Monthly Archives: July 2012

Curator’s Diary 31/7/12: Gleanings from Gurob

A.S. Griffith's 1910 handbook of material from Kahun and Gurob.

A.S. Griffith’s 1910 handbook of material from Kahun and Gurob.

On Sunday, I attended the annual fundraising conference of the Gurob Harem Palace Project – a joint mission (Univeristy of Liverpool, UCL, Copenhagen) investigating the New Kingdom settlement site near the Faiyum that housed royal women. I enjoyed my visit to the site in April, which – though little is preserved above ground – gave me some sense of where our objects had come from. The Manchester collection contains over 700 objects from Gurob, many of which were published in a basic list form by Agnes Griffith (sister of famous Egyptologist Francis Llewellyn Griffith, who once taught at the Victoria University of Manchester) in 1910. Therefore, I was keen to attend the Gurob conference and to present an overview of the Museum’s Gurob material.

Petrie’s arrangement of objects from Gurob soon after they were found; our duck vessel is bottom right.

Meetings such as this provide an excellent opportunity to catch up on the latest discoveries, both in the field and in museums. A highlight was being made aware of digitised photographs from Petrie’s excavations (and of objects therefrom) currently available on the website of the Griffith Institute in Oxford. As Jan Picton pointed out, these arbitrary or aesthetic arrangements of objects often informed the plates and drawings that appear in Petrie’s excavation reports. It was exciting to see several objects now in Manchester shortly after they were first discovered. A personal favourite is our faience stirrup jar (Acc. no. 659) – a Mycenean shape adopted by Egyptian craftsmen  and decorated with Egyptian duck motifs.

The duck vessel today (Acc. no 659)

The duck vessel today (Acc. no 659)

It was also very interesting to hear a presentation by Dr. Valentina Gasperini, of Bologna University, who has been visiting the Museum over the last few months to work on imported pottery found at Gurob. I’m very grateful for her input into the interpretation of these objects. Many of these will appear in the new Ancient Worlds galleries where, along with material from the comparable site of Amarna, they will illustrate life in a New Kingdom royal city.

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Curator’s Diary 30/7/12: Celebrating certificates and exploring stores

In the organics store

This weekend I had the pleasure of showing two groups around the Museum’s Egyptology stores. The first was a group of students who had assembled in Manchester – in some cases coming from abroad, many never having met in person before – to receive their Certificate in Egyptology from the University. The Certificate course grew from a series of classes given by my predecessor Professor Rosalie David, and has increased in popularity over the years. The course is now directed by Dr. Joyce Tyldesley who, along with Dr. Glenn Godenho of Liverpool University, has pioneered a new Diploma in Egyptology. Needless to say, those students graduating with their certificates in such an intensive distance learning course knew their stuff, and were full of probing questions. I look forward to contributing Museum objects to future teaching on  both the Certificate and Diploma courses, and to sharing more material from the stores.

Wooden model of a man and a woman facing each other (Acc. no. 9582). Singers? Weavers? A modern composition?

It is always a special priviledge to accompany interested people to see the stores for the first time, so to host two very well-informed groups in two days was fantastic. The second group was smaller but just as enthusiastic. Accompanied by Jan Picton and Ivor Pridden, the Friends of the Petrie Museum know their own collection – housed in University College London – very well. It was especially pleasing to discuss some parallels between our two collections – especially given the importance of Petrie’s excavations to Manchester. Highlights included examination and discussion of a shabti of Horudja, a small, late Middle Kingdom royal head (possibly, it was pointed out, from a sphinx), and a puzzling wooden model of a man and a woman facing each other – perhaps a modern composition of ancient pieces for the antiquities market.

Discussing objects

Although both groups expressed an interest in remaining in the stores all day, we managed to tear ourselves away and continue discussions afterwards. Several issues raised have got me thinking about some objects we looked at in a new way – a sure sign of a productive visit. It was nice to put a face to the name of fellow bloggers Jane Akshar and Andrea Byrnes, and to hear the opinions of both groups on plans for our new galleries. I hope to see all our recent visitors again in the not too distant future.

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Lecture: “In the Shadow of the Step Pyramid: Geophysics at Saqqara”, Middleton Archaeological Society, Thurs. 26th, 7.30pm

I will be giving a lecture on the recent work of the Saqqara Geophysical Survey Project at Middleton Archaeological Society at 7.30pm on Thursday 26th of July, at the Olde Boar’s Head pub. More details at the Society’s website.

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Event: Gurob Harem Palace Project Conference 2012, Liverpool, Sunday 29th July

Gurob Harem Palace Project (GHPP) Fundraising Conference 2012

University of Liverpool, Abercromby Square

Sunday 29 July 2012, 10.00 – 16.30pm

£40 including refreshments. Book now or pay on the door.

Co-organised with the Liverpool Ancient Worlds Summer School.


10.00 The latest news from our 2012 fieldwork – Dr Ian Shaw (Liverpool)

10.45 Recording the 2011-12 looting at Gurob – Anna Hodgkinson (Liverpool)

11.15 Coffee break

11.45 Gleanings from Gurob: Reinvestigation and Redisplay at the Manchester Museum – Dr. Campbell Price (Manchester)

 12.30 Gurob’s trade with the Aegean – Dr Valentina Gasperini (Bologna)

13.00 Lunch

13.45 Faience bowls and amulets at Gurob – Dr Tine Bagh (Copenhagen)

14.15 Culture of beauty in an Egyptian palace – Dr Ole Herslund (Copenhagen)

14.45 The mystery deepens – Sadiamu’s swimming girl spoon – Jan Picton (UCL)

15.15 Tea break

15.30 Object handling session – studying Gurob-related objects from the Garstang Museum

More about the GHPP can be found here.

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Object biography #7: A statuette of the Apis bull (Acc. No. 13000a-b)

Acc. no. 13000a-b. © Paul Cliff

Acc. no. 13000a-b. © Paul Cliff

This small (8.2 x 7.5cm) copper alloy statuette depicts the sacred Apis bull – recognisable by the remains of a sun disk between its curved horns. The bull was at the centre of an elaborate cult, and was believed to be the earthly incarnation of the god Ptah. Only one living Apis was recognised at any one time, in a system not unlike the selection of the Dalai Lama. The sacred bull was selected by priests who travelled the length of the land looking for an animal with the correct markings. Once installed, Apis was housed in a temple on the outskirts of Memphis. There he was afforded ever luxury – including a ‘harem’ of cows – and was regularly visited by pilgrims, who interpreted his movements in relation to petitions put to him. After death, the bull was mummified and given an elaborate burial in a set of catacombs – called the Serapeum – located on the Saqqara desert plateau.

Cache of statuettes found at the Sacred Animal Necropolis by the EES. An Apis bull statuette on a sledge is highlighted.

This figurine is just one of hundreds of images of various gods given as votive offerings at a range of temples. Many examples, such as this, were excavated by the Egypt Exploration Society at the site of Saqqara. Saqqara was the home to the Sacred Animal Necropolis, the centre for the veneration and dedication of sacred animals in the Late Period (c. 750-330 BC). These were found in a pit within the enclosure of the Sacred Animal Necropolis temples. They had, according to excavator Bryan Emery, been “arranged in an orderly manner.”

It is typical of Egyptian religious practice that temple objects were considered sacred after they had been used, and had to be collected together and buried in consecrated ground. These caches of temple objects provide a useful insight into what sorts of objects were dedicated to the gods. Such hoardes were doubtless the point of origin of many more unprovenanced metal statues that appear commonly in museums around the world. Even when hidden from view, votive objects could continue to function as records of piety; they keep alive the hopes of the pilgrims who had dedicated them. Interestingly, this example shows signs of ancient repair – so may have been accessible in the temple for some time before it was buried.

Procession dragging a mummified bull. From a scene in the tomb of Iset-hetem at Atfiyeh. After Petrie, Heliopolis, Kafr Ammar, and Shurafah, 1915, pl. 41.

Procession dragging a mummified bull. From a scene in the tomb of Iset-hetem at Atfiyeh. After Petrie, Heliopolis, Kafr Ammar, and Shurafah, 1915, pl. 41.

This statuette was attached – by means of a tang – to a wooden base in the shape of a sledge. The sledge implies the divine or effigy-like nature of whatever is depicted on top – yet it specifically alludes to the movement of a statue of the Apis bull, or its mummy, along a processional route. At Saqqara, this route is known as the Serapeum Way – because it leads from the valley up to the Serapeum. Rituals conducted along the Way for the funeral of an Apis bull were lively affairs, involving wailing women, dancing dwarves, and even twins selected specially to impersonate the sister goddesses Isis and Nephthys. Showing the bull on the sledge implies – or assures – the involvement of the donor of the piece in these rituals.

The Serapeum Way, as planned by Mariette, 1882.

The Serapeum Way was planned by French Egyptologist Auguste Mariette (1821-1881) but has since been mapped more accurately by the Scottish Saqqara Geophysical Survey Project. Further fieldwork is planned to reveal more information about the structure of the Way, and add more to what is already known about the cult of the Apis bull.


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After last night’s opening, I can highly recommend this exhibition – especially this thought-provoking podcast.

Roberta Mazza

Working in conjunction with Faces&Voices and Constantine’s Dream, pupils from Thomas Whitham Sixth Form College, Burnley, have been exploring issues of identity and multiculturalism through the papyri and mummy portraits in the Faces&Voices Exhibition. The students have each made podcasts from the point of view of a mummy portrait.

This is the result!

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Exhibition brochure for ‘Faces and Voices’ now available

The exhibition ‘Faces and Voices’ opens at the John Rylands Library at Deansgate on Thursday – and features 10 of our painted mummy portraits from Roman Egypt.

Exhibition Brochure.

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Great session last week with Birchfields Primary students, who made a selection of a ‘star’ shabti for our new display in Ancient Worlds…

Learning at Manchester Museum



On Friday 6th July a wonderful group of very talented Year 5 pupils from Birchfields Primary School were invited to have a go at quite a challenging lable writing task. We asked the group ‘Can you choose one Egyptian Shabti from our wonderful and varied collection here at the Manchester Museum and write a 75 word label for it?’

The answer, quite unanimously, was yes they certainly could!

It was a very busy day, with lots of decision making and editing throughout their work; the group were very hard working! The class worked in small groups working their way through the selection process and then choosing the best descriptions from within their groups. Our curator of Egyptology, Campbell Price, was on hand to offer further insight into what the Shabtis were and explain a little bit about where this label will be displayed in the Museum.

We were all really…

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Fascinating work by my museum colleagues in Natural History. We’ll be bottling our own Ancient Egyptian perfume before long, no doubt!

Biology Curator

The new Ancient Worlds gallery opens in October at the Manchester Museum, and though it will focus mainly on archaeology, natural history specimens do play an important role because the animals and plants ancient cultures encountered tell us a lot about their way of life.

One of the cabinets needs a backdrop that illustrates what plants Ancient Egyptians used to make perfume. More about the actual specimens themselves can be found here. Botany Curator Rachel Webster, myself and my fellow volunteer Veronica took photographs of combinations of plant specimens that were relevant to the creation of Egyptian perfume. Here are some of our efforts and photos of us at work:

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Curator’s Diary 10/7/12: Pagans, Christians and Muslims – Egypt in the First Millennium AD

The Egyptian god Bes dressed as a Roman soldier (Acc. no. 11244)

The Egyptian god Bes dressed as a Roman soldier (Acc. no. 11244) © Paul Cliff

I have just returned from the Annual Sackler Egyptology Colloquium at the British Museum, this year on the theme of Pagans, Christians and Muslims: Egypt in the First Millennium AD. Out of a total of around 16,000 objects, the Manchester Museum’s Egypt and Sudan collection contains approximately 1500 from this period. Along with most other museums, this material has in the past been over-shadowed by our more well-known Pharaonic material. The colloquium gave an insight into the vibrancy of Egyptian culture at this time – highlighting aspects of both significant change and of continuity. It was particularly informative to hear presentations about the archaeological context of some of our objects (from Late Antique sites such as Oxyrhynchus and Antinoopolis), and types of objects that feature in our collection, such as textiles and glass.

The colloquium also provided a chance to present an overview of our First Millennium AD collection to other curators. Along with colleagues Roberta Mazza and Frances Pritchard, it was an excellent opportunity to highlight the strength and diversity of collections held by the University of Manchester. Our collection of Roman mummy masks and portraits are relatively well-known. The role of collectors in Manchester (‘Cotton-opolis’), and the North West of England generally, in gathering post-pharaonic textiles was rightly emphasised.

Many objects of First Millennium AD date will be used in our new Ancient Worlds galleries to illustrate Roman, Christian and early Islamic life in Egypt and Sudan. In the meantime, our Roman mummy portraits will be part of an exhibition entitled Face and Voices, which opens at the John Rylands Library on 19th July.

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