Tutankhamun’s ‘Guardian’ Statues: Symbolism and Meaning

One of the most striking objects in the exhibition ‘Tutankhamun: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh’, which recently opened to sell-out crowds at the Saatchi Gallery in London, is a life-sized striding statue of the king. One of a pair (its mate remains in Cairo), in many ways these statues exemplify many of our misapprehensions about Ancient Egypt in general and Tutankhamun in particular.

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In dramatic black and gold, the statues were said to be really ‘life-size’ because they represented the pharaoh at the same height as discoverer Howard Carter claimed the ‘boy king’ had been in life after measuring his mummified body.

The Tutankhamun exhibition – of which I was lucky to get a preview – emphasises the status of the king’s funerary assemblage as priceless, luxurious, consisting of one-of-a-kind treasures. In fact, it is clear from the broken remains of the contents of other tombs in the Valley of the Kings and elsewhere that such statues were part of a standard set of funerary furniture that a king of Egypt’s New Kingdom could expect to be buried with. Tutankhamun’s was if anything a pared down version of the set.

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Tutankhamun’s statues, with remains of shrouds, in situ. Photo by Harry Burton. Griffith Institute

The closest parallels to Tutankhamen’s statues come from the tomb of Ramesses I (KV 16). Giovanni Belzoni describes their discovery in the burial chamber in 1817:

…in a corner a statue standing erect, six feet six inches high, and beautifully cut out of sycamore-wood: it is nearly perfect except the nose… in the chamber on our right hand we found another statue like the first, but not perfect. No doubt they had once been placed one on each side of the sarcophagus, holding a lamp or some offering in their hands, one hand being stretched out in the proper posture for this, and the other hanging down.

Two similar, though less well-preserved, statues come from the tomb of Horemheb (KV 57). Like those of Ramesses I, these are somewhat over-lifesize in scale. One other statue of this type originates from the tomb of Ramesses IX now in the British Museum, and is roughly lifesize. All of these are resin-coated, and seem to have originally been gilded. The presence of this statue type throughout the Eighteenth Dynasty is indicated by fragments: in KV 20, the tomb of Hatshepsut/Thutmose I, the excavators noted “a part of the face and foot of a large wooden statue covered with bitumen”; Amenhotep II was provided with a resin-coated example in the same pose as later statues but at only 80 cm in height and fragments of sculpture on the same scale come from the tombs of Thutmose III and IV. Parts including “two left ears and two right feet” for “lifesize wooden statues” were found in the cache tomb WV 25 but perhaps washed in from the neighbouring tomb of Ay (WV 23). Taken together, this evidence suggests that such royal images increased in scale over time. Depictions of statues exactly similar to Tutankhamun’s appear in a scene of sculpture being produced in the tomb of the vizier Rekhmire (temp. Tuthmose III/Amenhotep II) – suggesting a consistent iconography over time.

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Scene from the tomb of Rekhmire (TT 100)

In Tutankhamun’s pair, one wears the nemes headdress and the other a khat bag-wig. The same head coverings also occur on the pair of statues of Ramesses I, although other statues are insufficiently preserved to know if this pattern was standard. The khat-wearing statue of Tutankhamun has a text on the kilt apron labelling it as: “The Perfect God… royal Ka-spirit of (the) Horakhty, (the) Osiris… Nebkheperura, justified”. This favours the interpretation of the statue(s) as a home for the royal Ka-spirit.

The supposed function of these sculptures as “guardians” arises from the position at the doorway of the burial chamber of Tutankhamun’s (albeit truncated) tomb, the seemingly threatening maces they hold and especially the over-lifesize scale of the Horemheb and Ramesses I examples.

Carter initially coined the term “guardian statue” and the contemporary press accounts emphasised this apparently defensive function in descriptions; that is still how the statue is described in the Saatchi exhibition interpretation. However, in no simple way is the statue a ‘guardian.’ The root of this persistent misinterpretation – absolutely typical for Egyptology – may lie in a deep-seated anxiety that the tomb was not supposed to be entered – the same apprehension that has fuelled countless examples of mummy fiction.

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Fifth Dynasty falsedoor of Khainpu (Acc.no TN R4567/1937), showing the same iconography in two dimensions as Tutankhamun’s ‘guardian’ statues show in three-dimensions

One wonders if the statues actually represent a much more general freedom of movement and power for the deceased; spells from the Book of the Dead are illustrated by vignettes of the deceased holding a cane and sceptre and the same iconography notably occurs frequently on falsedoors from the Old Kingdom onwards. These images are not usually interpreted as ‘guardians’ of the tomb – although the precisely parallel in two-dimensions the ‘scene’ set up in front of the door to Tutankhamun’s burial chamber in three-dimensions.

As ever, Tutankhamun’s ‘treasures’ say more about our modern anxieties about looking inside the tomb than they do about the ancient functions of objects such as sculptures.

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‘Golden Mummies of Egypt’ – Manchester Museum’s First International Touring Exhibition

Glittering gold and mysterious mummies are among Ancient Egypt’s most enduring attractions – and the source of some of its most persistent cliches. Manchester Museum, part of The University of Manchester, houses a world-class collection of such Egyptological ‘treasures’. For the first time, and opening in Buffalo NY in February, the museum is launching an international touring exhibition Golden Mummies of Egypt to share some of its Egyptian highlights and to ask questions about how we interpret them.

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Golden Mummies of Egypt examines hopes and fears about the afterlife when Egypt was part of the Greek and Roman worlds (c. 300 BC-200 AD). Wealthy members of this multicultural society still hoped for their dead to be transformed by the expensive process of mummification. By being covered in gold, the deceased might imitate the eternal radiance of the gods themselves. Blending Egyptian, Roman and Greek imagery, the strikingly lifelike painted mummy portraits are among the most haunting images from the Ancient World. Examining the meanings of these objects for their original viewers, the exhibition reflects on the diverse influences of identity formation.

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Gilded mummy of a woman. C. 100 BC. From Hawara, Egypt. Acc. no. 2120. Photo: Julia Thorne (@tetisheri)

Exhibition Curator Dr Campbell Price said: ‘Using our superb collection from Graeco-Roman Egypt, the exhibition is a wonderful chance to question why the Greeks and Romans were so fascinated with the Egyptian way of death, and why we are still spellbound today.’

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Painted mummy portrait of a woman. C. 150 AD. From Hawara, Egypt. Acc. no 2266

The University of Manchester has led research on Egyptian mummies for over a century, having acquired thousands of objects from archaeological excavations. The exhibition’s innovative visualisation technology brings CT-scans to life, but also questions why we are fascinated by mummies, what they might tell us about ourselves and the colonial context of their acquisition?

The need for such alternative perspectives is also inspiring Manchester Museum’s £13.5 million transformation hello future due to open in 2021, supported using public funding by Arts Council England and supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF) thanks to money raised by National Lottery players.

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Wooden openwork panel from a coffin, showing Isis and Osiris. C.100 AD. From Tuna el-Gebel, Egypt. Acc. no. 11254 Photo: Julia Thorne (@tetisheri)

Director of Manchester Museum Esme Ward said: ‘we are excited to be involved in this once in a lifetime opportunity to launch Golden Mummies of Egypt .The exhibition will bring together world class collections, University research and an exploration of both the current fascination and colonial context of Ancient Egypt. ’

In partnership with Nomad Exhibitions, the tour consists of over 100 key objects from the Manchester Museum collection, including eight mummies, as well as masks, coffins, jewellery and sculpture. Tim Pethick, CEO of Nomad, said: “Nomad Exhibitions are delighted to have the opportunity to work with the team at Manchester Museum to bring this outstanding collection to the world. It is particularly exciting for us to be able to create an Egyptian age exhibition that focuses on the rich, but often over-looked, Graeco-Roman period with its diverse multi-cultural society and cultures.”

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Terracotta figure of the Egyptian god Bes as a Greek soldier. C. 100 BC. From Egypt. Acc. no. 11244 Photo: Julia Thorne (@tetisheri)

The exhibition opens at the Buffalo Museum of Science, in New York State, on Saturday 8th February 2020. From there it will travel to North Carolina Museum of Art in the Autumn before continuing to other US venues. Golden Mummies of Egypt will return to Manchester Museum’s newly built Special Exhibition Hall in time for the centenary of the discovery of Tutankhamun’s Tomb in November 2022.

Presale tickets will be available at sciencebuff.org on December 2.

Follow #GoldenMummies #GoldenMummiesBuffalo for more

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Object Biography #24: An erased stela of Tutankhamun(?)

This unobtrusive limestone stela (Acc. no. 2938) was found by Egyptian workmen employed by Egyptologist Arthur Mace (1874-1928) at the sacred site of Abydos. Like many other monuments set up there over the centuries, it might be assumed simply to be a tribute to the local god, Osiris, but the iconography and composition of the scene is unusual. Although found broken, and with clear evidence of erasure to the identifying inscription, is one of the most intriguing – but little-known – pieces in Manchester’s collection.

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Stela 2938. From Abydos. Photo: Julia Thorne @tetisheri

To begin with the lower register; this shows the expected figure of Osiris, seated at the right, with five figures approaching him – four of them uncaptioned and therefore unidentified. These consist of two women and two men, each of apparently elite status and in the pose of adoration – in keeping iconographically with depictions of kinship groups on many late New Kingdom stelae. However, the group is led by a royal male figure identified as ‘Djeserkare’ – the revered king Amenhotep I. This is unusual, as the overall iconography of the piece dates to very late Dynasty 18  – long after Amenhotep I had died. Usually, posthumous depictions of this deified king show him as passive and in receipt of offerings; it is also uncommon to find a king (let alone a deified king) leading – and in some sense in the same sphere as – a group of apparently non-royal people.

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Detail of the stela of the sculptor Qen, showing the deified Queen Ahmose-Nefertari and King Amenhotep I. MMA 51.93

The upper register is even more intriguing. It shows three royal figures approaching Amun-Re, who is captioned with his name and the epithet ‘Lord of the Sky, Ruler of Thebes’. He is accompanied on this top register by the standing figures of (from left to right) the deified Queen Ahmose-Nefertari, the ‘Lord of the Two Lands’ Nebpehtyre (= Ahmose I), and an active (i.e. living/reigning) king, whose name has been erased. The stela thus shows no fewer than three historical royal figures – reflecting an awareness of history at Abydos that is echoed in another Abydos monument (possibly a statue base) naming several kings also in Manchester. In addition to being regarded as a founder of the New Kingdom, Ahmose I is well-known as a builder at Abydos – while Amenhotep I and his mother Ahmose-Nefetari were venerated at the Theban workers town of Deir el-Medina.

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Ahmose I(?) embraces Osiris. Detail of a block from his Abydos complex. Manchester Museum 3303

The style of the figures, and the offering Pharaoh in particular, have a distinctly Amarna feel – but given the scene shows the worship of Amun, it can hardly show Akhenaten or his immediate successor(s). Tutankhamun is a strong possibility, perhaps a way of reasserting the dominance of Amun even at Abydos and reconnecting with the orthodoxy symbolised by older rulers. Certainly, Tutankhamun’s name was erased after his death because of his association with the Amarna interlude. His short-lived successor Aye may also be considered for the same reason. Horemheb and Ramesses I are also a less-likely possibility, as it is not clear why their names would have been subsequently removed.

It is perhaps ironic that the pharaoh who commissioned the stela to show his connection with great kings of the past should have been so conspicuously forgotten.

 

The stela will appear with several other objects from Manchester Museum in the exhibition ‘Toutankhamon. À la découverte du pharaon oublié’, in Liége in Belgium between December 2019 and July 2020.

The exhibition ‘Tutankhamun: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh’ opens at the Saatchi Gallery, London, on Saturday 2nd November.

 

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Curator’s Diary May 2019: British Council in Rome

LBritish_Councilast month, I was fortunate to participate in the UK cultural delegation to Rome, sponsored by the British Council. This was a wonderful opportunity to share news of projects being undertaking at cultural institutions in the UK.

The 2-day networking meeting opened with a reception hosted by the British Ambassador to Italy, Jill Morris. Her residence provided the perfect atmosphere for an informal discussion about potential collaborations as we approach the UK-Italy year of culture in 2020.

It was also an important chance to meet colleagues from the UK (including one from Manchester!), whose paths have not necessarily crossed with my own – and as a direct result I am now in fruitful discussions with several institutions about prospective loans of our most significant Egyptian material while we are temporarily closed for our ‘Hello Future’ project. More on this soon.

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I was delighted to hear several speakers mention – and indeed praise – Manchester Museum for our emerging work on decolonisation – “acknowledging that the British Empire did actually happen” – with our current exhibition on the 1919 Jallianwalla Bagh massacre cited in particular. The meeting provided a welcome opportunity to open discussion with an Italian museum about taking our award-winning UK-touring exhibition ‘Gifts for the Gods: Animal Mummies Revealed’ to the continent – more on THAT soon as well.

A special highlight – and the main reason I went on the trip – was meeting a colleague from the Museo Egizio, whose work has lead the way in inclusivity, caring, and imagination. A recent project with Arabic speakers drew criticism from the Italian far right, highlighting the important role of museums in social and civic rights. There’s lots we can learn at Manchester Museum from our Turinese colleagues and I look forward to ongoing dialogue.

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Naturally, there was also ample chance to visit museums and galleries. Thankfully, an ICOM card secured immediate entry into the Vatican Museums – otherwise I’d have been waiting in a queue of hundreds of people – inflated by those in town for Holy Week celebrations in the lead up to Easter. The Vatican’s Egyptian galleries had been reconfigured somewhat since my last visit 10 years ago, and showcase highlights of a marvellous collection – probably overlooked because of the strength of the rest of the Vatican’s incredible holdings. I got to see perhaps the best exhibition ever on the tendency of some sculptures to influence later ones at the National Roman Museum (complete with superbly effective lighting and sound – noted). I also managed almost to check off all of Rome’s obelisks…

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I’m particularly grateful to our Director Esme Ward for encouraging me to apply to the programme, and hope to report further collaborations with Italian institutions soon.

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The Egyptian Revolt of 1919 & its aftermath

Museum Studies placement student William Pridden considers the significance of a recently acquired historic photograph in light of the 200 year anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre, and the centenary of both the 1919 Jallianwalla Bagh Massacre and the rather less well-known 1919 revolts against British rule in Egypt. 

An artefact can tell many stories. The truth of this statement grew clearer each day as I began researching a surprising photograph found in a gallery, among other assorted artefacts, from Luxor, Egypt. The photograph depicts the King of Egypt and Egyptian officials in the company of British dignitaries. What at first appeared to be a simple photo of a King visiting a foreign country soon turned into a narrative of freedom, oppression and violence: entwining the sovereignty of Egypt with the city of Manchester.

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King Fuad of Egypt with Mohamed Shaheen Pasha, private physician to the king; Amin Auis Pasha, Vice director of the royal cabinet; Ahmed Mohammad Hassanein Bey, first chamberlain; Achille Sekaly Bey; lieutenant colonel Khairy Bey, Aide-de-camp and M. Illias Ismail, Egyptian consul at Liverpool. Manchester officials: Lord Mayor, James Henry Swales; Lady Mayoress; Mr. Heath, Town Clerk; Alderman Miles Mitchel, Deputy Mayor; Aldermen T. Fox, Derwent Simpson and Robert Turner. 1927.

The photograph was taken during King Fuad’s visit to Manchester in 1927, during which time Egypt was still under occupation by the British Military despite having secured official ‘Independence’ in 1922. The King’s visit was in celebration of the area’s long history in the cotton industry as Egypt provided the vast bulk of cotton supplies to the North West at this time. However, King Fuad’s message to the Mayor of Manchester arguably alludes to the true intention of his trip: to highlight Egypt’s long struggle for self-determination.  King Fuad highlighted the importance of the Egyptian people in the growing of the cotton industry, describing the River Nile as being the lifeblood of his countrymen. The King also drew similarities between the civic governors of Manchester and Egypt in regards to their faith and character. The speech appeared to emphasise Egypt’s reliability as an independent nation and assured the British people of a continuing collaboration, finally stating that Egypt had “no truer friend or more sympathetic watcher” than the British Empire.

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Protesters against British rule, Cairo 1919

The British newspapers spoke of the crowds cheering for King Fuad, of the sun shining down on the city, of the King saluting the Cenotaph to applause:  no mention was made of the Egyptian Revolution in 1919. From March to July it is estimated that 800 Egyptian civilians were killed throughout the country with a further 39 sentenced to death by the British Empire. Those who were not killed were arrested with over 2,000 people jailed as a result of civil unrest. The revolution was an act of unity among the entire Egyptian populous with women and men, poor and rich, attempting to free the country from colonial rule.

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Egyptian women protest, 1919

The 1919 Revolution marks a continuing narrative of oppression not usually discussed in the British Media. As the centenary of the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre approaches (in which 1,600 Indians lost their lives) it is important to remember the harsh reality of colonial rule. The events of the Egyptian Revolution and the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre are not independent of each other, but instead are part of a shared universal history among former colonial countries and deserve to be remembered: rather than being forgotten due to shame. The photo of King Fuad’s visit represents a struggle for freedom and the chance to make amends. By remembering these colonial transgressions, a greater dialogue on tolerance can be learnt.

 

William Pridden is a Museum Studies student at the University of Durham. The photograph (accession number 14088) was purchased in Luxor and kindly donated by Tom Hardwick in honour of my predecessor as Curator of Egyptology, Christina Riggs.

Our new exhibition Jallianwala Bagh 1919: Punjab Under Seige opens this week. The 1927 photograph will be on display in our third floor space later this month.

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Object Biography #23: A False Door of Kha-Inpu (Acc. no. TN R4567/1937)

This pair of finely executed limestone reliefs comes from a larger false door emplacement. They entered the Manchester Museum from the collection of pharmaceutical baron Sir Henry Wellcome (1853-1936), whose vast numbers of objects apparently included material acquired from the collection of Victorian socialite Lady Meux (1847-1910) – including the present object. Pieces from the same tomb chapel are now in the Field Museum of Chicago and the Louvre. When first identified in the Wellcome collection, the limestone was marred by salt encrustations. Fortunately it has now been conserved.

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The false door of Kha-Inpu

The purpose of the false door was to channel the presence of the deceased (or of a deity in some temples) into a sacred space in order to receive offerings. The eternal needs of the ‘ka’ (the spirit of sustenance) mirrored to some extent the needs of the living to interact with the deceased, and the relationship between the two were hoped to be reciprocal. The false door was thus the focal point of the architecture of the elite Old Kingdom tomb chapel, although the false door motif continues on the sides of Middle Kingdom coffins and even appears on those of the Late Period. Depicting a door remained a key metaphysical conduit between the worlds of the dead or divine and the living.

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The false door motif on the coffin of Asru, c. 650 BC

In design, stone false doors varied considerably over time but tended to include several key elements: the recessed and bolted door itself, a curved drum above this, usually with the name of the deceased, and a central offering scene showing the deceased (and sometimes their spouse) seated at a table. The image, name and titles of the deceased are often repeated multiple times – perhaps to ensure that were one or other damaged then the spirit of the deceased would ‘survive’ through the others, although this is conjecture and apparently not stated explicitly in the ancient sources.

Here, Kha-Inpu is designated as the ‘overseer of the gold of the storehouse of the double house of the palace’, a role associated with resource management – a typical concern for the redistribution of goods that temples had even in the Old Kingdom. He served the cults centred on pyramids of the deceased Fifth Dynasty kings Neferirkare and Niuserre, located just next to each other at the site of Abusir. The ancient name of the pyramid temple of King Niuserre was Men-sut-Niuserre (‘Enduring are the Places of Niuserre’) and that of King Neferirkare, Ba-Neferirkare (‘Soul of Neferirkare’). A Czech Mission at Abusir recently identified the location of Kha-inpu’s tomb there, although previously it has been thought to have been located at Saqqara. We know about the functioning of the cultic activities in which Kha-inpu is likely to have been involved from the ‘Abusir archive’, a rich and important set of papyrus documents detailing the organisation of temple staff and their regular duties.

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The pyramids of (l-r) Neferirkare, Niuserre and Sahure at Abusir, with Giza (the arrangement on which they appear to have been modelled) behind. Photo: Ian Mathieson

The active, temple-based worship of Niuserre may have survived into the Middle Kingdom, with the presence of the tombs of two officials named Herishefhotep indicating that a functioning cult for the king lasted into at least the First Intermediate Period. The Manchester false door is an eloquent – and very finely-executed – testament to that cult.

Although our Ancient World galleries are temporarily closed, I am re-starting the Object Biography series with this post – which will be published in parallel by Ancient Egypt Magazine. 

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Curator’s Diary October 2018 – BM Interpretation Workshop in Aswan

I have just returned from helping to facilitate a workshop on interpretation organised by the British Museum International Training Programme (ITP) at the Nubian Museum, in Aswan, southern Egypt. I was delighted to join Dr Anna Garnett, Curator of the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, and Jane Batty and Stuart Frost,  of the BM’s Interpretation Dept. In addition to fellow facilitators Jackline Besigye (Uganda National Museum), Huzoor Choudhry (Huzoor Designs, India), Vandana Prapanna (CSMVA, Mumbai), we were given a wonderful Nubian welcome – with lively music and participatory dancing – and the chance to meet some 30 Egyptian and Sudanese colleagues.

Serious discussion

The Nubian Museum opened in 1997 and I had previously visited in 2005. It is one of those rare – and fortunate – museums that appears to defy the aging process, and I was struck by how fresh the displays still appeared, despite being relatively unchanged since my visit 13 years earlier. The Museum provided a perfect venue for discussion about interpreting Egyptian and Sudanese collections. Facilitators benefitted from a personal, introductory guided tour of the public galleries and behind the scenes spaces by the Director, Dr Hosny Abd el Rheem.

Bright, colourfully decorated education spaces contrasted with the darker, more dramatically lit display galleries. Our group were impressed by the award-winning architecture of the Museum, which is sympathetic to local building traditions. Especially effective use is made of outside spaces, including a reconstruction of a traditional Nubian House, an immersive ‘cave’ incorporating relocated rock art, and a sweeping amphitheatre space for major public performances.  The way the Museum tackled the representation of living Nubian culture – particularly surrounding issues of displacement during the construction of the Aswan High Dam – was noteworthy.

Labels – the bain of every curator’s life?

During the workshop, it was a privilege to reconnect with the vibrant ITP network on Egyptian soil, building on relationships forged through the international Summer programme, to which Manchester Museum has played host for some 10 years. Great to see several ITP past fellows and to meet new colleagues from the Ministry of Antiquities.

Discussion of interpretation focussed, inevitably, on label and panel text-writing, in addition to alternative strategies such as multimedia and performance/events. We agreed on the importance of that strange alchemy of ‘curatorial’ and ‘interpretation’ approaches to interpretation. Jane Batty introduced the BM’s very useful ‘Top 10 Tips’ for effective interpretation. I was especially struck by the importance of physically connecting text to specific objects rather than letting text float alone, in the hope that someone will read it.

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Campbell & Anna enjoying the Nubian sunshine

I have always been an advocate of object numbers on labels – the British Museum apparently less so. An excellent point that was raised in my discussion group was that it is perhaps only appropriate to dispense with accession numbers on labels if you have a reliable, working online catalogue to look the object up in or a comprehensive published catalogue for your temporary or permanent displays. Lacking these tools, accession numbers still seem a valuable tool for both collections management and finding out further information.

Throughout the almost week-long preparation for and delivery of the workshop, it really hit home just how similar our challenges are – from the biggest museum to the smallest, from Mumbai, to Cairo, Aswan to Manchester. ITP is not simply about “telling” other people how to “do” interpretation the British Museum way, but creating a genuine dialogue that can lead to collaborative interpretation. With so many excellent museum collections in Egypt and Sudan, and after this opportunity to discuss common approaches at length, I look forward to working more closely with Egyptian and Sudanese museum colleagues in future.

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