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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New light under old wrappings (II): The temple singer Perenbast

Perenbast about to be CT-scanned at the Manchester Children's Hospital

Perenbast about to be CT-scanned at the Manchester Children’s Hospital

The British Museum opens its latest exhibition, Ancient Lives, New Discoveries, this week. Here in Manchester, which the exhibition acknowledges is the home of mummy studies, we have been carrying out similar research on our 20 human mummies, and many of the discoveries we have made tie in with those presented in the BM exhibition.

Between 1908 and 1909, while clearing the courtyards of some New Kingdom tombs on the Luxor west bank at Qurna, W. M. Flinders Petrie discovered an unopened tomb of “about the 25th Dynasty.” This camped space turned out to contain the burials of a man and a woman, presumably husband and wife, which can now be dated to the 22nd Dynasty based on their funerary provisions and the iconography of their coffins. In addition to the coffins, the burial contained a Ptah-Sokar-Osiris figure and two shabti boxes for each occupant. Most of the objects are wooden, covered in a black resin, with details on the coffins picked out in yellow and white paint. The assemblage belonging to the male mummy (whose name is not preserved) was sent to Bristol Museum and the group belonging to his (presumed) wife, a temple singer named Perenbast, came to Manchester.

Perenbast and her presumed husland after Petrie's discovery of their tomb

Perenbast (right) and her presumed husband after Petrie’s discovery of their tomb

X-rays taken in the 1970s as part of the Manchester Egyptian Mummy Project revealed some dense shapes in the area of Perenbast’s chest. These were identified as likely to be amulets but it was only in 2013 that their precise nature was understood. Using the latest CT-scanning technology, it is possible to visualise the objects at high resolution. What appeared as grainy masses on the older X-rays were revealed to be a plaque on the left side of the abdomen, used to cover the embalming incision, a scarab beetle and detached wings, and an ‘ib-shaped’ heart amulet. It is not clear if these objects are made of metal, faience, or perhaps wax.

Scan showing heart scarab and 'ib' amulets. (Image courtesy of Professor J Adams, Central Manchester Healthcare Trust)

Scan showing heart scarab and ‘ib’ amulets. (Image courtesy of Professor J Adams, Central Manchester Healthcare Trust)

It is now also possible to isolate objects such as amulets and print then in three dimensions, using resin. Such 3D renderings are displayed in the BM show and are planned for Perenbast to enable visitors to handle copies of objects which will never be seen for real. It would be interesting to know what, if any, similar amulets occur in the wrappings of “Mr. Perenbast” in Bristol.

The “revelation” of the “secrets” of Egyptian mummies – whether through physical unwrapping or more modern non-destructive methods such as CT-scanning – has a perennial favourite with the general public for over 200 years. And for just as long there have been (often circular) arguments about the ethics of investigation and display. In a provocative new book, Christina Riggs, formerly Curator of Egypt and Sudan here at the Manchester Museum, charts (and challenges) our obsession with mummies, evaluating ancient intentions and modern preconceptions.

The response to the latest British Museum exhibition shows that, more than ever, we want to probe underneath the mummy’s bandages in new and visually stimulating ways. The value of the answers these investigations provide depends, I suppose, on the value of the questions we come up with in the first place.

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Mummy Cartonnage: An Introduction

Campbell@Manchester:

Some interesting reflections on cartonnage from my colleague Roberta Mazza, Research Fellow at the Rylands Library and Honorary Academic Curator for Graeco-Roman Egypt here at the Museum

Originally posted on Faces&Voices:

Mummy mask of the Ptolemaic period, probably from Hawara

Mummy mask of the Ptolemaic period, probably from Hawara, Manchester Museum 2781.a

As all of you should know by now, I am remarkably pedantic. Therefore when I don’t know much about a topic, I go back to books and sometimes the Internet. Being mostly interested in Byzantine papyri, I had to refresh my knowledge of papyri from mummy cartonnage and related matters, since they have become such a hot topic after the publication of the new Sappho fragments (P. Sapph. Obbink and P.GC.105), and the YouTube adventures of the two Palmolive Indiana Jones retrieving New Testament papyri through mummy masks washing-up. So I thought to share what I have learnt so far.

In lesson one of any course in papyrology or related subject, you would be taught that there are two main sources from where you can legally or illegally retrieve papyri: excavating the remains of ancient cities, cemeteries, deposits…

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The Inspiration of Shabtis – an Artist’s Perspective

shabts2A blog from artist Linda Livesey about how our mass display of shabtis inspired her work.

I am a mature student at Manchester School of Art, studying Creative Practice, a part time studio degree programme.  Ceramics is my speciality within Creative Practice, for my current project I have taken on an Egyptian theme. I feel I have joined the many people that must have looked at and photographed the display of Shabtis in the Exploring Objects Gallery and gone Ah! or Wow!. The colours, mass, all wonderful, I felt that I had to respond to it somehow. For me, the starting point for my project had to be the Shabtis. I was fascinated by the fact that the optimum number to be placed in a burial was 401.

Linda's shabti army

Linda’s shabti army

They were there as servants in the afterlife, to be called upon to do any work the deceased required. I thought about this, I don’t want servants in the afterlife, I could do with them now. (Not really, I don’t believe in slavery). So I decided to make my own Shabtis, only 101 though, as I seem to have 101 things to do at the moment, I could do with some help with cooking, cleaning, shopping, etc.  etc. …… as I suppose many people could. I made my own plaster moulds, 15 different Shabti shapes, ready to press mould my collection using stoneware and crank clay also developing several glazes to try and interpret the colours seen in the museum. I feel my final collection works well, I am pleased with them and I am sure they will serve me well.

Thanks to Campbell Price for assisting me in my research for this project.

Our shabtis on display (photo: Paul Cliff)

Our shabtis on display (photo: Paul Cliff)

Read more about the ancient function of shabtis, as made clear in their inscriptions, and why they have been so collectable.

 

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Texts in Translation #13: The Stela of Sobek-khu (Acc. no. 3306)

Acc. no. 3306

Acc. no. 3306

“In the stela of Sebek-khu the Manchester Museum possesses one of the most important historical documents ever found in Egypt.” So wrote Thomas Eric Peet, exactly 100 years ago, about this rather crudely executed, 28cm-high limestone stela (Acc. No. 3306). It was discovered at the site of Abydos by John Garstang in 1901, excavating for the Egyptian Research Account. It once stood among a mass of such private monuments on the “Terrace of the Great God” at Abydos, a site sacred to the god Osiris, and enabled the owner – as the inscription makes clear – to enjoy the smell of incense from rituals conducted for Osiris nearby.

Yet, this document is unique because it gives an insight into a soldier’s life during the mid-Twelfth Dynasty (c. 1880-1800 BC). The text is difficult in parts due to the legibility of signs. It reads:

An offering which the king gives to Osiris, Lord of Abydos [that he may give an invocation offering of bread and beer], oxen and fowl, linen and clothing, incense and oil, every good and pure thing for the Ka-spirit of the member of the elite, governor, who says good things, repeated what was desired during the course of every day, great district official of the town, Khu-Sobek whose good name is Djaa, born of Ita of the district of Tefnut, possessor of honour.

His daughter, his beloved, Gebu, born of … His brother, Dedu, born of Meret-iti-es. Overseer of the chamber, Kheru, born of Khaseti. The nurse of his heart, Renef-ankh, born of [Dedi]. Iubu, born of Meret-iti-es. Nebet-Iunet, born of Iubu.

Peet's transcription (1914)

Peet’s transcription (1914)

His Majesty went downstream to overthrow the Bedouins of Asia. His Majesty arrived at the district named Sekmem. His Majesty was making a good start to return to the palace, (when) the Sekmem and the wretched Retjenu fell (upon him?) (while) I was serving at the rear of the army. Then the soldiers of the army went to fight with the Asiatics. I struck an Asiatic, and I had his weapons taken by two soldiers of the army without ceasing fighting; I was brave, I did not turn my back to the Asiatic. As Senwosret lives for me, I have spoken the truth! Then he gave me a throw-stick of electrum, into my hand, a sheath and a dagger worked with electrum together with handle.

Member of the elite, governor, firm of sandal, easy of stride, loyal (lit. one who adheres to the path) to the one who advances him, one to whom the Lord of the Two Lands gave his splendour, one whose position his love promoted, the great district official of the town, Djaa. He says: I have made for myself this memorial, beautified, once its position had been efficiently established at the terrace of the great god, lord of life, foremost in the district “Mistress of Offerings” and in the district “Mistress of Life,”(so that) I may smell the incense that comes forth, (and) I may be provided with the divine censing, the great district official, Djaa. He says: I was born in year 27 during the reign of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt Nebkaura (Amenemhat II), justified. When the Majesty of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt Khakaura (Senwosret III), justified, wearing (lit. in) the double crown arose upon the Horus throne of the living, His Majesty made me adopt the profession of a weapon trainer (lit. fighter of stick) beside His Majesty along with six men of the Residence. I have become effective at his side, and His Majesty caused that I be appointed to be a “Follower of the Ruler.” Sixty men have been given to me. His Majesty went upstream to overthrow the desert Nubians. Then I struck a Nubian [at Kenekef] in the presence of my townsmen. Then I went downstream in attendance (lit. following) with six men of the Residence. Then he appointed me “Inspector of the Followers.” One hundred men have been given to me as a reward.

Sobek-khu describes military campaigns into the ancient Near East which, before the discovery of the stela, were little known. As is typical of such autobiographical inscriptions, the protagonist emphasises his talent and promotion through the ranks by Pharaoh because of this. The real importance of this inscription lies in the references to armed combat in the area of Retjenu and Nubia. The soldier is “rewarded” with – or perhaps he simply helped himself to? – the weapons of his defeated foe. This type of autobiographical account – emphasising military prowess – became more common later in Egyptian history, but stands out at this period as something of an innovation. We know from another inscription from Semna that this same Sobek-khu was still active in the ninth year of Amenemhat III, when he would have been aged at least 60.

Little did Peet, the editor of the text and a frequent visitor to the Manchester Museum collection, realise that as he wrote about these ancient conflicts in early 1914, Europe was on the brink of the Great War. Sobek-khu lived to tell his tale but, as in all conflict, many others did not.

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MAES Lecture 14/4/14: Prof. Rosalie David – The Priests of Ancient Egypt

BM EA 65443. Statue of a priest.

BM EA 65443. Statue of a priest.

The next Manchester Ancient Egypt Society Bob Partridge Memorial Lecture will be given by Prof. Rosalie David

The Priests of Ancient Egypt, Practioners of Magic and Medicine

Monday 14th April, 7:30pm
Days Inn, Sackville Street, Manchester, M1 3AL
All welcome

 

The priesthood dominated and permeated almost every aspect of ancient Egyptian society, and yet there have been very few studies of their impact on this civilisation.

Professor David is currently undertaking a detailed study of the priesthood and the contribution it made to life in Egypt, and this lecture will explore one important aspect of the work – how the priests functioned for over three thousand years as the main practitioners of medicine and magic.

It will reveal how biomedical studies on human remains and the literary sources relating to the priesthood and medical treatment are helping to augment our knowledge of this very important group in Egyptian society.

Professor Rosalie David, OBE, PhD, FRSA, is Emeritus Professor of Egyptology at The University of Manchester and until her retirement in 2012, she was Director of the KNH Centre for Biomedical Egyptology at The University of Manchester. She was formerly Keeper of Egyptology at the Manchester Museum.

She is the author of over 30 books and many articles and was awarded the OBE for services to Egyptology.

 

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Amelia B. Edwards – A Thousand Miles up the Nile

Campbell@Manchester:

A super blog on Amelia Edwards, a key figure in the history of Manchester’s Egyptology collection

Originally posted on Manchester Museum Digital Gazette:

I have always loved books from the way they feel to how easily they can transport you to another world. This interest naturally led me to one of my favourite objects in the Museum collection, A Thousand Miles up the Nile (1877) by Amelia B. Edwards.

Image 1

I began working at the Museum in 2003, and during the early stages of this time the book was laid open in the Egyptian Gallery. I always wondered what the other pages might contain, which only added to the appeal of the book. So, I set about dispelling the air of mystery that surrounds this handsome looking woman.

Amelia Ann Blandford Edwards was born in London on the 7th June 1831. She was the daughter of a middle-aged couple; Alicia, an energetic and intellectual mother and Thomas, a retired army officer serving under Wellington in the Peninsular War, whom upon leaving the army became…

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