Major Myers' confidential hoard of Egyptian plunder finally goes on show

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"WE CRAWLED some 200 yards into the hills along an intricate passage ... bats were in swarms flying into one's face. The floor was strewn feet deep with debris consisting of mummified crocodiles ... the smell of the place was an uncanny one and I wouldn't advise anyone to try it."

So wrote Major William Myers of his first trip up the Nile during a posting to Egypt in 1885. Over the next 11 years, the old Etonian army officer was to amass what is regarded as Europe's finest collection of Egyptian antiquities in private hands, which went on public display at his old school for the first time yesterday. He bequeathed the hoard before he was killed by a sniper in the Boer War in 1899.

The priceless collection of 2,100 pieces, which contains items to rival the best of the great museums of Europe and America, lay largely unknown to the public for almost a century, and was used as a teaching aid for the boys. Now the pieces have been restored, catalogued and form a new exhibition at Eton, which will transfer to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York next year.

Artefacts in Major Myers' remarkable collection date from the earliest days of Egyptian civilisation in 5000BC, through to the Roman and Christian, or Coptic, period, AD500. The treasures include ceremonial lotus flower chalices, dating from the time of King Tutankhamun, and thought to be the finest anywhere in the world. A tiny fragment of collar, possibly dating from the young king's coronation, shows Tutankhamun drinking from just such a cup.

The collection also features part of the coffin of the master builder Amkenhotep, as well as wooden figures, dating from 2150BC, which depict scenes of daily life.

But alongside the jewellery and artefacts are the 31 diaries Major Myers wrote as a tourist, describing in postcard fashion his exploits during the heyday of the Victorian collector.

Dr Stephen Spurr, the school's former head of classics, has worked on the collection for 10 years with his colleague Dr Nicholas Reeves. He said: "Major Myers' dream was that his collection was going to inspire young people and future generations. This is the last great 19th-century collection. There were quite a few 19th- century collectors, but this reflects the taste of one particular collector.

"Major Myers was interested in the objects as art. He came really to love Egypt and the Egyptian people and his collection shows a real interest in daily life."

The exhibition is open 2.30pm-4.30pm Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.