Monthly Archives: February 2012

Curator’s Diary 28/2/12: Identifying bone and ivory in ancient Egypt

Last week, along with other colleagues at Manchester, I attended a Renaissance North West training course at Lancashire Museums Conservation Studios in Preston on the identification of bone and ivory in both ethnographic and archaeological collections. The course provided a great opportunity to pick up practical skills from tutor Dr. Sonia O’Connor of Bradford University – an expert in osseous and keratinous materials, who will be featured as a guide in the new Ancient Worlds galleries. I welcomed the chance to become more familiar with scientific methods used regularly by conservation staff: also a good way to challenge the misconception of curators as locked in their ivory towers, if you’ll forgive the pun.

The course was timely, as I am currently working on the interpretation of bone and ivory objects that feature in the Pre- and Early Dynastic section of the new Egyptian World gallery. While most ivory from Egypt came from native hippopotami, elephant ivory is also attested as an exotic import. Bone and ivory have sometimes been confused for each other, and were put to a variety of uses. More objects of both materials than ever before will feature in the new galleries, including jewellery, utensils such as spoons, inlays for furniture, and tags to identify storage contents.

Hippo ivory tusk (Acc. no. 5074)

Hippo ivory tusk (Acc. no. 5074)

The function of one object, a hippo tusk labelled as a ‘wand’, has, however, resisted classification and so I thought I would highlight it here to invite other interpretations. The ‘wand’ was found along with several others in a Predynastic cemetery at Mahasna in Upper Egypt. The site’s excavation report includes an intriguing photo of the ivory ‘pendants’ and a male figurine of the same material wearing a penis sheath, in the same fashion as those made from gourds used in New Guinea today. Perforations at the base and a loop at the top of our example could allow for attachment to a waist belt – so are the terms ‘wand’ or ‘pendant’ just prudish euphemisms for what seems to be a penis sheath?
Does anyone have other suggestions for the function of the tusk? I’d be very interested to hear them!


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Conference: Palaeopathology in Egypt and Nubia – A Century in Review

Palaeopathology in Egypt and Nubia: A Century in Review

August 29-30, 2012

The Natural History Museum, London, UK

The first Archaeological Survey of Nubia published its final report just over 100 years ago, drawing to a close one of the largest set of palaeopathological investigations ever carried out. The human remains from this and other such studies during the last century have granted us incredible insights into the lives and deaths of the ancient Nubians and their neighbours to the north, the Egyptians. The skeletons and mummies of these two great civilisations have also helped drive the development of palaeopathology as a discipline. To celebrate this centenary, we invite you to attend a workshop to learn about and discuss the past work, present research, and future direction of human and animal palaeopathology in this region. Plenary lectures at the workshop will be given by Prof. Albert Zink (EURAC Institute), Prof. Don Brothwell (The University of York) and Dr. Derek Welsby (The British Museum).

You are invited to submit an abstract and title for a presentation at the workshop. The deadline for submission is the 31st March 2012. The abstracts should not exceed 250 words, and must be written in English. Abstracts may be submitted as .doc or .pdf files by email to Presentations will be 15 minutes long with an additional 5 minutes for questions.

Attendance fees will be £45 for a full delegate, or £30 for students (with valid student card). Online registration will be available shortly at the KNH website. Fees include attendance at a public lecture on the evening of the 28th August given by Prof. Mike Zimmerman (Villanova University).

This conference is one of the outputs of research presented in the Museum’s ‘Grave Secrets’ exhibition – due to close on the 4th of March.

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Event: Gripping yarns – keeping your toes warm in ancient Egypt

Big Saturday Event

Egypt sock

Socks old and new: our example from Roman Egypt (Acc. no. 983) (top) and, below, another knitted by our Curator of Public Programmes, Anna Bunney, based on the same pattern

Saturday 25th February, 2.00-4.00pm 

The Manchester Museum, Discovery Centre

Is this the oldest sock you’ll ever see? Be inspired by the Museum’s 1,700 year old sock from the site of Oxyrhynchus in Roman Egypt and other knitting-related items from the Egypt collection.

Part of the Close Knit series of knitting workshops, in partnership with Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester Art Gallery and Gallery of Costume.

For adults. Free, drop–in.



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An excellent update by Lynsey Halliday on her work on our 19th Century photos of Egypt

Ancient Worlds

Hello, my name is Lynsey, and I currently volunteer for the Manchester Museum. While reorganising the archaeology reference library, I came across an exciting discovery, a box of photographs of sites in Egypt which I thought were really interesting. Bryan (Deputy Head of Collections and Curator of Archaeology) suggested that I make notes on them with a view to making digital archives of them at a later date. As I worked my way through the photographs it became evident that these were remarkable, beautiful photographs showing historical shots of Egypt in the later 19th century.

The box is full of photographs by photographers such as A. Beato, P. Peridis, J. Sebah, and the Zangaki brothers, who all produced a plethora of images for the tourist market. Travellers with a thirst for all things Oriental could purchase the photographs to take home with them. They could then show their friends and family where they…

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Texts in translation #2: an ‘ear-stela’ of Amenmose (Acc. no. 4906)

Ear stela 4906

Ear stela 4906

On Saturday, I met up with the Young Archaeologists Club (YAC) to do a spot of hieroglyph translation. For the session, I chose this short text on an object currently displayed in the Museum’s Discovery Centre.  The members of YAC, mostly aged around 10, were incredibly knowledgable and – with only a little help – cracked the code presented by this small stela. Rather than simply ‘make up’ hieroglyphic words using a phonetic alphabet, the chance to read a real text from ancient Egypt – and work out what the object was used for – was one the group really enjoyed.

This small limestone stela is one of a class of objects called ‘ear stelae’, common in the New Kingdom (c. 1550-1069 BC), and records the name of a deity to whom it is dedicated as well as the man who made or comissioned it. It shows a pair of ears, between which reads: “Ptah-hearer-of-prayers (ptH sDm-nH<w>)”. Beneath is the donor’s name: “Made by Amenmose (ir n imn-ms)”.

The stela was found in Memphis, whose patron god was Ptah. Ptah is the deity most often invoked in these objects, regardless of provenance, so was perhaps considered particularly attentive to prayers. The ears enabled the deity to hear people’s petitions or prayers. Some stelae have dozens of ears carved on them – presumably to aid their effectiveness. Given the size of this small stela (10.2cm high), I think a good analogy for its function is that of a mobile phone – with a direct line to the gods.


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Study Day: The Middle Kingdom in Ancient Egypt

A Manchester Ancient Egypt Society Study Day

Saturday 24 March 9:30am to 4:45pm
Longfield Suite, Prestwich
Tickets £25 members, £30 non membersCG 42127 Amenhotep son of Hapu
Booking in advance required

Come and explore the Middle Kingdom with the Manchester Ancient Egypt Society!

Our speakers for the day are:

• Victor Blunden – “Art, architecture and life in Middle Kingdom Egypt”

• Dr. Steven Snape – “Life and Death in the Provinces: Beni Hasan and Deir Rifeh in the Middle Kingdom”

• Dr. Joyce Tyldesley – “The Royal Women of the Middle Kingdom”

• Dr. Campbell Price – “Royal Favour and Classic Forms: Private Sculpture of the Middle Kingdom”

As numbers are limited, please book in advance.

Registration 9.30-10.00 am, close approx. 4.45 pm.
Cost £25 for members and £30 for non-members – this includes refreshments but not lunch, but there are plenty of cafes etc nearby!
Please send cheques including your contact details to:

Gillian Cook
298 Manor Avenue
Cheshire M33 4NB.

For more information email the MAES Secretary, Sarah Griffiths, at
More information about MAES:
For venue details:


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Curator’s Diary 15/2/12: ‘Pharaohs’ in Leeds and the ‘Leeds Mummy’ in Manchester.

The first few weeks of 2012 have been increasingly busy, as we gather pace for the redisplay of the Ancient Worlds galleries. We continue to consult community groups on ideas for programming and interpretation within the galleries. In the last month, Archaeology curator Bryan Sitch and I have received very encouraging feedback to our plans during a visit from Forever Young (a group I met back in November) and the Museum’s highly-engaged Youth Board.


Shabti of Seti I in 'Pharaoh' exhibition

Shabti of Seti I in 'Pharaoh' exhibition

With planning for our renovated galleries in mind, it is especially exciting to see new displays and exhibitions. The opening of ’Pharaoh: King of Egypt’ exhibition in Leeds City Museum was one opportunity to see the work of others. This incredible group of objects from the British Museum – including many rarely seen gems – highlights the role of the pharaoh, as both god-king and man. While the British Museum collection has different strengths to our own, it was interesting to note points of comparison. The role of the pharaoh – especially at the beginning of Egyptian history and at royal cities during the mid-New Kingdom (c. 1479-1327 BC) – will feature as a theme in the new Egyptian World gallery.

While visiting Leeds, I had the chance to see the famous ‘Leeds Mummy’ – a rare surviving example of a mummy from the Late New Kingdom. Nesyamun – formerly known as Nastef-Amun – was a priest and temple administrator at Karnak under the last of the Ramesside kings, Ramesses XI (c. 1099-1069 BC). Nesyamun’s exceptionally well-preserved mummy was examined by the Manchester Mummy Project in the early 1990s.

The leader of that project, Professor Rosalie David was one of a number of speakers at a very interesting and well-attended study day hosted by the KNH Centre for Biomedical Egyptology on ‘Mummies and Medicine’. Quite by chance, Professor David revisited the subject of the Leeds mummy – which I had seen only a couple of days before. She introduced a – now rather dated-looking! – 1990 TV documentary on the Manchester examination, the findings from which were included in a temporary display at the Manchester Museum.

The 'Leeds Mummy' on display in Manchester Museum, March 1992

The 'Leeds Mummy' on display in Manchester Museum, March 1992

Professor David brought research on the mummy up to date by highlighting the problem of cardiovascular disease in Ancient Egypt – at least among the elite. As someone in charge of fattening cattle as offerings for the gods, and as a priest and therefore someone privileged to receive those offerings as payment, Nesyamun’s health seems to have suffered as a result of all the rich food he ate. The KNH study day illustrated how traditional Egyptology and modern science can work together to understand collections in the Museum. I look forward to sharing more results from such interdisciplinary cooperation both here and in the new galleries.


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Liverpool Ancient Worlds Summer School – Book now!


30th July – 10th August 2012, University of Liverpool.

Study Latin and Greek Language, Egyptian Hieroglyphs (Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced), Sanskrit and Akkadian

Egyptology Summer School (30th July- 3rd August): ‘FROM AMARNA TO DEIR EL-MEDINA: NEW KINGDOM RESEARCH AT LIVERPOOL’

This week will comprise individual presentations by lecturing staff and associates on their current research. As well as making their cutting edge discoveries accessible to you, you will attain a detailed knowledge of this period of Egyptian history. Topics to be covered include excavations at a fortress of Ramesses II, new scientific research into Tutankhamun’s life and death, insights into the ancient tomb robbery trials, geophysical surveys at Saqqara, Nubian culture, and lots more. As much of this work is ongoing, you’ll have a privileged look at this unpublished research.

Speakers include: Professor Chris Eyre, Professor Mark Collier, Dr. Violaine Chauvet, Dr. Roland Enmarch, Dr. Glenn Godenho, Dr. Ian Shaw, Dr. Steven Snape, Dr. Joyce Tyldesley, Dr. Bob Connolly, Dr. Ashley Cooke and Dr. Campbell Price.

For more information on the summer school, visit the Liverpool Ancient Worlds website.

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Manchester Histories Festival Event: Egyptology in Manchester

Manchester Histories Festival

Friday 24 Feb 7 – 9pm

Days Inn, Manchester Conference Centre

£5 pay on the door

Manchester Ancient Egypt Society (MAES), in association with the University of Manchester KNH Centre for Egyptology and Ancient Egypt Magazine, present a special public lecture as part of the Manchester Histories Festival.

“Egyptology in Manchester”

An illustrated talk exploring the strong connections between the North West and Egyptology, covering the role played by local industrial magnets in funding early excavations, collecting artefacts and setting up museum collections in the area, highlighting some of the important artefacts and collections in Manchester and Bolton, and investigating current world leading mummy research at the University of Manchester’s KNH Centre for Egyptology .

The speakers are all local Egyptology experts.

– Prof Rosalie David, who received an OBE for her services to Egyptology, will introduce the evening. She is Head of the KNH Centre at Manchester University, the world’s leading centre for mummy studies.

– Dr Joyce Tyldesley is a senior lecturer in Egyptology at Manchester University and author of many books on Egyptology.

– Hilary Forrest has recently published “Manufacturers, Mummies and Manchester. Egyptology in Greater Manchester”.

The lecture is open to the public and will appeal to anyone with an interest in Ancient Egypt.

Doors open 6:30pm. Pre-lecture drinks can be bought at the venue bar.


Days Inn Manchester Conference Centre,

Weston Building,

Sackville Street

Manchester, M1 3BB,

Telephone: 0161 955 8000

More information about the festival:

More information about MAES:

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Texts in Translation #1: The Heart Scarab of Na-her-hu (Acc. No. 5998)

Visitors sometimes comment that they would like to have access to translations of the hieroglyphic texts that appear on some of our Egyptian and Sudanese objects. We aim to provide these as a digital resource to complement the new Ancient Worlds galleries, and I will post them here as time – and work – allows. On a recent visit to the Museum, a group called Forever Young expressed a particular liking for this text, so it seemed a good place to start.

Heart Scarab 5889

Underside of 5998

This spell is of a type usually carved on the underside of amulets known as Heart Scarabs. This example dates to the later New Kingdom (c. 1320-1069 BC), and belonged to a scribe named Na-her-hu. This is a shortened version of Spell (or ‘Chapter’) 30B of the Book of the Dead: slightly different versions are sometimes included in papyrus copies of the Book.

‘The Osiris, Scribe of the Mat, Na-her-hu, justified, he says: “O my heart, which I had from my mother, the centre of my being. Do not stand against me as a witness, do not oppose me in the judgement hall, in the presence of the keeper of the balance. You are my ka (spirit) in my body, the creator [who makes my limbs prosper]”.’

Heart scarab 5998

5998 - obverse

The Egyptians believed that in order to gain entry into the Afterlife – described as a blissful ‘Field of Reeds’ – one had to undergo judgement before the gods. During mummification, all the internal organs were removed – except the heart, which was regarded as the seat of intelligence and emotion. The righteousness of the deceased was assessed by weighing the heart on a set of scales. If it balanced with a feather, a symbol for truth, then the deceased was declared ‘justified’ and could enter the afterlife.  If, however, the heart was heavier than the feather – presumably weighty with wickedness – then it was swallowed by a monster called Ammut (‘the Devourer’): part crocodile, part lion, part hippo. This was the second death that all Egyptians feared, and meant non-existence.

Asru's inner coffin

Thoth, 'keeper of the balance', leads Asru before the gods. From the judgement scene of her inner coffin (c. 700 BC).

As the seat of emotion, the heart was prone to be unpredictable. It might betray misdemeanours or make false claims. The deceased therefore needed to be appealed to his own heart to ensure its compliance in his rebirth. A Heart Scarab was placed within the mummy wrappings, ideally directly over the heart, to ensure both that the heart was magically protected – and that it was kept in check.

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