Monthly Archives: June 2012

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. Mentions of the Theban god ‘Amun’ make it 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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New webpage: Egyptology online @ Manchester

Egyptian bronze mirror

New Kingdom bronze mirror (Acc. no 10963) – one of many objects that will contribute to teaching on the online programme. © Paul Cliff

New Egyptology online @ Manchester website launched today


I’m looking forward to contributing to this new webpage and to the content of Manchester’s successful online Egyptology programmes, run by friends and colleagues Dr. Joyce Tyldesley and Dr. Glenn Godenho. We already have plans to record lectures, conduct virtual tours of our stores and spotlight objects. The website will be a hub for all things Egyptology at Manchester.


Watch this space!

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Texts in translation #6: A stela of Peniwemiteru (Acc. No. R4571 1937)

Acc. no. TN R4571/1937 © Paul Cliff

Acc. no. TN R4571/1937 © Paul Cliff

This small (18.5 cms high) slate(?) stela was once in the possession of a Mr R. G. Stannard, before entering the collection of Sir Henry Wellcome and subsequently being transferred to the Manchester Museum. The upper part of the stela shows a winged sun-disc, under which two rams face each other. The ram was an animal sacred to the god Amun-Re, as made explicit in the hieroglyphs above each of them. Four lines of inscription are below, which contain an ‘offering formula’ – the most common text found on ancient Egyptian monuments.

The formula was a list of goods that the deceased would require in the afterlife, which – by being listed – are magical substitutes for the goods themselves. The aspect of the deceased believed to consume the offerings was the ka – the spirit of sustenance and life-force that came into existence at birth, and was envisioned as an invisible twin.

All offerings to the gods were in principal made by the king. Temple walls only ever show the king performing rituals, rather than the priests who would in practice have carried them out. Clearly, the gods did not eat the provisions placed in front of their statues, but rather absorbed the spiritual essence of them. This meant that the foodstuffs could then be offered to deceased persons and ultimately passed on to the priests who performed rituals, as payment.

Transcription of the hieroglyphs on the stela made by H. R. Hall (PBSA 30, 1908, p. 8).

This short text is slightly damaged in places and contains a number of variations on the standard offering formula, for which it is difficult to find exact parallels. This is a common problem in Egyptology, so here is my own tentative translation:

An offering which the king gives to Amun-Re, Lord of the Sky, that he may give his daily favours, and the good life, for his ka. Noble Ptah, lord of life and dominion, causes provisions to be brought in therefrom for the ka of the goldsmith Peniwemiteru.

“Daily favours” seems likely refer to a regular supply of food offerings. H. R. Hall, who published the piece in 1908, read the words aqw m rxyt im=f on line 3 as “entrance among the rekhyt-people who are with him”. Ken Griffin, who is completing a doctoral thesis on the rekhyt, thinks this unlikely, and I am inclined to agree that this seems out of context. Instead, a reference to offerings would be expected here and so the word mrxw, a rather uncommon term meaning “provisions” or “offerings”, seems to make more sense. The name of the owner, Peniwemiteru, means ‘He of Island-in-the-River’ – a place near Gebelein in Upper Egypt.

Any alternative readings would be most welcome!


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Curator’s Diary 13/6/12: Egyptian Collections and Collectors in Brussels

A painted stela from Gurob in Brussels, showing the adoration of a deified Tuthmosis III. Paralleled by a number of similar examples in Manchester .

I have just returned from a short break in Brussels, a city which is home to one of the most significant Continental collections from Egypt and Sudan – and one I’ve always wanted to visit. Housed in the Royal Museums of Art and History in Cinquantenaire Park, it contains about 11,000 objects – many on view in an impressively large display space. The strength of the collection owes much to the vision of curator Jean Capart (1877-1947), who both facilitated donations and purchases as well as encouraging archaeological fieldwork in Egypt by Belgian missions.

Highlights of the Brussels collection appear on the Global Egyptian Museum website, and give a flavour of the breadth of the holdings. There are plenty of parallels with material in Manchester. Some notable examples included a comparable collection of Predynastic slate palettes, Middle Kingdom wooden tomb models, and Roman plaster mummy masks. Other highlights for me were the extensive and still-brightly painted New Kingdom ‘Book of the Dead’ papyrus of Neferrenpet and a diverse collection of First Millennium BC private sculpture – a particular interest of mine. Needless to say, my “morning” museum outing became four hours spent in the Egyptian section!

By chance, I was in town at the same time as the Brussels Ancient Art Fair (BAAF), centred on a small number of venues in the Sablon area of the city. This provided an opportunity to view objects usually only seen in sale catalogues, on display within a conveniently close area. Tasteful shop-fronts and the clink of champagne glasses invited the attention of potential buyers. Small items predominated: shabtis, votive bronzes, and painted vignettes on cartonnage. Despite some eye-wateringly expensive prices, interest appeared to be keen.

To mark the 10th anniversary of BAAF, a special exhibition called ‘Ancient Egypt. Masterpieces from Collectors and Collections’ had been arranged. This showcased 120 small objects that are rarely seen because they are in private hands, supplemented by some museum objects held in Basel and Hannover.

Because there was no labelling of individual objects in the exhibition, the curious visitor was obliged to buy the sumptuous catalogue. This served as an important record, not just of the exhibition – but of the objects themselves. Most pieces had never been published, and as many of the objects were very small – literally gem-like – in size, they required specialist photography to appreciate properly.

A greater proportion of material than is often realised is held in private collections. Some collectors are very keen to share information on the objects they own, and some loan pieces to museums. However, many objects held in private hands are essentially invisible, because they their whereabouts is unknown to all but a very small group of Egyptologists.

Manchester Acc. no. 7053

One small vessel in particular struck me. It was made from slate and alabaster in the shape of a lotus flower. The exhibition catalogue stated that only one comparable piece is known, in Cairo, and dates it to the First Dynasty. In fact, we have an exact parallel in Manchester (Acc. no. 7053), excavated from Qau el-Kabir and most likely to date between the late Second to early Third Dynasty. I know of at least one other example at the Ashmolean in Oxford. Exhibitions like that at BAAF are important not only so the objects can be seen and appreciated by a wider audience. By comparison with objects with a known provenance, much more can be said about pieces in private hands – which, by their nature, often lack a sound archaeological context. More exhibitions and catalogues like that in Brussels will hopefully give greater insights into aspects of Egyptian material culture – held both in public and private collections.

Did anyone else catch the Brussels exhibition? I’d be keen to hear your thoughts!


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Interesting developments from our colleagues in the Learning team…

Learning at Manchester Museum

Pupils from Wilbraham Primary School get hands on with Ancient Egyptian objects.

The Manchester Museum’s redeveloped ‘Museum  Comes To You’ schools outreach offer is coming soon!

We have a brand new Egypt exploration session where you can help to solve the mystery of a raided tomb, learn about and handle ancient Egyptian objects and have a go at making your own scarab beetle or Egyptian headdress!
We have been super impressed by the love and knowledge that primary schools from far and wide have for all things Egyptian and can’t wait to visit more and more amazing schools. Watch this space for more information…

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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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Object biography #6: The crown from a colossal statue of Ramesses II (Acc. No. 1783)

Acc. no. 1783.

Acc. no. 1783.

As Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her Diamond Jubilee, it seemed appropriate to highlight this magnificent fragment from a colossus of another monarch who celebrated 60 years on the throne. It comes from an over-lifesize granite statue of Ramesses II, named in the inscription on the back pillar as celebrating his heb-sed or jubilee festival. Ramesses II was one of only two pharaohs to rule for over 60 years. It is conceivable that the statue from which the crown comes was created for such a jubilee.

The form of the crown is complex. It comprises the tall ‘atef’ crown, with rams horns and flanked by plumes and rearing cobras (or uraei). It is supported from the back by a falcon – an image familiar from the famous statue of King Khafre in the Cairo Museum. The atef is surmounted by a solar disk with a scarab beetle carved within it, thereby combining a range of divine allusions: to Osiris, god of the dead and rebirth; Horus, god of kingship; and Khepri, the new-born sun. This iconographical mixture is very appropriate for a sed festival. This was an occasion to renew the king’s power and legitimacy as a semi-divine ruler after 30 years on the throne, and was repeated at various intervals thereafter. Assimilating with the of the gods – particularly their solar aspects – is a hallmark of the jubilees of Ramesses II.

The crown was found by William Matthew Flinders Petrie (1853-1942) in the Ptolemaic temple of Isis at Coptos. Nearby, a lifesized statue of the king seated between the goddesses Isis and Nephthys was also discovered. Petrie suggested that this monument had been reemployed in the Ptolemaic temple. Although it cannot be determined when the colossus fell, it may have been reused and reinterpreted in the same way during the Ptolemaic period – almost a millennium after it was first set up.

Cartouches of Ramesses II, over the hieroglyphs for ‘jubilee festival’, framed by notched palm ribs – symbols for ‘years’.

Manchester was just one of several museums that received impressive fragments of monumental statues from sites in Egypt. This inspired 19th Century writers, such as Percy Bysshe Shelley. His famous poem Ozymandias laments the broken state of another of the colossi of Ramesses II, from his mortuary temple at Thebes. The romantic image of the isolated, ruined statue continues to dominate popular perceptions of Egyptian kings today – of vain, tyrannical, larger-than-life figures.

Yet, this crown is only one part of a statue that would have been set up within a temple, and it would have functioned as part of the architecture. It could only have been seen by those with privileged access to the temple. Very few are likely to have been able to fully decode its elaborate symbolism. Rather than simply being intended to impress ordinary people, as is often assumed of colossi, such statues were equally – if not predominantly – addressed to the gods. Colossal statues like the one this crown comes from were statements to the gods that the king was on a par with them.

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