Cast your eyes over priceless ancient treasures; Arts Editor Joe Riley reveals the treasures of Liverpool World Museum's new Egyptian Gallery which opens next month.
HEAVILY guarded in a north Liverpool warehouse, within a special container power-sealed with a dozen rivets, there lies a treasure greater than either of its counterparts from Tutankhamen's tomb.
The battle girdle worn by the last of Egypt's great battling pharaohs, Rameses III, is delicately coiled on a bed of layered tissues: a 3,000-year-old gemas priceless as our own crown jewels.
The five-metre exquisitely embroidered multi-coloured linen belt will form the centrepiece of Liverpool World Museum's new Egyptian gallery.
The girdle would have been donned by Rameses as he proudly rode his war chariot on campaigns against invaders.
It is an item, held in Liverpool since the 1860s, but known to scholars the world over.
A recent visitor to see its splendours was the director of the Louvre museum in Paris.
Ashley Cooke, World Museum's curator of Egyptology and research fellow at Liverpool University, is in no doubt about the uniqueness of this particular artefact: "It is one of the most treasured items in the world.
"Only two similar such items exist.
"They are from the tomb of Tutankhamen, but they are not as splendid or as long."
The belt is among 1,500 items that go on display from December 5.
Among the others likely to vie for attention are five mummies, including one of a female contemporary of Cleopatra, who inspired a classic novel from the celebrated Victorian writer Henry Rider Haggard.
The new permanent exhibition covers life in Egypt from the time of Menes, the first king, who reigned 3000 years BC, through to the time of the pharaohs, and on to the periods of the Greek and Roman occupations.
Ashley Cooke notes: "No other civilisation in history has captured the imagination quite like Ancient Egypt, which was the first nation state.
"These remarkable people left their mark on the world and influenced all who followed them.
"Today, their wonderful haunting tombs, and all they left behind, continue to exert an endless fascination.
"World Museum Liverpool is in a prime position to tell that story as we have one of the finest collections anywhere."
Some of the first items arrived mid-19th century, courtesy of entrepreneur Joseph Meyer, who built the now disappeared Egypt Museum in Colquitt Street.
Funds for further exploration were raised by John Garstang, founder of the Liverpool Institute of Archaeology, opened in 1904.
"They would particularly target cemeteries because there was an instant reward," says Ashley.
Liverpool University remains the most active in the UK for excavation work, although artefacts can no longer be removed from site.
Included in the new display are not only human remains, but also the mummified bodies of cats - once so common that they were sold to adventurers by the ton.
Incredibly, more than 400,000 cat mummies were imported into Liverpool during the 1850s - to be used as fertiliser.
Other mummies on show include a hawk and a crocodile.
They were thought to offer magical protection from evil spirits.
Talking of which, there will also be a chilling collection of spells which pharaohs carried in their coffins to prevent terrible things happening to them.
There are also fertility symbols, many found in jewellery.
Says Ashley: "The Egyptians believed you could be born again, and that their spirits could travel from the tombs.
"Everything that was buried with a person had a purpose, so that these items could be taken forward into the next life."
This, in turn, explains the presence of cosmetics and clothing at burial sites.
All were symbols of a social status which could be re-activated.
Today's highly sophisticated conservation rules ensure the utmost care for all these treasures.
Mummies are no longer unwrapped, a popular Victorian practice, complete with gore, rotting flesh, and tales of onlookers fainting.
Instead, they are X-rayed and the findings carefully recorded.
The intention with the new exhibition is to give much more information on the overall culture.
With time, respect for each and every object has increased a thousand-fold.
Dare it be told now....but during the 1950s, that priceless Rameses girdle was stuffed in a bag and taken on the train to Manchester for inspection by historians.
One thing can be said with certainty: that won't be happening again.
I'M WATCHING YOU: A painting on the side of a 4,000-year-old coffin; TO BATTLE: The priceless girdle worn by Rameses III is one of the exhibits on show; HERE KITTY: A mummified cat (above) is among the collection Pictures: EDDIE BARFORD/eb291008b; GUARDIAN: Tracey Seddon, senior organics conservator, inspects a guardian tomb figure