Monthly Archives: September 2012

Curator’s Diary 30/09/12: CIPEG meeting in Brussels

This week I attended my first meeting of CIPEG (The International Committee on Egyptology, part of ICOM – The International Council of Museums), an annual event now in its 29thyear. The conference was held in the impressive surroundings of the Cinquantenaire Museum in Brussels, and provided an excellent opportunity to meet and discuss matters of common interest with other curators working with Egyptology collections. I presented a paper on the new Manchester Museum galleries, discussing in particular how we highlight both current and past research on the collection, and an update on the ACCES network.

Participants at the CIPEG conference in Brussels. Thanks to Paula Veiga for the photo.

Papers covered a range of topics, from acquisitions histories to museum-led fieldwork projects. In addition to updates on current and planned redevelopments and exhibitions, it was interesting (and somewhat reassuring) to hear of the challenges being faced across Europe. Unfortunately, a common theme was the pressure felt by cuts in government funding. The case of local authorities responsible for museum collections selling objects was raised, and the dangerous precedent this could set. Despite the generally gloomy picture, it was good to hear of the creativity and inventiveness of some museums in these financially-straitened times. The Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest was one such example, using competitions for schools to design museum exhibitions on an Egyptian theme. This not only interested young people, it equipped them with a broad range of learning outcomes and skills applicable to a variety of jobs. New uses of digital technology, which we will make extensive use of in the Ancient Worlds galleries, are being considered in a number of other museums. Each institution has its own unique circumstances, so it will be interesting to compare digital developments and how they have been adapted to individual museums in the future.

CIPEG will meet again at the next International Congress of Egyptologists, in Alexandria in September 2013.

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Great work at the BM on Egyptological archives

British Museum blog

A gallery display at the Roman Baths Museum, Bath

Patricia Usick, Honorary Archivist, Ancient Egypt and Sudan, British Museum

The archive of the Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan has recently acquired a fascinating collection of letters from Joseph Bonomi (1796-1878) to his friend and colleague Samuel Sharpe (1799-1881). Both men were important figures in early Egyptology with close connections to the British Museum; their friendship and interests are reflected in this lively, scholarly, and intimate correspondence of 1857-1878.

Bonomi’s contribution to Egyptology and his long and productive career have not been sufficiently appreciated.

Bonomi, artist and sculptor, Egyptologist curator of Sir John Soane’s Museum, and Sharpe, Egyptologist and biblical scholar, first met in 1837 when Sharpe was publishing inscriptions from the British Museum. They developed a close friendship while collaborating on the Egyptian Rooms at the Crystal Palace, and numerous biblical and Egyptian publications, including the alabaster sarcophagus of Seti I, which the architect and collector John…

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New Ancient Worlds images released

With just over a month to go until we open our new Ancient Worlds galleries, here’s an image we’ll be using in publicity. I really like how this foregrounds the object (Acc. no. 6620, a First Intermediate Period faience broad collar from Sedment):


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Curator’s Diary 20/9/12: Ancient Egypt in Macclesfield

Detail of the figure of Shebmut, from her cartonnage mummy case – a highlight of the Macclesfield collection.

Amidst all the intense preparations for our Ancient Worlds re-display, a highlight of this week was a visit to the West Park Museum in Macclesfieldhome to almost 500 ancient Egyptian and Sudanese objects. The collection is largely the result of the collecting activities of Miss Marianne Brocklehurst, a friend of Amelia Edwards (founder of the EES), daughter of Macclesfield’s first MP, and an avid Egyptophile. Marianne and her travelling companion Mary Booth (collectively known as the ‘MB’s in Amelia’s accounts of their travels), had both a keen eye for Egyptian antiquities and the money to afford several fine objects.

The collection is now under the charge of Honorary Curator Alan Hayward. Alan is an extremely knowledgable guide to the objects in Macclesfield, and an authority on the MBs in Egypt. A highlight of the collection is the 22nd Dynasty cartonnage mummy case of a temple singer of Amun named Shebmut. Marianne gives a hair-raising account in her diary of buying the case (with mummy inside) in western Thebes and having to jettison its embalmed occupant for fear that the smell of the mummy would arouse suspition from the crew of the dahabiya upon which the MBs were travelling!

1891 watercolour sketch of the clearing of the Deir el-Bahri mummy cache

Another highlight of the visit was seeing Marianne’s profusely illustrated diary and watercolour sketches – including the only depiction of the clearance in 1891 of the Deir el-Bahri cache of priestly mummies. It was particularly pleasing to be able to introduce Cynthia Sheikholeslami, a friend and colleague from Cairo who has extensively researched the cache, to Alan – and the original copies of the sketches.

A very useful digital version of both Marianne’s sketches and a catalogue of the objects at Macclesfield is available on CD at the Museum. I hope to present some of the parallels between the Macclesfield collection and material in Manchester sometime in the future.

Alan will be giving a free lecture on ‘The M.B.s in Egypt’ on Wednesday 10th of October, at 7:30pm in the Heritage Centre, Roe Street, Macclesfield. Call 01625 613210 for more information.

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Poynton lecture 21/09/12: ‘Hidden Treasures of Ancient Egypt’ by Dylan Bickerstaffe

Poynton Egypt Group kick off their 2012-13 programme of lectures with a talk by Dylan Bickerstaff. This from Dylan’s website:

We have all experienced the frustration as a guide drags us round the same ‘highlights’ of a well-known monument, delivering the same potted history, and leaving us with a strange feeling of dissatisfaction. But when we visit on our own and have time to absorb the atmosphere and mooch about (for the umpteenth time?), we often fail to track down things we wanted to see, or find anything new. In this talk I shall venture to a few more out-of-the-way places, in middle Egypt, for instance, but will also explore such familiar sites as Karnak, Luxor Temple, and Medinet Habu, always in the hope that I can reveal some of the untold stories hidden close at hand, and provide some new points of interest. Join me as I go rooting about.

7.30pm, Friday 21st September

Lower Park Primary School, Hazelbadge Road, Poynton, Cheshire. Contact: 01625 612641.

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New Museum Guidebook: ‘The Manchester Museum: Window to the World’

The Museum is delighted to announce the publication of our new guidebook – the first in over 100 years. Entitled ‘The Manchester Museum: Window to the World’, the 156-page volume includes essays and brand new photography on all of our collections, as well as the history and uses of each collection area. Experts in each area have contributed their thoughts on what makes the Museum special  – in the case of Egyptology, Museum Research Associate Dr. Joyce Tyldesley.

This lavishly illustrated book is now available priced £16.50 in the Museum Shop. Mail ordering is available by contacting Laura O’Donnell ( for orders and terms.



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Object biography #9: A rare ‘king with wings’ (Acc. No. 11444)

Acc. no. 11444

This broken travertine (or ‘Egyptian alabaster’) statuette is a rare example of its type, but only recently was its importance recognised. It provides a fascinating case study of the ‘biography’ of objects, both ancient and modern. Though traces of a plaster mount indicated that it had once been on display, for many years it languished in storage. Its unusual form – of a striding man seemingly cloaked in a feathered garment – made it difficult to categorise. It was therefore (as so often with problematic Pharaonic material) given a nebulous ‘Late Period’ date in the museum register. Yet neither the style nor the choice of stone fit with such a date, and the position of the statue’s hands on a royal kilt clearly mark this as an image of a king.

Acc. no. 11444, reverse.

In 2004, the fragment was identified by Tom Hardwick and Christina Riggs as the same as that published in an excavation report. The piece had been discovered in 1905 by Arthur Weigall in the mortuary temple of Tuthmose III on the Theban west bank, making an identification with that king most likely. Exactly how the fragment got to Manchester is not known for sure, but likely involved an unrecorded division of finds followed by private sale.

Hardwick and Riggs tracked down a contender for the upper part of statue in the Petrie Museum in London. It was also made from travertine and showed a nemes-wearing king with feathered backing, but was widely considered to be a fake. It seemed possible, however, that rather than being an out-and-out forgery, this was a genuine – and probably damaged – object that had been altered in modern times in order to make it more saleable on the art market.

The reworked head. Petrie Museum no. 16020 © UCL, Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology

Analysis under ultra-violet light revealed several patches of fresh working of the stone, confirming that the upper part of the statue had indeed been given a face-lift in comparatively recent times. The Petrie and Manchester pieces do not join exactly, probably because the lower half was used as a hammer stone and has been somewhat abraded. This is

unsurprising as it sits very nicely in the hand (I’ve tried) and is potentially perfect for pounding. Yet the combination of common material and highly unusual iconography argue strongly that the two pieces belong to the same statue. The appearance of the original piece has been reconstructed by David Lightbody, a colleague at the University of Glasgow.

Reconstruction of the complete statue © David Lightbody

But what of the meaning of this form of royal representation – and why are there not more ‘kings with wings’? In the same way as the Egyptian king could adopt the classic form of the sphinx, so he might take on physical aspects of the god Horus, the falcon. Indeed, a small number of parallels exist in other collections for the ‘pharaoh as falcon’. Yet, while this statue-type appears as part of the repertoire of royal images presented to the god Amun in a scene of Tuthmose IV at Karnak, this way of representing the king appears to be limited to the mid-Eighteenth Dynasty.

Royal statues donated to Amun. A block from the 3rd pylon at Karnak, originally part of a chapel of Tuthmose IV. S. Sauneron, BIFAO 70 (1971), pl. LXIX.

It seems likely that the ancient Egyptians were less comfortable with a feathered pharaoh than – say – Hollywood was in the 1950s, when Yul Brynner’s Ramesses II donned his ‘rishi’ cloak in the film ‘The Ten Commandments’. Depicting the king with both arms and wings may have offended the Pharaonic sense of artistic decorum, so the form never became widespread.

Yul Brynner in The Ten Commandments

A full account of this very special piece is published as:

TOM HARDWICK and CHRISTINA RIGGS. ‘The King as a Falcon: A ‘Lost’ Statue of Thutmose III Rediscovered and Reunited’, Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts Abteilung Kairo 66 (2010), 107-119.

The conserved statue fragment will be on display once more from October.


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Great blog about the display of the BM’s iconic Gayer Anderson cat… in Shetland!

British Museum blog

Bronze figure of a seated cat

Neal Spencer, and Claire Messenger, British Museum

As the exquisite copper alloy figurine of a cat, inlaid with silver and adorned with gold jewellery, was carefully placed in the showcase, we wondered whether pharaonic objects had ever been seen this far north. Not in the UK, but elsewhere? Lerwick, site of the Shetland Museum and Archives lies at 60°15’N, eclipsing St Petersburg, and its Hermitage Museum, but also Helsinki, Uppsala and Bergen.

This collaboration is one of a series of ‘spotlight loans’ of iconic British Museum objects to museums across the UK, supported by the Art Fund. The Shetland Museum opened in 2007, with state of the art security and climate control, combining historic boat sheds with a new building overlooking Hay Dock. Galleries within explore the history and cultures of the islands, alongside space for temporary exhibitions. The British Museum collaborated on the loan of the Lewis…

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MAES lecture: Dr. Robert Morkot, ‘Abu Simbel: Exploring and Understanding the Temples’

Monday 10th September 2012, 7:45pm, Days Inn, Manchester

The first lecture of the Manchester Ancient Egypt Society programme for 2012-13 will be Dr. Robert Morkot (University of Exeter): ‘Abu Simbel: Exploring and Understanding the Temples’

The temples of Abu Simbel are amongst the most famous and recognisable of Egyptian monuments. This is largely due to their relocation during the UNESCO campaign of the 1960s. However, they have been icons of ancient Egypt since the first European encounters with them in the early 19th century. Nevertheless, overawed by the architecture and engineering, the actual purpose and meaning of the temples are rarely considered. In this talk we look at the early travellers and their ‘discovery’ of the temples, and then explore the location and purpose of these spectacular creations.

£3.00 for members or £5.00 for non-members

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The function of a mummy mask

Acc. no. 7931. Early New Kingdom.

A mummy mask provided protection – both physical and magical – to the head of the mummy. Masks were introduced in the First Intermediate Period (c. 2181-2955 BC) and were used until Roman times (30BC-395AD). They show the deceased in an idealised form, like a god who has triumphed over death. The use of gilding on masks of the wealthy symbolises the golden skin of the gods.

Spell 151 from the Book of the Dead – the ‘Spell for the Head-of-Mystery’ – makes the function of the mask explicit:

Anubis speaks, the embalmer, lord of the divine hall, when he has placed his hands on the coffin of [the deceased] and equipped him with what [he] needs: ‘Hail, O beautiful of face, lord of vision, whom Ptah-Sokar has gathered together and whom Anubis has upraised, to whom Shu gave support, O beautiful of face among the gods!

Your right eye is the night boat, your left eye is the day boat, your eyebrows are the Ennead. The crown of your head is Anubis, the back of your head is Horus, your fingers are Thoth, your lock of hair is Ptah-Sokar. You [the mask] are in front of [the deceased], he sees by means of you. [You] lead him on the goodly ways, you repel Seth’s band for him and cast his enemies under his feet for him in front of the Ennead of the great House of the Noble in Heliopolis. You take the goodly way to the presence of Horus, the lord of the nobles.’

Acc. no. 2178a. Ptolemaic.

This text appears on the famous golden mask of Tutankhamun, inscribing an object with its function in order to ensure that it would ‘work’ for the dead king. The spell makes clear that the mask was to protect the deceased (magically) from their enemies. As is common in such spells, the text is a command from a god to an inanimate object – divine authority used to spark to life a lifeless substance.

The spell emphasises the power of the mask to restore to the deceased the ability to see. An important part of the funeral ritual was a rite known as the ‘Opening of the Mouth’, which restored the power of speech, as well as the other senses to the mummy (set up outside the tomb, probably wearing the mummy mask). The senses were required for a successful rebirth into in the afterlife as a fully-functioning person, as in life.

In a label written to accompany a mummy mask displayed in our exhibition ‘Unearthed’, a schoolgirl wrote that she thought the mask in the case looked like it was “about to start speaking.” Although this is not the sort of label museum curators write, the girl highlights the essential function of one of the most important items of Pharaonic funerary equipment. Far from being made to simply look pretty, masks were made to give their owners the power of sight – and speech.


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