The exhibition considered questions of tolerance, discrimination, diversity and multiculturalism—all familiar themes today—in a setting most people know little about.
; the two dolls are carved from animal bone and stand about eight centimeters tall.
In 1986 a few items were published in a catalog of jugs, but for the most part these items, too—mostly pottery shards, coins, metal weights, small mummy-form statues called A wooden tablet with 18 lines of two-letter syllables in Coptic would have been standard classroom equipment for many children learning to write in Fustat.
A small white stone mold for a metal bird figurine that measures 5.5 centimeters tall, a necklace beaded with turquoise glass and a sandstone candlestick carved in the shape of an elephant, 16.6 centimeters tall, all demonstrate the decorative arts of Fustat. Because the special-exhibits gallery is small—not much bigger than a studio apartment—Vorderstrasse and Treptow settled on 75 display items, balanced between everyday ones from archeological sites and art-historical and intellectual ones to showcase the communities’ beliefs and differences.
Among the latter were fragments from the Qur’an, the Bible and the Torah, a bowl fragment depicting the deposition of Christ and a door from a Torah shrine obtained on loan.
A legal document overwritten on one side of the manuscript provides the date of 879 The first challenge was to determine a theme, a storyline that would make the exhibit meaningful to a modern audience while remaining true to the historical contexts of the objects. Others included Scanlon’s excavations, which were unusual in the 1960s and ’70s in that he focused on an Islamic rather than a Pharaonic site; the history of Fustat and how it evolved over centuries into a modern urban neighborhood; and daily life in medieval Egypt.
At one point, they photographed the available objects and spread them all out on the floor of Vorderstrasse’s apartment, grouping them to see what themes emerged using what Treptow called “a visceral rather than an academic approach.” Then they probed museum professionals and members of the public with interest in Egypt to learn what a museum audience might already know, and what questions would best hook visitors.
Indeed, the exhibition coincided with the 50th anniversary of the 1965 dig; the Oriental Institute received a portion of its finds from the archeologist himself, who at the time had hoped the donation would inspire funding from the Institute.