of destruction, survived to our days. The techniques of subterranean construction has progressed and it is time to revaluate current museum construction. The present study briefly indicates attempts to resolve the problems of preservation of the cultural heritage in general, and in particular in countries with suitable geological conditions. The problems of isolation of the artefacts of external climate, light and visitors are resolved schematically and are illustrated in case studies of a subterranean museum for the Royal Ships of Cheops at Giza, Egypt and a subterranean mausoleum at Muqattam, Cairo.


The awakening of interest in ancient civilisations in recent centuries has resulted in the accumulation by museums of a vast range of ancient artefacts I both in storage and on display. Many of these items, which have remained intact for millenia, buried underground or sealed in subterranean chambers, are deteriorating rapidly after only a matter of years since their discovery. In too many instances, unique examples of long-dead crafts and cultures have been lost to mankind, and with the passage of time the situation, if left unchanged, can only worsen. The problems facing those intent on preserving our heritage are manifold - problems of funding, environment and space. Since to gain funds the artefacts must be displayed to the public, they are inevitably concentrated in the centres of population. Here they face the greatest risks from pollution and vibration, and space is at premium. To display the artefacts to the public risks theft and vandalism, and even more, handling by the most innocent of visitor will, in time, ruin even robust specimens. Even when removed from public access, normal climatic variations in temperature, humidity and illumination take their toll. To complete the depressing picture, the effects of earthquakes and other natural disasters, and the threat of war in many parts of the world must all be considered. The solution of these problems is simply stated - isolation of the artefacts from the impacts of all these effects. In practice though, the solution is far from simple using the conventional approach. The setting up of artificial environments in existing museums involves installation and continual operation of costly air conditioning schemes, and extensive modifications. Resiting museums away from cities is both unattractive and inconvenient, and construction of new, purpose- built museums, with all the requisite environmental and security safeguards is often out of the question when the cost of new city sites is included, even given that such sites are available.

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