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Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Mandrake fruit

W1228bI have been putting mandrake related items on the Egypt Centre website and noted that not only do we have at least one mandrake amulet from Amarna, shown above, but also several pieces of wall plaster from the North Riverside Palace. The North Riverside Palace was possibly the main royal residence at the site (Kemp 2006, 284).

Kemp, B. 2006 Ancient Egypt. Anatomy of A Civilisation.

You can see more of our mandrake items at:

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

The missing lion- now found!

EC451EC451 is the head of a figure of a lion deity measuring 3cm in height. The artefact has a hole in the top of its head, presumably for the insertion of a headdress. There are traces of an inked number on the bottom of the piece but it is too damaged to read. 

A very similar, piece is described as coming from a room of a house in Meroe (See Török 1997, Vol 1, 205 and Vol. 2 pl. 168, below). This was one of the pieces Török couldn't track down. The item in the Török volume is illustrated from a Garstang photograph and is so similar to EC451 that it is assumed that EC451 is the same item. Many thanks to the Garstang Museum of Archaeology, University of Liverpool for permission to use this photograph below/left. However, EC451 is much worn compared to the original photograph and there thus remains a slight possibility that the two are different items, though in my opinion, very slight. I think we have the missing lion. 


Most of the items from this area of the house in the Meroe volume appear to be temple furniture or statues of divinities and personal ornaments. Török (1997, 1.205) describes the piece as probably Early Napatan, which dates it to 450-250BC.

The chief lion deity at Meroe was Apedmek, perhaps a form of Amun. It seems likely that this is the deity represented by this faience head.

EC451 was thus probably excavated by Garstang during his 1909-1914 excavations. As far as can be ascertained, the item came to Swansea University in 1971 along with the rest of the Wellcome items which now make up the core of the Egypt Centre, Swansea collection. However, it is not clear how the item was obtained by Sir Henry Wellcome. Various artefacts were given to subscribers to the excavation. The Egypt Centre has a handful of other artefacts from Meroe which are also from Garstang’s excavations. At least some of these were purchased by Sir Henry Wellcome from the MacGregor collection, part of which was sold in 1922 (Sotheby 1922, lot 1321). It is possible that this constitutes one of those items, though the item is not specifically described in the catalogue. It may, therefore, alternatively have either been given to Wellcome for subscription to the Meroe excavations, or may have been purchased from another collection.

We also have other stuff from Meroe, see: http://www.egypt.swansea.ac.uk/index.php/collection/310-meroe


Sotheby, Wilkinson and Hodge. 1922. Catalogue of the MacGregor Collection of Egyptian Antiquities, London. 

Török, L. 1997. Meroe City. An Ancient African Capital. John Garstang's Excavations in the Sudan. London: Egypt Exploration Society.  

Monday, 7 November 2011

Amduat scene

Been trying to find out a bit more about this scene. It's a fragment of a Third Intermediate Period coffin. I thought the scene was quite unusual.

It shows the sun-disc with arms embracing the scarab. On either side there is an ankh and the symbols for East and West. At the bottom is the hieroglyph showing the rising sun.

As far as I can tell this shows the last hour of the Amduat. The deceased (evoked by the scarab) travels through the Amduat to be reborn with the new sun. Liptay has written on this.

I only know of one other occurence on a coffin (a coffin from Budapest), does anyone know of more?

For more information see: http://www.egypt.swansea.ac.uk/index.php/collection/300-w648

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Objects are magic - some musings

What's the point of objects? Objects are magic.

That is the topic a group of Swansea MA students will be discussing tomorrow. As part of an MA module in which they will learn about how to prepare and deliver an object handling session (thinking about preventative conservation, museum aims and ethics, evaluation, as well as researching the objects). Tomorrow the students and I will be considering why objects are important and particularly, object-centred learning.

Object-centred learning is something that museum curators inevitably think is both vital and neglected. Of course, it is vital if you want a job in museums. The 2010 CIPEG resolution stated: "Whereas CIPEG has recognised that many students no longer receive object- and materials-based training in Egyptology and consequently do not have an appropriate professional knowledge to enable them to work in Museums with ancient Egyptian Collections and that this tendency has been identified in many other museum-relevant disciplines from the sciences to art-history; Accordingly CIPEG resolves to urge ICOM members and supporters to appeal to their colleagues and those in other appropriate institutes and organisations to intensify art-historical and object focused teaching as an essential part of the curriculum for the relevant sciences, social sciences and humanities disciplines". [For those interested in CIPEG, this is the link: http://cipeg.icom.museum/]

Additionally, object-centred learning is something which can bring the past to life, in a different way from traditional learning. So, what can you learn from objects that you can't learn from text? Of course you can't simply divide up objects and test quite so simply - texts are often written on objects. Also, the traditional way of teaching, using text and non-text, may obscure the real differences between objects and texts. So, texts are traditionally studied separate from context but the importance of context in studying artefacts is known to all first year undergraduate students. But this difference is one of tradition, it doesn't have to be this way, so it isn't a real difference. To me the differences between text and non-text are that:

  • Text is biased towards the elite; non-text is generally more democratic 
  • Artefacts are more multivocal than text, less precise and more messy in meaning
  • Artefacts appear more real than text
  • Objects are subject to ‘magical contagion’
And, these differences lead to others. So, for example, the very real appearance of artefacts, and their ‘magical contagion’ properties, mean that being in close proximity to ancient objects makes people feel some direct emotional involvement with the past. It's a bit like touching a holy relic. This ‘magical contagion’ (a term used by Nemeroff and Rozin 2000*), can be seen in the way that people will avoid drinking out of a cup if they are told it once contained poison ­– even if that poison has since been thoroughly cleaned out. The contact an object once had with another world enables the otherworld to be ‘magically’ brought into the present world. This leads on to the almost spiritual nature of artefacts. They are almost inexplicably special, but I suppose I would say that wouldn't I? Sometimes museums are criticised for being too like churches. Perhaps they should celebrate their similarity?

What do you think?

*Nemeroff, C. and Rozin, P. 2000 The makings of the magical mind: the nature and function of sympathetic magical thinking. In K. Rosengren, C. Johnson and P Harris (eds.) Imagining the Impossible: the development of magical, scientific and religious thinking in children (1-34). Cambridge University Press.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Renée Friedman and Armant

On Wednesday night the Friends of the Egypt Centre invited Renée Friedman to Swansea to talk about Hierakonpolis and the animal burials there. It was, as predicted, a brilliant talk.

While in Swansea, Renée also took the opportunity to look at the Egypt Centre stuff excavated by Mond from Armant cemeteries 1600, 1700, 1800 and 1900, particularly the Badarian pottery. It's always useful to have researchers visiting our collection as we get to know more about our own artefacts. I had long been amazed by our material from Armant, particulalrly the incredibly fine-walled Badarian stuff, much better made than later material. While it has been on my to do research list, it probably would never have happened. The list is somewhat long! So, I am really happy that Renée found us. She explained that our Armant material was important as it was a site which not only had A-group ('Nubian') and Pan Grave (later material in the Nubian tradition) material and Badarian pottery but also the mysterious 'Saharan' sherds which no one knows a great deal about. We have possibly the most northern collection of Nubian pottery.

The picture above is one of the pieces of Badarian pottery. The holes are where the piece had been mended. We are hoping that in the future, with  Renée to advise, we may have a small display of the Armant material discussing the different cultural groups. Meanwhile, the piece of pottery shown above and a few others from Armant are integrated into our existing display.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Back to Swansea - But still thinking of Poznan

This was my favourite object in the Poznan Museum, Bes-Harpocrates, an androgynous Bes with sidelock of youth. I was told that there is one other similar elsewhere but I'm afraid I didn't note its location.

Back in Swansea now, but still digesting the events of the past week. As always CIPEG was wonderful- I recommend it to all who are interested in Egyptology collections. The Poznan Museum was wonderful, the people, both conference attendees and Poznan people were friendly, and lots to entertain and educate.

There was more discussion of ethics and collecting. Difficult to summarise but one of the things that struck me was how most of our collections contain great quantities of unprovenanced but legally obtained material. Keith Amery gave a brilliant summary of the UK antiquities law. I didn't know that artefacts were being sold from the Cairo Museum as late as 1983. Keith explained that it was important to publish private collections. Tom Hardwick, on a related theme presented fascinating new insights into the 'Bolton Princess' and the conduct of the auction house, Christies. There was also much discussion of how the antiquities market is now effectively closed to museums (very few objects and most unaffordable) and that therefore we should be concentrating on loans. Emily Teeter explored the problems caused by private individuals suing other states with the bizarre consequence that museum collections were threatened with seizure by governments.

Traveled back from the UK on Tuesday and went to Jac Janssen's funeral. What a great man, certainly a life well lived. Then a quick visit to meet up with Margaret Serpico and Stephen Quirk at the Petrie regarding ACCES issues. ACCES is the museum curators' subject specialist network for Egypt and the Sudan. Thanks to Campbell Price it even has its own Facebook site and web page, both very much worth visiting.

So, now back in Swansea, lots to catch up on.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

CIPEG Conference

Hello from Poznan, a beautiful city with friendly people and great food! Also a particularly good museum and at the moment an interesting conference (I'm sure it will continue to be interesting-CIPEG conferences always are).

Yesterday was the first day of the CIPEG conference. CIPEG is the Egyptoloical branch of ICOM, you can find out more about it here: http://cipeg.icom.museum/

The web site is new, we were all shown it yesterday after a beautiful speech by our host at Poznan. Andrzej Cweik pointed out that yesterday was the 1st September, historically an important date for conflict but hopefully now an important date for friendship. We also learnt about the CIPEG Red List, a list of types of Egyptological heritage that are under threat. Hopefully the heritage of Egypt will be a high priority with the new regime. And, much time was spent debating the ICOM code of conduct. Although in some ways I'm tired of debating ethics (it seems to be a popular topic in museum circles), yesterday was more interesting as we learnt more about the different laws and museological practices in our different countries (Egypt, the Ukraine, Poland, USA, France, Germany, Vienna, etc). Although we all seemed to agree on what ideally was the correct thing to do, often the laws and customs of our individual countries made the practice different. So, for example, in America there is a profession of people called 'appraisers' who can advise people on their antiquities (not the same as dealers here). France can't return Egyptological artefacts as the law of the country stipulates that items held in French museums belong to the public. Also in America there is a big difference between assessioning and acquistioning artefacts and museums will often acquisition but not accession artefacts. I hope I haven't got all this wrong, please comment in the box if you think I have.

I have always found CIPEG conferences to be welcoming and educational. The first day of this one has proved to be so to. Lots of talks and museum visiting over the next cople of days.

I must thank CyMAL and the Welsh Federation of Museums who contributed a significant slice of the travel and accommodation fees for me to attend this conference.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

A big pot!

This large pot (W83) was put on display on Monday in our upstairs gallery. It measures 40.5cm high and is burnished on the outside. We are not sure of its provenance. The excavation number ‘638/1958’ might suggest that this comes from Naqada, but we aren't certain. Would be glad to here if this type of number means anything to anyone. It was purchased by Wellcome from the Rustafjaell collection in 1907 but the sale catalogue isn't very helpful as to provenance.

Vessels like this usually date from the Predynastic to Early Old Kingdom and many were used to contain the remains of the deceased. Often pots were inverted over the bodies or bodies were placed inside them, perhaps the same goes for ours.

Pot burials have been found at el-Kab, el-Amrah, Reqaqna, Ballas, Naqada, Hierakonpolis and Abydos (Peet and Loat, 20-22, pl. 4 with further references) and Minshat Abu Omar (Kroeper 1994). An example with a burial is held by the Petrie Museum (UC14857). There is no evidence that pot burials correlated with any particular class of people.  

Kroeper, K. 1994. ‘Minshat Abu Omar. Pot Burials Occurring in the Dynastic Cemetery’.  Bulletin de Liaison du groupe International d’Étude de la Céramique Égyptienne, 18, 19-32.

Peet, T.E. and Loat, W.L.S. 1913. The Cemeteries of Abydos. Part III. 1912-1913. London: Egypt Exploration Fund.

Petrie, W.M.F. 1895. Naqada and Ballas. London: Bernard Quaritch.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Our wonderful volunteers

Last week, there was lots going on re. Egypt Centre's wonderful volunteers. First of all St Fagans came to chat to us about our volunteer programmes- they are going to develop theirs. Ashleigh, our volunteer manager, gave them lots of information and documentation. Then later in the week, the Evening Post did a bit on something Ashleigh and the volunteers had been looking at. You can see it here: http://www.thisissouthwales.co.uk/Ancient-bracelet-riddle/story-13118385-detail/story.html. Unfortunately, not only is it a weird photo but the press failed to say you can see the object the volunteers were looking at by coming to the Centre. Then at the end of the week a kind visitor had given some great feedback on how wonderful our vols. are.

Our volunteers are truly diverse but all work together, which is one of the reasons we are so proud of them. They range from age 10 to 80+, they are all abilities and all sorts of what today might be called 'socio-economic groups'. They do lots of things, though mainly they show the visitors round our galleries, help with enquiries and also deliver activities to school parties.

Basically, I just wanted to say, they are wonderful!

Friday, 5 August 2011

Coffins, cartonnage and wind demons

W870Aidan Dodson of Bristol University came to see on us on Monday to look at our coffins and coffin fragements. What we hadn't realised is that he wanted to look at cartonnage as well as wooden coffins. We had cartonnage catalogued in a seperate section in our catalogue. However, the cartonnage was soon found and Aidan was able to do a preliminary survey. This proved helpful to us, as well as, (we hope), to him.  It's always useful to have researchers come to us as we learn more about our objects.

I have now added 'cartonnage' under 'coffins' for future researchers while also keeping the ability to search for cartonnage only or wood coffin fragments only. However, this aspect of the catalogue is yet to go live (it is hosted on a site that is only partly controlled by us).

Whilst doing this an interesting piece of cartonnage caught my eye so I thought I would see if I could find out a bit more about it. You can see what I think here: http://www.egypt.swansea.ac.uk/index.php/collection/295-w870 But if anyone knows more about wind demons we would love to hear from them.

Friday, 29 July 2011

The end of the week: Flint bracelets and Palestinian pots

The end of the four weeks for our Practicum Egyptology students, a brand new module at Swansea University in conjunction with Kasia Szpakowska (http://www.swan.ac.uk/staff/academic/artshumanities/szpakowskakasia/),
 lecturer in Egyptology. The students come to the Centre and learn a bit about museums and artefacts in the Centre and hone their skills in communicating their knowledge to the public. Today they learnt about key skills in education, the skills the Welsh National Curriculum expects pupils to acquire. The Centre gears school activities to these key skills. These include social skills, numeracy, etc. You can find out more about the activities on our web site at: http://www.swan.ac.uk/egypt/Schools/Educational%20visits.htm

Also answered an enquiry on flint bracelets. These really are amazing things. We have a fragment of one. See: http://www.swansea.ac.uk/egypt/infosheet/AB%2029%20flint%20bracelet.htm
They're so fragile, I think they must have been much more than utilitarian.

Today I also did a few more audit checks on objects (an ongoing, never ending process). This included some pottery from Tell Fara (Beth Pelet), a site in southern Palestine. The site was excavated by Petrie in 1928. We have about 50 pieces from this site. Although we are called the Egypt Centre, and most of our artefacts are from Egypt, we also have artefacts from elsewhere, including Palestine, Greece, Rome and even Britain. All can be accessed via our online searchable catalogue at:
Finally, we ended the day with Jayne's baby shower, organised by Wendy. This wasn't Egyptological, or museological, but a good way to end the day

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

While Wendy's away

Wendy Goodridge, the assistant curator, is away collecting our Fayum portrait from Madrid. This is the portrait:

Here is a link to information on the exhibition:

It will be back on display in the Centre very shortly.

This morning has been very hectic. We have a Brownie group from Somerset taking part in group activities with our volunteers. The dummy mummy, as always is extremely popular. (I didn't know Brownies weren't brown anymore! They are dressed in pink. I suppose this shows my age.) As well as the Brownie group, today is the first day of our children's summer workshops. There has been a lot of noise with them practicing their musical instruments. As well as that, with it being the start of the summer holidays, we have lots of 'normal' visitors. As we are a small museum, the place is very noisy and crowded.

But it's good that we are busy. Lots of people enjoying the collections. Let's hope it is the start to a good summer.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Twenty First Dynasty coffin fragment

Repacking 21st Dynasty coffin fragments and finding that some of them fit together.
This one shows Nepythys with the Abydos fetish. From the 19th Dynasty the Abydos fetish was thought to be the reliquary of the head of Osiris.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Philip Green and other volunteers

Today has been a good day for volunteering at the Centre.

Just to let all know, today is Philip Green's last day volunteering at the Egypt Centre. Philip has been with us for one and a half years and has been an absolute godsend. he has not only helped with school parties, moved objects and helped with last year's conference, but he has also been doing tons of administrative work for us. We will be really sad to see him go but he is moving on to better things so we should be pleased for him. He will be working at the House of Commons.

Secondly, this afternoon two visitors came and told Jayne (museum assistant) how fantastic and attentive all our vols. had been. They really are a marvelous group.

This is also a second week for some new 'volunteers'. We have three students from Kasia Szpakowska's class at Swansea University with us. They have been here as part of a module, learning a bit about how museums work. Hopefully it will help them decide whether or not they want to continue with it as a career. Today they have been working on a marketing project, and among other things have set Egypt Centre up with a twitter account. So, thanks to them you can follow our tweets: http://twitter.com/#!/TheEgyptCentre

Egypt Centre, Swansea, Curator's Diary 14.7.2011

This is a first blog and is by way of a test.

W80Today I have been checking artefacts in our store. We try to do regular condition checks on our artefacts. This acts as an audit, so we can make sure we know where everything is, but is also a means of making sure that objects aren't deteriorating. It's also a good opportunity to take photographs of any unphotographed items.

This is one of the items checked today, W80, a clay offering tray.

We have got some more information about it at: http://egypt.swan.ac.uk/index.php/collection/273-w80 Interestingly, Jayne Holly, the Centre's museum assistant knows all about these things as she did a dissertation on them them when a student at Swansea.