Monthly Archives: March 2012

Online diploma application form now available

The application process for the new Diploma in Egyptology run by Dr. Joyce Tyldesley here at the University of Manchester is now open for 2012-13 entry. The Museum will be providing key content to the courses offered, which will involve both material in our redisplay and in storage.

To apply, visit the website.

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Texts in Translation #3: A statuette of Shesmu-hotep (Acc. no. 6135)

Statuette of Shesmu-hotep (Acc. no. 6135)

Statuette of Shesmu-hotep (Acc. no. 6135)

This small statuette of an official dates from the late Middle Kingdom (c. 1780-1700 BC). It was found amidst debris in a shaft tomb (no. 606) in Cemetery E at Haraga, close to Lahun. The statue would originally have been set into a brick-built structure belonging to one of the nearby tombs.

During the Middle Kingdom, greater surface areas of non-royal statues were covered with inscriptions than ever before. Here, the text extends from the front of the robe/cloak, across the lap and over the knees.


On cloak/robe

The text begins by associating Shesmu-hotep with Anubis – an important local god at Lahun in the Middle Kingdom – proclaiming the official to be: “Favoured by Anubis, Lord of Life.” It then goes on to give a standard list of provisions for the man’s spirit in the afterlife: “An offering which the King gives (and a) voice offering (consisting of) bread, beer, beef and fowl, alabaster, fine linen, and cool water for the Ka-spirit of the Overseer of […], Shesmu-hotep, justified.” Variants in the writing of this formulaic expression show the statue to belong to the late Middle Kingdom.

On lap (reading right to left)

Shesmu-hotep’s title is not clearly written, but has been read by others ‘overseer of the palace’. The god Shesmu was worshipped in the Faiyum area, and associated with the winepress, perfumed oils and slaughter in the underworld. The deity is rarely attested in names, with only one other example known of a ‘Shesmu-hotep’.


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Curator’s Diary 22/3/12: Of sling shots and Coptic socks

Experimental archaeology seems to breed enthusiasm. And it is always rewarding to see this enthusiasm sparked between two people who have never met, but who discover a mutual interest an object in the collection. This was the case when, last week, David Colter and Regina Degiovanni met in the Museum.

Sling shot Acc. no. 103

Sling shot Acc. no. 103, with ‘shots’ which may or may not have been used with it.

A chance conversation with David in a pub had alerted me to his interest in a sling shot (Acc. No. 103) from Kahun currently on display in our temporary exhibition, ‘Unearthed’. A separate enquiry had come from Regina, a member of Merseyside and West Lancs Weaver Guild. She was interested in how both the sling and our famous Coptic sock (Acc. No. 983) – which she’d seen at our Gripping Yarns event– were crafted. Both, it turned out, had created their own replicas of the sling shot in an attempt to work out how it was made. They were delighted when, with the help of technician Mike, we opened the sling’s display case so that they could have a closer look at the object, and measure it accurately.

David explains to some visitors how the sling shot works.

David explains to some visitors how the sling shot works.

At the pub, David had set forth a very reasonable hypothesis on the sling’s use. He believes that it was not merely a toy, as it has been interpreted in the past: it is in fact capable of delivering a lethal blow from as far away as 200 yards. He observed that it would have been suited to hunting birds, and wondered if it might have been used near a lake or marsh. Of course the sling was found by Flinders Petrie at the workmen’s town of Kahun, which is situated near the Faiyum lake: the perfect environment to go on a bird hunting expedition!

David demonstrates the slingshot

David demonstrates the slingshot

Regina’s interest in our Coptic sock resulted in her spending the best part of two days with the object, observing it closely and working out how it was stitched, knitted and/or woven. The pattern, we decided, would make an interesting gift for sale in the Museum shop.

Both David and Regina have kindly agreed for the results of this experimental archaeology to be included in our display of ‘imitation’ objects in the new Ancient Worlds galleries. Find out about another slingshot from our archaeology collection here.

The Museum continues to be actively involved in experimental archaeology.

Regina with her very accurate replication of the pattern on our Coptic sock

Regina with her very accurate replication of the pattern on our Coptic sock


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Object biography #3: A female figurine from the ‘Magician’s tomb’ (Acc. No. 1790)

Ramesseum figurine 1790

Acc. no. 1790 © Paul Cliff

This wooden figurine (20.2 cm high) is among Manchester Museum’s most discussed Egyptian objects. It represents a naked female, with the face of a lion and two movable arms, attached with pegs. In each hand she holds serpents made of metal. The figurine is just one piece from an intriguing group found amidst debris at the bottom of a late Middle Kingdom (c. 1773-1650 BC) shaft burial known as the ‘Ramesseum tomb.’ This name derived from the location of the shaft at the rear of what later became the mortuary temple of Ramesses II. Many of the other objects from the tomb are also in the Manchester collection.

Between 1885 and 1886, W. M. Flinders Petrie and James Quibell discovered and cleared the shaft. The tomb’s contents included ivory protective ‘wands’, ivory clappers, model food offerings, and female fertility figurines. In association – but not connected for sure – with these was found a box containing 118 reed pens (Acc. No. 1882) and a large number of texts written on papyrus. These are known as the ‘Ramesseum papyri’ and are held in the British Museum and other institutions. Information on this fascinating set of documents has now been made accessible by the BM’s Richard Parkinson in an online research catalogue on the museum’s website. The papyri contain largely magico-medical texts, but also literary compositions together with an onomasticon, hymns, and rituals. This unusual collection of evidence suggests the tomb belonging to a skilled, literate individual who used objects such as our wooden figurine in performance. A lector priest – or ‘magician’ – is commonly assumed, hence the burial became known as the ‘magician’s tomb’.

Pens from the Ramesseum tomb box (Acc. no. 1882)

Pens from the Ramesseum tomb box (Acc. no. 1882)

The Ramesseum group is of special importance because, collectively, it suggests a social context for the use of objects and texts together in performance. Could these have belonged to a literate, ritual expert – a practitioner of magic – in the late Middle Kingdom? These issues will be explored using Manchester’s Ramesseum objects in the new Egyptian World gallery.

Acc. No. 1790 is certainly one of the most well-published pieces in the collection (her entry in our digital catalogue has 19 images – while many have none!). She is often used to illustrate the practice of ritual and magic – though no one is quite sure how she ‘worked’. That the figurine was used is indicated by signs of alteration to fit the feet into a base. Does she actually represent a deity, or wear a mask? Which divine face is it: female version of the lion-headed dwarf gods Bes or Aha? And are the serpents she grasps – thus rendering them harmless and under her control – the same as the snake ‘wand’, now in the Fitzwilliam, found entangled with hair in the Ramesseum tomb? She raises many more questions than she answers.1790 nude female figurine

I recently discussed the meaning of the figurine with some Manchester University anthropology students examining the archaeological evidence of ritual. One of the group inferred a sexual connotation to the figure’s nudity, but was rebuffed by a colleague who thought this an imposition of a modern, Western perspective. While there is plentiful evidence from Pharaonic Egypt for nude female fertility figurines, including several from the ‘Magician’s’ tomb’, 1790 does not fit easily into this category.

It is, I think, important for Egyptologists and museum professionals to admit to the limits of our knowledge when examining objects. While we can offer educated guesses based on comparable material and cultural context, admitting uncertainty about an object’s function ought not to be taboo. 1790 and its findspot in the Ramesseum tomb group offer a more tantalising glimpse than most.


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Event: Mummies in Medicine and the Imagination

MummyMummies in medicine and the imagination

2:00PM – 3:00PM 17 March 2012, The Manchester Museum

Discover how changing medical practices shaped new ways of thinking about archaeology, mummies and ancient Egypt. From the medical study of human remains came ideas about history and civilisation, while in the public imagination, scientific investigations into mummies inspired dread, horror and fear – such as the ‘curse of the mummy’. Join local historians Neil Pemberton and Jo Baines for this talk to discover the truth behind the legends of Egyptian mummies. Part of National Science and Engineering Week.

Price: Book on 0161 275 2648, free, adults

More information at the Museum Meets site.

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New exhibition: ‘Secret Egypt’ in Carlisle

Secret Egypt CarlisleSecret Egypt: Unravelling Truth from Myth


10th March 2012 – 10th June 2012

10:00 am – 5:00 pm

Location : Tullie House Art Gallery, Carlisle

Is there a mummy’s curse?
Were the Egyptians obsessed with death?
Did aliens build the pyramids?

Such questions are addressed in Secret Egypt, a major exhibition which examines popular modern ideas about the ancient Egyptians and uses objects to suggest that the truth might be otherwise.

The exhibition features around 200 artefacts on loan from major Egyptology collections throughout the UK including Manchester Museum, the Ashmolean and Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. Moving through six themes, it begins by asking what is real and what is fake via an examination of funerary objects that helped Ancient Egyptians into the sacred world of death before debunking some of the more spurious myths that have grown up around them.

Secret Egypt is a touring exhibition developed by the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, Coventry.

Find out more here.

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Curator’s Diary 6/3/12: Mummies on the Move!

Coffin lid of Khary (Acc. no. 9354b) being removed from the old Afterlife gallery

Coffin lid of Khary (Acc. no. 9354b) being removed from the old Afterlife gallery

Yesterday saw the latest phase of clearing – or ‘decanting’ – the Egyptian afterlife gallery in preparation for building work to begin on the new Ancient Worlds Galleries. This was the first time some of the mummies have been moved in over 30 years. A skilled team of movers and conservators ensured that each was carefully transferred to a temporary storage space to await conservation.

Among the travellers was Khary, a priest at the temple of Karnak during the Late Period (c. 750-330 BC), and his brightly painted coffin (Acc. no. 9354a-b). Both were purchased in Egypt in the late 19th Century, and arrived in Manchester via the Ship Canal in 1893. They were donated to the museum in 1935. Moving Khary afforded an opportunity to examine at close quarters his carefully wrapped body and brightly painted coffin. Although most of the mummies will not be put on display in the new galleries, improved storage will make access to them easier for researchers – who previously could only peer into a dimly-lit display case or had to rely on archive photographs. Because they do not add significantly to our understanding of funerary beliefs, the skeletal remains of the Two Brothers will also be moved into storage, where their condition can be more closely monitored while being accessible to researchers.

Conservator Jenny Discombe transfers Khary into storage

Conservator Jenny Discombe transfers Khary into storage

Two Graeco-Roman mummies (Acc. no.s 1767 and 1768) – still wrapped, with their portrait panels in place – will be displayed together with our superb collection of ‘Faiyum portraits’ in a dedicated space, where Asru is located now. This will be particularly exciting, because for the first time in many years visitors will be able to see the finely-painted faces of these men, which previously were difficult to view because of the arrangement of the old gallery.

Part of the new displays will also highlight the role women played in Egyptian religious practice, focusing on the life of Asru, a temple singer in the 25th-26th Dynasty (c. 750-525 BC) and a firm favourite in the museum. Her well-preserved body is an excellent example of mummification. This process – along with how modern techniques help us understand ancient disease – will be explained in both printed and digital media beside her mummy and coffins.

Graeco-Roman mummy of a man (Acc. no. 1767) is placed into temporary storage to await confervation before redisplay

Graeco-Roman mummy of a man (Acc. no. 1767) is placed into temporary storage to await conservation before redisplay


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More on the new on-line Egyptology Diploma at Manchester

Online Diploma in EgyptologyHere at the Museum, we’re very excited by the announcement that the very successful Manchester Certificate has now become a Diploma, and look forward to contributing in a variety of ways. I caught up with Dr. Joyce Tyldesley, Museum Research Associate and Senior Lecturer on the Diploma Course in Egyptology, to ask her some questions about the newly-launched Diploma.

EgyptManchester: Why do you think the online course has been so successful?

Joyce Tyldesley: Several things combine to make the online Certificate course successful. The first is that it meets a very real need. There are students all over the world who would love the opportunity to study ancient Egypt, but whose circumstances make it impossible for them to attend conventional face-to-face teaching. The Manchester course makes Egyptology a very real possibility for anyone with a computer and an internet connection. Another strength is the student body.  Our students come from a wide range of geographical locations, experiences and backgrounds, and their ages vary from late teens to late 70s. Some of them face very real personal struggles to work with us, yet together they form a tightly bonded community which benefits hugely from their shared experiences. We also have an excellent course tutor in hieroglyphs expert Dr Glenn Godenho, and we receive top quality administrative and IT support from the Faculty of Life Sciences. Anne, Ian and Kate are always on hand to help students who face technical problems.

EM: What will the Diploma offer that the Certificate course didn’t?

JT: The Diploma is designed as a continuation of the Certificate course, allowing students to continue studying Egyptology with Manchester University for a further two years. While the Certificate is, broadly speaking, a history of Egypt from Predynastic times to the Roman Period, the Diploma takes a more modular approach, allowing students to focus on particular aspects of dynastic civilization, including urban development, technologies, and Egypt’s neighbours.

EM: How will the Museum’s collection be used in the new Diploma?

JT: The Manchester Museum is home to a fantastic collection of artefacts from Egypt and the Sudan. The collection will be integrated into the Diploma via a series of case studies, a photographic library and a selection of video clips and recorded discussions which will include material which is not on display in the galleries. I also hope to persuade the Curator of Egypt and the Sudan to record some lectures for the Certificate and Diploma students (hint taken! EM.). In this way I hope to give students who may be living many miles away from Manchester, a real sense of belonging to the Manchester Museum community.

EM: How important is Manchester’s historical connection with Ancient Egypt as a basis for the course?

JT: Manchester’s historical connection with ancient Egypt, and the interest of prominent local Egyptophiles, led directly to the creation of the Museum’s world-renowned Egyptology collections. To acknowledge this heritage we start the Certificate course with a consideration of how and why the Manchester collection was built up and, three years later, we end with a return visit to the Museum to consider some of the groundbreaking scientific work undertaken by Professor Rosalie David and her team of researchers.

Further information and updates will be found here.


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New Diploma in Egyptology at Manchester

Museum Research Associate Dr. Joyce Tyldesley is delighted to announce the inauguration of a new Diploma in Egyptology, building on the very successful Certificate Course run for many years by the University of Manchester.

More details can be found here
and Dr. Tyldesley will be posting further information on this blog soon. Here at the Museum we look forward to integrating the Egypt and Sudan collection into resources offered by the course.

A flyer can on the Diploma can be found here


Diploma in Egyptology (Distance Learning)

Programme Director: Dr Joyce Tyldesley
Course Tutors: Dr Joyce Tyldesley and Dr Glenn Godenho

This two year programme provides an extension to the world-renowned Manchester Certificate in Egyptology, and is open to students who already have 120 UK university credits (or equivalent) in Egyptology or a related subject. It provides the opportunity for the more in-depth serious, academic study of Egyptology at The University of Manchester. The Diploma in Egyptology is taught by internationally recognised scholars and draws upon the important Egyptological collections of the University’s Museum.

The Diploma in Egyptology is delivered entirely on-line via the Blackboard Virtual e-learning platform. It offers a tried and tested combination of written Learning Modules, specially recorded lectures, assessments and appraisals. Throughout the Diploma there is the opportunity for group discussion via online tutorial groups and discussion boards.

Course Begins: 01 October 2012 (Blackboard open September 2012)
Applications open: 30 March 2012
Deadline for applications: 30 June 2012

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