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Friday, 13 October 2017

What we did 13.10.2017

Notes from the Egypt Centre curator

And hello again.

Monday. Wendy spent the day getting ready for Tuesday and importantly preparing the condition reports for the student handling session next Monday. The preparation always takes much longer than the actual session. Five objects have been chosen, each of a different material, illustrating technology and material culture of ancient Egypt.  The handling sessions and close examination of the real objects is always a favourite session for students and the reason some come to Swansea to study!  We had a group of MA Egyptology students round and I gave them a tour of the Egypt Centre. I say tour but as I tend to burble on a lot they only heard about 4 objects. They did hear about the love story between the previous curator and a deceased head of Classics at Swansea, which is integral to how the Egyptian collection came to Swansea. Yes really! I am hoping the students were enthused enough to come back and visit us and learn about more objects.

Started tidying up the collections part of our website and sending stuff off for Welsh translation. This bit of the website with associated links: http://www.egypt.swan.ac.uk/the-collection-2/the-collection/

Also answered requests from a student from Leiden who is doing research on coffins. She started with the Vatican Coffin Project then moved on to us. Yes, the Pope has an Egyptological collection and we were pleased to have been considered as important enough to be second! Anyway, she wanted information on some of our Third Intermediate Period (c. 1000 BC) coffin fragments and particularly the complete one which we have on display downstairs. The complete one is ‘fun’ as it has pictures on it all about how to get to the afterlife. It belonged to a lady musician who worked in the temple at Thebes, a well to do woman. It has lots of pictures of strange goings on including a judgement scene. One of the ideas the Egyptians held about the afterlife was that your heart would be weighed against the feather of truth to see if you were deserving of an afterlife. If your heart was heavy and full of lies it would be eaten by the devourer who was part hippopotamus, part lion and part crocodile. Without a heart heaven was a no go! I’ve got very interested in this coffin over the years so you can read more about it here: http://www.egypt.swan.ac.uk/the-collection-2/the-collection/w1982/

Tuesday. Wendy and I staffed the Egypt Centre stall at Staff Benefits Roadshow, Swansea University and we met lots of people we hadn’t met before including ISS staff. It was worth it to meet you all. We do try and benefit staff in having events for adults (including wine tasting a murder mystery and a photography event) and we keep the children of staff amused through events for children. And, I don’t know about you, but I find it therapeutic to visit museums. It gives a sense of perspective. That lady musician who lived 3000 years ago loved and laughed, sang, had hopes and fears, just like all of us.

But back to normality, when we got back to the museum apparently the school had come and gone. They arrived at the Centre an hour late as they had confused us with Swansea Museum. This happens all the time. Our advertising budget is small and Swansea Museum is the longer established institution, in fact the oldest museum in Wales.

Matching orphan labels to objects (warning, nerdish stuff). Wellcome label 243552 was found separate from its object (Henry Wellcome’s agents gave artefacts accession numbers but some of these have been separated from artefacts). But the Wellcome Institute in London has useful documents. Back in 2000 I visited there and made a few notes. Looking back over those notes I found a reference to a 1930s notebook (‘Miss Borer’s notebook’) which states that Lot 52 was a Black basalt mould measuring 4 ½ by 2 inches purchased at Sotheby’s on 22/10/1934. We have six basalt moulds in the collection. But only one with that measurement-result! EC656. When we look at photocopies of the sale catalogues of that date (some of which we have in our museum library) we see that this had been the property of Mansoor Abd Essayid. The catalogue says he was an official of the Egyptian state railways, Cairo. Unfortunately we don’t know where he obtained his moulds.

Went to two very good talks this week. One by Dr Kasia Szpakowska on a journey through the afterlife, which was given to the Friends of the Egypt Centre on Wednesday night. You can find out more about the friends lectures here: http://www.egypt.swan.ac.uk/about/friends-of-the-egypt-centre/

 The other, held on Thursday early evening, by a student who is doing a PhD in both Swansea and in the Sorbonne. It was all about a little known woman called Ahhotep. She was a ‘warrior queen’ who drove off the enemies of Egypt around 1550 B.C.  Most literature on her states she wasn’t involved in the warfare itself despite the fact that her son credited her with driving off the enemies of Egypt. The usual thinking seems to ignore the facts and just assume that there was no way Egyptian women did such unladylike things! This talk gave a different view. More about that lecture programme here: https://inepww.wordpress.com/

And, if anyone is interested you can attend these lectures. The Friends lectures have a small cost, the latter are free.

Our Museum Volunteer Manager Syd Howells gave a successful talk on the history of the Egypt Centre and the collections' origins to a church group in Tycoch on Thursday evening.

Our volunteers have been super busy this week with large school groups almost every day and of course, all schools chose the mummification activity.  We really couldn’t manage without our volunteers.

Quote from a child visiting the Centre on being helped to take his coat off ‘I like it here, it’s like a five-star hotel’.

What we did-Curator's notes 6.10.17

Dear all, we thought you might like information from us, telling you a bit about what we do.

So, hello there.

We are now open again and have had a really busy week with around 60 children per day. This was from a school who had never visited us before. We are taking tons of school bookings, into next year, from as far away as England!

We are also taking lots of bookings for ‘Frightful Pharaohs’ Halloween Half Term workshop, a great opportunity for children aged 6-10 to learn and have fun in a museum setting: http://www.egypt.swan.ac.uk/whats-on/ So book now if you want your child to take part.

On Monday Wendy and Syd had a meeting with Human and Health Sciences regarding a proposed joint project on health and well-being. Watch this space!

Our very own Lauren gave a talk at Bristol all about her experiences as a volunteer at the Egypt Centre. For those that don’t know Lauren she originally came to us as a work experience student from school, went on to Swansea to study Egyptology, then did the MA in Museum Studies at Leicester (very prestigious) and is now employed as our shop manager.

I started the week with taking a picture of a weird looking bit of flint and then posted this piece about it: http://egyptcentre.blogspot.co.uk/2017/10/a-hollow-scraper-from-armant.html

On Wednesday Sam had a very successful meeting with the Student Union. We are hoping to work with them more in the future.

Thursday Syd went over to the Department of Classics, Ancient History and Egyptology and told them all about the Egypt Centre. He was so persuasive that several have agreed to volunteer. We are really short on volunteers to deliver activities with schools, so if you know anyone who would like to volunteer please contact us. Full-training is given.

One of our amazing international volunteers Paulina is back. She is starting a PhD at Swansea. If you want to know more about her look no further than: http://egyptcentre.blogspot.co.uk/2017/06/paulina-sutorovamy-experience-at-egypt.html

I have been ploughing through some orphan labels- mainly Wellcome labels and also lot numbers which have got separated from their objects sometime between 1971 when the collection came to Swansea and 1997 when I started here. The Wellcome numbers are those which were given to the items years and years ago by Sir Henrey Wellcome, who was the original owner of the bulk of the collection. He bought lots of objects at auction, hence the lot numbers. This will take forever, but the intention is to do a bit at a time. If I find anything interesting I will let you know.

Ken Griffin who used to be an undergraduate volunteer with us but then rose to the dizzy heights of lecturer has just had his article which includes one of our shabtis. The citation is: Kenneth GRIFFIN. – ‘The Ushabtis of the Divine Adoratrice Qedmerut’ in Benoît LURSON, 2016 De la mère du roi à l'épouse du dieu, Von Der Koningsmutter Zur Gottesgemahlin, pp. 145–155. And if you want to know what a shabti/ushabti is, it is  a servant figurine to do the work for you in the afterlife. Well who wants to work when they’re dead?

Expect more news anon and if you do want to visit we are open Tuesday to Saturday 10am to 4pm. We can also arrange special tours and events for you by appointment.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

The Amduat in the Egypt Centre

Inspired by Kasia Szpakowska's talk for the Friends of the Egypt Centre last night, I thought I would introduce one or two artefacts in the Egypt Centre which may have Amduat influences. Kasia's talk was all about the Amduat, the ancient Egyptian afterlife book which shows the journey of the sun-god Re through the afterlife of the Duat. The earliest complete depiction known is from the tomb of Tuthmosis III (1479-1425 BC). 

Unfortunately, we don't have any pure Amduat scenes in the Centre but during the Third Intermediate Period (1069-747 BC), Amduat scenes influenced the afterlife scenes shown in tombs, coffins and papyri. We do have some coffin fragments and a complete, coffin with Amduat influence.

So, here we have W648: It shows the sun-disk in the morning embracing the scarab. Very similar scenes are shown on New Kingdom copies of the Book of the Dead Spell 15, but there a female figure usually embraces the sun-disk. By the Third Intermediate Period, it is the male god Osiris with elements of Shu from the Book of Caverns who does the embracing. And, by this date, Osiris is more closely linked with the scarab. In Amduate texts it seems that Shu is the god who reaches towards the scarab.

And here is EC1053: a piece of cartonnage showing Re in his night boat (you can see the stars), waiting to be reborn. He is shown as a child in a red uterine disk. It isn't entirely Amduat but does echo the idea of Re travelling through the Duat to be reborn,

Here is my favourite character from the complete Third Intermediate Period coffin in the Egypt Centre showing 
Hepet-hor, She Who Embraces Horus. This divinity is almost inseparable from Osiris, guarding his judgement hall. She also tends to appear where Osiris and Re 'get together' in order to renew Re. She does appear on an Amduat Papyrus in the Nelson Atkin Museum of Art, Kansas City, where she holds up Osiris.

Then there is the mound scene on our coffin, not unlike the Amduat mound of Sokar with the snake and rebirth connotations. And, Sokar was very much associated with Osiris. 

While these examples are not entirely Amduat inspired, and several also have Book of the Dead or other Otherworld book influence, they also have some similarities with the Amduat

Any mis-attributions, mistakes etc. are of course mine, not Kasia's!

Monday, 2 October 2017

A hollow scraper from Armant

This large crescent-shaped piece of flint is flaked all over. It has one concave edge 100 mm across and some cortex (the outside of the original flint pebble or slab) is visible. Hollow scrapers are usually found in the Thebes area and seem to be Middle Palaeolithic (around 300,000 years old). This example is from Armant, 12 miles South of Thebes. The brown patina shows it to be Palaeolithic.

From Seligman 1921, p. 124
Such items were described by General A. H. Lane Fox Pitt-Rivers in 1882. In 1921 Seligman suggested that these were probably prepared cores with the hollow retouched. One can imagine that they may have been used to scrape cylindrical hafts for other artefacts. However, what these were actually used for and why they have only been found around Thebes remains a mystery.

Hérisson et al 2016, fig. 22

Outside of Egypt there is a similar example from the Acheulean of La Grande Vallée at Colombiers (Hérisson et al 2016, fig. 22).



David Hérisson, Jean Airvaux, Lenoble Arnaud, Daniel Richter, Emilie Claud and Jerome Primault ‘Between the northern and southern regions of Western Europe: The Acheulean site of La Grande Vallée (Colombiers, Vienne, France)’ Quaternary International, 2016, 108–131.

Pitt Rivers, L. F. 1882, ‘On the Discovery of Chert Implements in Stratified Gravel in the Nile Valley Near Thebes’, Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, 11, 382–400.

Seligman, C.G. ‘The Older Paleolithic Age in Egypt’, Journal Royal Anthropological Society of Great Britain and Ireland, 1921, 51, 115–153.