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An intern’s perspective: Cataloguing Egypt at Manchester Museum

Fragment of cartonnage. No number.

Fragment of cartonnage. No number.

Here our most recent intern, Hannah Perry – a student at UCL Qatar, describes her placement at the Manchester Museum, and the experience of working on collections.

 

As part of my Museum and Gallery Practice MA at University College London-Qatar, I carried out a one-month placement with Manchester Museum.  The aims of the placement were to apply the skills learned throughout the course towards an institution of our interest.  An art history student focusing on ancient Egyptian art as an undergraduate in the States, I was very excited for this opportunity to work with Manchester’s Ancient Egyptian collection!

 

Throughout my time here, I worked on a project photographing and documenting over 1,000 of the 16,000 objects in Manchester’s Egyptian collection.  Among these objects were bronze statuettes, ivories, animal specimens, coffin casings, jewelry and much more.  All photographs and information were uploaded to the Manchester Museum records database, which are made available to the public via the museum website.  This was a particularly fulfilling task for me, considering I have lived in many regions with little to none ancient Egyptian collections, I am very appreciative of museum initiatives to share online collections.

 

It came immediately to me that Manchester Museum is very different from the institutions I am familiar with in the Gulf.  In Qatar, it has been an incredible experience to witness the formative years of world-class museums.  As they were born in the digital age, collections have grown simultaneously in both their physical acquisition and digital experience.    In Manchester, on the other hand, the collection has been in the works since the 19th century- well documented in book after book of museum records.  The objects I recorded were accompanied by notes from generations of curators and keepers, often times just as exciting as the objects themselves.   For me, every object was a fascinating discovery, and I could imagine for many museums, revisiting stored objects for database entry may sometimes result in exciting rediscoveries as well.

 

A profusion of copper alloy Osiris statuettes

A profusion of copper alloy Osiris statuettes

Although the process of record keeping may seem tedious to some, my work at the Manchester Museum turned out to be an invaluable experience.  Museum catalogues and databases, important to the non-local public, are often taken for granted.  I gained an insight into the huge amount of work involved in recording a collection as large and historic as Manchester’s Egyptian collection.  Although I have previously learned to maintain and create museum database in a classroom setting, it was not until I applied these skills at the Manchester Museum that I actually grew to appreciate the process.  Now I can only hope to continue this work somewhere as incredible as the Manchester Museum!

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Prince Khaemwaset’s signature deposits: being part of History

Alabaster block of Khaemwaset, from a Memphis foundation deposit. Acc. no. 4947

Alabaster block of Khaemwaset, from a Memphis foundation deposit. Acc. no. 4947

A guest blog post from Nicolas de Larquier, currently on an internship at the museum, discussing some objects he has been working on, and the motivations of one of ancient Egypt’s most well-known personages.

Khaemwaset was the fourth son of king Ramesses II. His name is particularly known for being considered as the first known Egyptian historian. Even if the title could be a bit excessive, it is clear that Khaemwaset had a real interest in ancient times and especially for kingship lineage. He also has been shown to be a kind of “conservator”, by reshaping the Memphite sacred landscape and restoring some Old and Middle Kingdom monuments. But of course, one should keep in mind that Khaemwaset was mostly acting in regard to Ramesses II’s desire to promote his own kingship in reference to his great predecessors. Nevertheless Khaemwaset’s historical awareness can’t be denied and he clearly had a personal way to confront the past. He also obviously wanted to leave his own mark in a way that is different to the one we are accustomed to see in Ancient Egypt.

The Manchester Museum holds a deposit from Memphis, published by Flinders Petrie in 1909, composed of three small brick-shaped plaques (in alabaster, basalt and faience) inscribed in the name of Ramesses II. On the sides of two of them, and on the back of the third one, Khaemwaset’s name and main title are inscribed too.

Here is the description of that deposit, given by Petrie in Memphis I, p. 8: “Over the region now occupied by the pond near the West Hall, there has been a building of Ramessu II, now entirely destroyed. Only the west side of its foundation is left, and in the sand bed of it a foundation deposit was found, shewn on PI. XIX. The large block of alabaster has the cartouches of Ramessu II on both of the faces, and the inscription of “the high priest of Ptah, the royal son, Kha-em-uas” on both of the edges. The lesser tablet of green glazed pottery has similar names on the faces and edges ; and the black granite tablet has the names of Ramessu on one face, and that of Khaemuas on the other face. These are some of the finest deposit blocks that are known ; they rest now at Manchester.

Plate 19 from Petrie's 'Memphis I', showing the blocks of Khaemwaset

Plate 19 from Petrie’s ‘Memphis I’, showing the blocks of Khaemwaset

In his article “Khaemwese and the Present Past: History and the Individual in Ramesside Egypt”, Steven Snape hypothesises that this deposit could be attributed to the West Hall – a structure from the Ptah enclosure in Memphis – probably built for Ramesses’ jubilees. And indeed, if we know Khaemwaset especially for having been behind the architectural reorganisation of the Memphite sacred landscape and necropolis, or for the construction of the Apis Burials at the Serapeum, one may know that he was also in charge of the five Ramesses II’s jubilees celebrated between the years 30 and 42 of his reign.

Faience plaque from the Khaemwaset foundation deposit (Acc. no. 4949)

Faience plaque from the Khaemwaset foundation deposit (Acc. no. 4949)

The inscription on the “lesser tablet of green glazed pottery” is unfortunately much more difficult to read today than when Petrie found and published it. For this, the photograph presented on pl. XIX of Memphis I is really interesting. Moreover, a parallel for this tablet can be seen at the British Museum (EA49235). The latter has no provenance known and was purchased in Cairo. It is very similar to our own example in Manchester, and should come from Memphis too, maybe from the same type of deposit, perhaps from the very same West Hall of the Ptah enclosure.

In 1907, Petrie found a deposit in South Giza composed of a lot of anonymous shabtis but also Khaemwaset ones. The majority of these items are held by the Petrie Museum in London. It is not possible to determine the exact place where the deposit was found from the Petrie’s diary but Stephane Pasquali proposes as a provenance the Ro-Setjau area, and highlights a possible relation of this deposit with the Shetayet Shrine of Sokar. Indeed, Steven Snape presents the Shetayet shrine as an important site for quasi-funerary deposition and signals that some Khaemwaset shabtis have been found in that context.

Deatil of block 4947, with Khaemwaset's titles: "Sem-priest of Ptah, King's Son, Khaemwaset, justified"

Deatil of block 4947, with Khaemwaset’s titles: “Sem-priest of Ptah, King’s Son, Khaemwaset, justified”

But the point here is to question the value of the Khaemwaset’s deposits. Are they classical, canonical votive deposits or do they serve an extra purpose? There is a close relationship between Khaemwaset and Ro-Setjau as can be seen in his proper titles; we also know that he ordered there, as a personal project, the construction of a building, the Hill-Shrine, that could be seen from Memphis. It seems obvious that the historical awareness of Khaemwaset makes him work in three parallel ways : first of all he may have really wanted to restore monuments from ancient times, but always to create a link between his father’s kingship and the glorious kings of the Old Kingdom, and after this he had probably wanted to make his own name enter the History. For this, we could wonder if his deposits are not like a kind of a signature, as well as the ‘labels’ he inscribed on the pyramids and other monuments and statues. Indeed, Khaemwaset shabtis were also found during the Serapeum excavations when his tomb still waited to be discovered. Those shabtis could come from quasi-funerary deposits. They could also be just votive, but in a place where the Khaemwaset mark is so strong for having being the designer of it, one could certainly think that there is more to understand…

This may be the same for the deposit held in Manchester. Why did Khaemwaset inscribe his name on the edges and back of those tablets? Certainly to share with his father the benefits of such an offering but why not also to claim his part of the monument’s creation?

Nicolas de Larquier is a Student Curator from the French National Institute for Cultural Heritage (INP) currently working at the Manchester Museum.

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Object biography #15: A previously unidentified statue of Senenmut (Acc. no. 4624)

Front_blogJPEG

Acc. no. 4624. Photos copyright Manchester Museum

Our fragment (Acc. no. 4624) came to the Manchester Museum from the excavations of Edouard Naville at the site of Deir el-Bahri between 1894 and 1907. A more precise provenance for the piece or when exactly it entered the collection is not known. The fragment is 48.5cm high and 31cm wide, made of indurated limestone, and depicts the lower portion of a seated figure at about half lifesize. It is badly damaged but still carries hieroglyphic text on the sides of the seat, base and over the knees. Interestingly, the seat retains an artisan’s red ink guidelines for the inscription. Traces remain of blue pigment within individual hieroglyphic signs, implying that the statue was not, however, left unfinished.

Left_blogJPEGThe identity of the individual represented is recorded in our catalogue – based on hieroglyphs on the base – as ‘the priest of Amun, Userhat’ and the piece is there dated to the Middle Kingdom. I had often wondered who this mysterious priest Userhat was. Because the favour formula only begins to appear on elite statues at the end of the Middle Kingdom, I speculated if this was one of the first examples of it. And given that the formula usually only appeared on sculptures of the very high elite at this time, I wondered why a simple ‘priest of Amun’ had been so favoured.

I thought no more about the fragment until the visit last Autumn of Prof. Rainer Hannig, of the University of Marburg. During a very genial and informative discussion with Rainer, I pointed the piece out and – almost as an afterthought – he noted that the hieroglyphs identifying the owner (Hm-nTr n imn wsr-hAt) could be read as a single title: ‘the priest of Amun-Userhat (a name of the sacred barque of Amun at Karnak)’, a title known to be held by only one person: Senenmut – high official under Queen Hatshepsut and one of the most well-known individuals from ancient Egypt.

Right_blogJPEGIt was with considerable anticipation that I checked the other titles on the statue (‘nobleman’, ‘governor’, and the slightly more unusual ‘overseer of the priests of Montu in Armant’) and found that each was attested for Senenmut. Knowing that the statue was from Deir el-Bahri, the site of Hatshepsut’s famous mortuary temple, I became really rather excited. On closer inspection of the statue itself, it was apparent that the lap of the figure seemed to rise somewhat before the mid-thigh break and no hands were visible. Could it be that this was a broken example of Senenmut in his innovative pose with Hatshepsut’s daughter, Neferure, bound within his cloak on his lap? Perhaps most revealing of all, upon close examination of the remains of the favour formula which had first attracted my attention I noticed that the statue was given as favour not by a ‘king’ at all – but by a ‘god’s wife’. There is only one

Detail of favour formula. The tops of the 'Hmt nTr' signs can just be made out.

Detail of favour formula. The tops of the ‘Hmt nTr‘ signs can just be made out.

example known to me of this variant of the favour formula, and that statue (Cairo CG 42117) belongs to Senenmut. Whether this ‘god’s wife’ is Hatshepsut herself or her daughter is unclear.

Six more statues of the total of 25 known for Senenmut carry the statement that they were ‘given as favour of the king’. In the inscriptions of another (CG 42214), Senenmut makes the following unusual – and somewhat touching – appeal to Queen Hatshepsut, explaining perhaps why he possessed so many statues:

Grant that there be commanded for this your humble servant the causing that there be made for me many statues of every kind of precious hard stone for the temple of Amun in Karnak and for every place wherein the majesty of this god proceeds, as [was done] for every favoured one of the past; then they shall be in the following of the statues of Your Majesty in this temple.

Senenmut hoped that by dedicating a range of sculptures – many of them innovative in their motifs, and set up in different locations – he would increase the chances of his memory lasting for eternity. Others, it seems, had different ideas. There is evidence that some – though not all – of Senenmut’s images were maliciously attacked. Perhaps this was carried out by those with a unknown person grudge against Senenmut? Perhaps by those who thought his relationship with the Queen inappropriate? Or perhaps by those that hated Hatshepsut herself? Perhaps even by later people for whom the very idea of a female pharaoh was anathema? Whatever the motivation, maybe this is the reason that the Manchester fragment is so badly damaged.

Senenmut’s life has inspired more scholarly and popular writing than almost any other non-royal from Pharaonic times. I am quite sure that this bashed-up fragment, which has lain unrecognised in Manchester for over a century, represents the twenty-sixth attested statue for Senenmut. Information from its texts and archaeological context may well add important details to the Senenmut story, illustrating that exciting new finds await discovery in even the most supposedly well-known collections.

See further:

- Delvaux, L. 2008. Donné en récompense de la part du roi‖ (djw m Hswt nt xr nsw), Unpublished PhD dissertation: Strasbourg.

- Dorman, P. 1988. The Monuments of Senenmut: Problems in Historical Methodology, London.

- Meyer, C. 1982. Senenmut: Eine prosopographische Untersuchung, Hamburg.

- Price, C. 2011. Materiality, Archaism and Formula: The Conceptualisation of the Non-Royal Statue during the Egyptian Late Period (c. 750-30 BC), Unpublished PhD dissertation: Liverpool.

A full publication of the Manchester fragment is currently in preparation.

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New light under old wrappings (I): Reinvestigating Asru

Inner coffin of Asru

Inner coffin of Asru

The mummy and coffins of Asru, an elite lady from 25th-26th Dynasty (c. 750-525 BC) Thebes, were among the earliest additions to what was to become the Manchester Museum collection when they were donated to the Manchester Natural History Society by William and Robert Garnett in 1825. She has already been unwrapped, probably at one of the fashionable ‘mummy unrollings’ of the period. In modern times, Asru proved to be the perfect patient when she was investigated by the Manchester Egyptian Mummy Project in the 1970s, because she had suffered from so many ailments – including arthritis, and parasitic infestations such as Strongyloides and Schistosomiasis (Bilharzia).

In 2012, in preparation for the re-opening of our Ancient Worlds galleries, all of the Museum’s 20 complete human mummies – including Asru – were scanned using the most up-to-date technology at the nearby Manchester Children’s hospital. The scans, conducted in collaboration with Professor of Radiology Judith Adams, featured on a number of TV reports but much of the new information derived did not become apparent until the scans had been properly and carefully analysed, sometimes taking months after the scanning session. PhD researcher Robert Loynes was instrumental, bringing his knowledge as a medical practitioner to the study of mummified remains.

Asru. Photo by Paul Cliff.

Asru. Photo by Paul Cliff.

The latest CT-scans confirmed Asru to have been an elderly woman for ancient Egypt, between 50 and 60 years of age at death. Interestingly, there was new evidence of arthritis in her neck, consistent with bearing a heavy weight over a prolonged period. Greater Manchester Police had established in the 1970s that, on the basis of her fingerprints, Asru’s hands and feet showed that she had lived a life of comparative ease. Perhaps what she carried on her head had a ritual rather than practical function?

Most interesting of all was the new information revealed about Asru’s mummification technique. CT-scans confirmed that, like many Egyptian mummies, Asru’s brain had been removed from the skull. Yet, rather than evidencing the standard method of extracting the brain through the nose, Asru’s ethmoid bone was found to be intact. Instead, transorbital excerebration had been performed: the removal of brain matter through the eye sockets. This is known in other cases but appears to have been extremely unusual.

Asru1

Asru’s outer coffin base. Photo by Paul Cliff.

Recently an opportunity also arose to examine Asru’s two coffins more closely, and to read the extensive inscriptions on them. These texts are mainly formulaic prayers for offerings and provide very little in the way of personal information. This is contrast to ideas held when mummies and coffins, like those of Asru, were arriving in the West; collectors believed that the texts were largely biographical and gave detailed accounts of the life of the coffins’ occupant. Such ‘biographies’ that were supplied in displays were often completely fictional, in an attempt to add interest and a humanising gloss to a curiosity. Thus, when Asru (read as ‘Asroni’) was first exhibited she was referred to as a ‘maid of honour in the court of the 20th(!) pharaoh’ – perhaps just because of the prestigious ‘look’ of her mummy and coffins.

Detail of Asru's outer coffin, giving genealogical information

Detail of Asru’s outer coffin, giving genealogical information

Asru’s own name means “Her arm against them”, probably a reference to the protective power of the goddess Mut, consort of the Theban god Amun. This apotropaic formulation is especially typical for non-royal names during the Late Period (c. 750-30 BC). Asru holds no titles and is in fact only ever designated ‘Lady of the House’ (= ‘married woman’) on her coffins. The title ‘temple singer’ may come from confusion with other female mummies in the collection or developed out of her false identity as a ‘handmaiden.’

Most excitingly of all, it has been possible to read the names of her parents. Asru’s mother is identified as the ‘Lady of the House’ Ta-di-amun (‘She whom Amun has given’) and her father was called Pa-kush (‘The Kushite’), a ‘document scribe of the southern region’.

Given that, based on the style of her coffins, Asru is likely to have lived and died at Thebes in the 25-26th Dynasty, this is of potentially great interest. Egypt was ruled by Kushite kings during the 25th Dynasty, who had a stronghold at Thebes. Might Asru’s father have been a part of their administration? If so, she may have been very important indeed. Such findings prove the value of reassessing evidence which may already seem well-known.

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Temples, Gold and Border Security: Nubia and Egypt in the New Kingdom

Sesebi. Photo: Anna Garnett

Sesebi. Photo: Anna Garnett

In the last of her guest blogs, British Museum Future Curator trainee Anna Garnett describes material from the New Kingdom site of Sesebi

This week I recorded two lectures for Manchester University’s Online Diploma course in Egyptology, organised by Dr. Joyce Tyldesley. To complement the course structure, and to draw upon my own experiences, I gave an introduction to New Kingdom Nubia (the northernmost part of modern Northern Sudan) focussing on the site of Sesebi.

The Nile Valley, stretching from Egypt into Sudan, was a vital trade link and corridor of exotic materials, people and ideas throughout the pharaonic period. During the New Kingdom (c. 1550-1069 BC) the Egyptian pharaohs pushed further and further into Nubia with military campaigns, in order to bring the area under Egyptian control and therefore have power over the Nubian resources, which significantly included gold mines. During this time, the administration of Nubia was placed under the control of an important official known as the ‘Viceroy of Kush’, or the ‘King’s Son of Kush’; a title which emphasises their close relationship to the king. The Viceroy also supervised the tribute coming into Egypt.

Acc. no. 9456. Scarab of Ramesses II from Sesebi.

Acc. no. 9456. Scarab of Ramesses II from Sesebi.

The region of Upper (southern) Nubia was known to the Egyptians as ‘Kush’; an area which the New Kingdom Egyptians recognised as ‘Vile Kush’. Egyptian pharaohs established a large and complex system of fortifications and patrols in the area as a very visible message of domination to the local Nubian population. These fortifications often included temples and domestic architecture, and are known as ‘temple-towns’. One such example is the ‘temple-town’ of Sesebi, on the west bank of the Nile in the region of the Second Nile Cataract.

This site was constructed mainly during the Amarna Period during the reign of Akhenaten (c. 1350-1334 BC) and is currently being investigated by a team directed by Dr. Kate Spence (University of Cambridge) and Dr. Pamela Rose (Austrian Archaeological Institute). A temple dedicated to Amun-Re, Mut and Khonsu, domestic housing and storage facilities were built within an impressive

Acc. no. 9469. Sherd with potmark depicting the Memphite creator god Ptah. From Sesebi

Acc. no. 9469. Sherd with potmark depicting the Memphite creator god Ptah. From Sesebi

buttressed mudbrick fortification wall enclosing an area of approximately 270 x 200m. The modern site of Sesebi is characterised by the three remaining standing sandstone columns which preserve oval name-rings containing the names of Egypt’s conquered enemies. Close comparisons can be made between the layout of Sesebi and the contemporary royal centre at Amarna in Egypt.

The temple area was excavated by a team from the Egypt Exploration Society directed by A. M. Blackman and H. W. Fairman from 1936-8. Manchester Museum was a donor to those excavations and as a result received a selection of excavated objects for their collection. These

Acc. no. 9454. Faience bracelet from Sesebi
Acc. no. 9454. Faience bracelet from Sesebi

objects include faience jewellery (e.g. Acc. No. 9454), pottery sherds (e.g. Acc. No. 9469), faience moulds (e.g. Acc. No. 9468) and also a scarab of Ramesses II (Acc. No. 9456), an object which illustrates later activity at the site during the 19th Dynasty. Ongoing fieldwork and study of these so-called ‘temple-towns’, which also included such sites as Soleb, Sedeinga, Amara West and Sai, is beginning to reveal the intricacies of the New Kingdom occupation of those sites and indeed the complex relationship between the settled Egyptians and the local Nubian population at these key strategic locations.

Anna finishes her traineeship at Manchester Museum at the end of 2013 and will be returning to the Sudan for fieldwork in early 2014. Visit Anna’s blog here.

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Lecture 04/12/13: Ancestors in Ancient Egypt – Images and Practice

Acc. no. 1554 © Paul Cliff

Acc. no. 1554, depicting a man venerating an ancestor © Paul Cliff

“Ancestors in Ancient Egypt: Images and Practice”

Dr. Campbell Price, Curator of Egypt and Sudan
Kanaris Lecture Theatre, 6pm, Wednesday 4th December 2013
FREE

The existence of an ancestor cult in ancient Egypt has traditionally been downplayed by Egyptologists, in comparison with practices recognised in other African civilizations. In Pharaonic Egypt, ancestor worship has tended to be subsumed within a general reverence for deceased relatives, which dominates and motivates much of the monumental record. Viewing Egypt in its African context, this lecture will assess some points of comparison between ritual practice during the Egyptian New Kingdom (c. 1550-1070 BC) and the treatment of clay figurines from Komaland in Ghana, currently the subject of an exhibition entitled ‘Fragmentary Ancestors’ at the Museum. Possible connections include the manner of fashioning an image, its power as an object, expected interactions with the image, and the deliberate deposition of it.

This discussion is part of a wider research project which examines the interaction of individuals with standing monuments, and the extent to which those relationships are conceptualised and expressed on the monuments themselves. While compelling archaeological evidence for specifically ancestral veneration is limited in Pharaonic Egypt, texts and iconography are enticingly rich, and open to interpretation. This lecture presents a range of material and returns to the recurring question of how far Egyptology can engage with archaeological and enthnographic parallels.

More information here

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Catalogue of the Manchester shabti collection published

Announcing the publication of The Shabti Collections 5. A selection from the Manchester Museum by Glenn Janes, with a Foreword by Campbell Price.

Published by Olicar House. 520 pp. £95 RRP – with discounts in the Museum until 1 st December. More info here.

The new dense display of shabtis in our ‘Exploring Objects’ gallery

The publication of this volume coincides withe the opening of our new Ancient Worlds galleries, in which more shabtis than ever before are on display. This sumptuous, full-colour volume is surely the largest, most comprehensive catalogue of one of the largest collections of shabti figurines in Europe.

Despite the author’s modest claims to the contrary, this is a work of real and valuable sholarship. Glenn’s knowledge of his subject and painstaking research will no doubt ensure that this is a future reference work.

 

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Curator’s Diary 31/7/12: Gleanings from Gurob

A.S. Griffith's 1910 handbook of material from Kahun and Gurob.

A.S. Griffith’s 1910 handbook of material from Kahun and Gurob.

On Sunday, I attended the annual fundraising conference of the Gurob Harem Palace Project – a joint mission (Univeristy of Liverpool, UCL, Copenhagen) investigating the New Kingdom settlement site near the Faiyum that housed royal women. I enjoyed my visit to the site in April, which – though little is preserved above ground – gave me some sense of where our objects had come from. The Manchester collection contains over 700 objects from Gurob, many of which were published in a basic list form by Agnes Griffith (sister of famous Egyptologist Francis Llewellyn Griffith, who once taught at the Victoria University of Manchester) in 1910. Therefore, I was keen to attend the Gurob conference and to present an overview of the Museum’s Gurob material.

Petrie’s arrangement of objects from Gurob soon after they were found; our duck vessel is bottom right.

Meetings such as this provide an excellent opportunity to catch up on the latest discoveries, both in the field and in museums. A highlight was being made aware of digitised photographs from Petrie’s excavations (and of objects therefrom) currently available on the website of the Griffith Institute in Oxford. As Jan Picton pointed out, these arbitrary or aesthetic arrangements of objects often informed the plates and drawings that appear in Petrie’s excavation reports. It was exciting to see several objects now in Manchester shortly after they were first discovered. A personal favourite is our faience stirrup jar (Acc. no. 659) – a Mycenean shape adopted by Egyptian craftsmen  and decorated with Egyptian duck motifs.

The duck vessel today (Acc. no 659)

The duck vessel today (Acc. no 659)

It was also very interesting to hear a presentation by Dr. Valentina Gasperini, of Bologna University, who has been visiting the Museum over the last few months to work on imported pottery found at Gurob. I’m very grateful for her input into the interpretation of these objects. Many of these will appear in the new Ancient Worlds galleries where, along with material from the comparable site of Amarna, they will illustrate life in a New Kingdom royal city.

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Curator’s Diary 30/6/12: CT scanning Asru … and a crocodile mummy!

Inner coffin of Asru

Inner coffin of Asru

Over the past few weeks we have been filming short clips to appear in the new Ancient Worlds galleries, and in digital content to connect with them. This week we filmed Dr. Roberta Mazza of the University of Manchester talking about Egypt in Late Antiquity, in the beautiful surroundings of the John Rylands library. I am conscious, though, that I promised a follow-up post to news of another filming session, CT-scanning the mummies.

As part of a larger project, led by Profs Rosalie David and Judith Adams, to CT-scan all our mummies with the latest technology at the Manchester Children’s Hospital, one day last month we took one of the museum’s best loved mummies for a state-of-the-art examination.

Asru, already unwrapped, and her two finely decorated coffins were the first significant additions to the Manchester Egyptology collection. They were donated in 1825 by E. and W. Garrett to what was then the Manchester Natural History Society collection. Hieroglyphic texts on the coffins make clear that Asru had been a singer in the temple of Amun at Karnak, so it is probable that her burial was originally located on Luxor’s west bank. Stylistically, her coffins date to the 25th Dynasty (c. 750-664 BC)

Preparing Asru to be scanned

Preparing Asru to be scanned

Asru has enjoyed a surprising afterlife. She was an early subject of the Manchester Mummy Project, and proved a perfect patient. Using a pioneering range of non-destructive scientific techniques, the Project showed that in life Asru had suffered from a number of diseases. Among her complaints would have been anaemia, coughing, stomach ache and diarrhoea, caused by a parasitic bladder infection – called schistosomiasisis (or bilharzia) and other worm infestations, probably Strongyloides. Despite these ailments – and, judging from her fine coffins and mummification techniques, because of her wealth – she had lived to be around 50 at death – elderly for an ancient Egyptian! When the Greater Manchester Police took Asru’s finger- and toeprints (another first, for a 2700 year old body), they showed none of the wear and tear that most ordinary Egyptians would have expected.  Her duties as a chantress cannot have been arduous.

Following in a proud Manchester tradition: Jenny, Lidija, Campbell, Steph, Sam, Steve, and John, with mummified crocodile.

By conducting CT-scans using the latest technology, we hope to find out even more about Asru – things which, in the 1970s and 80s when she was first examined, were not possible to establish.

X-ray of the crocodile’s head

While scanning Asru, we also took the opportunity to subject one of our crocodile mummies to further examination. Lidija McKnight and Stephanie Atherton, colleagues from Manchester’s KNH Centre for Biomedical Egyptology, were interested to know more about what appeared to be a (fatal?) blow to the head. Results of the CT scans have not yet become available, but promise to give us much more information on the lives of people – and animals – in ancient Egypt. Results will be featured in digital content in the new Ancient Worlds gallery, and further collaborative research is expected to take place soon.

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Lecture: The archaeology of ritual, shrines and sacrifice in Northern Ghana

Museum Meets – Talks @ The Manchester Museum

6-8pm Thursday 21st of June

With Timothy Insoll, Professor of Archaeology at The University of Manchester. Tim has carried out field projects among the Tallensi of Northern Ghana and has participated in the Komaland project in Northern Ghana.

Book on 0161 275 2648, free, aimed at adults.

This talk looks like it will provide some interesting comparative perspectives to ancient Egyptian and Sudanese material and religious practices. Part of the Museum Meets adult programme.

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