Monthly Archives: October 2012

Halloween event: The Manchester Museum Mummy Walk

A spooky ‘lantern’ Anubis… or is it Wepwawet?

The Museum is working with CityCo and Piccadilly Partnership to bring a Halloween party to Piccadilly Gardens on Wednesday 31 October, in celebration of the opening of the new Ancient Worlds galleries.

The music and art event will take place from 1pm to 5pm and marks the centenary of the first Egypt gallery to be opened at the Museum, and the opening of the new Ancient Worlds galleries.

The event will feature dance and costume workshops, Egyptian and archaeology objects, ancient Egyptian face painting and will culminate in a twilight mummy walk and parade around Piccadilly Gardens.

More info at the CityCo website.

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Catalogue of the Manchester shabti collection published

Announcing the publication of The Shabti Collections 5. A selection from the Manchester Museum by Glenn Janes, with a Foreword by Campbell Price.

Published by Olicar House. 520 pp. £95 RRP – with discounts in the Museum until 1 st December. More info here.

The new dense display of shabtis in our ‘Exploring Objects’ gallery

The publication of this volume coincides withe the opening of our new Ancient Worlds galleries, in which more shabtis than ever before are on display. This sumptuous, full-colour volume is surely the largest, most comprehensive catalogue of one of the largest collections of shabti figurines in Europe.

Despite the author’s modest claims to the contrary, this is a work of real and valuable sholarship. Glenn’s knowledge of his subject and painstaking research will no doubt ensure that this is a future reference work.



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Living in nature at Amarna

Acc. no. 7220 – a painted scene from a palace floor, now conserved and soon to be on display

In the last week before we open the Ancient Worlds galleries, we have been making final preparations to put objects – many unexhibited before – on display. A good proportion come from famous sites and it is interesting to consider how they might originally have been used in their original settings.

Manchester holds an important collection of material from the excavations of archaeologist Flinders Petrie and others at Amarna. This site is well-known as the royal residence – what would call a ‘capital’ city today – chosen anew by King Akhenaten (c. 1352 -1336 BC). Akhenaten has been described as “the first individual in history” and is viewed variously as a revolutionary, a heretic, the first true monotheist, and a megalomaniac. Certainly, the theology of the king and his new capital centred on one deity: the sun disk, called the Aten. This deity was praised in hymns recorded on rock-cut stelae and on the walls of elite tombs at Amarna. A particular connection is made in these texts between the life-giving rays of the sun and prosperity of plants, animals and human beings.

One of the themes we explore in the new galleries at Manchester is the experience of living in a royal city, using our rich collection of objects from Amarna. Surviving decoration from the complex of palaces and elite villas at the site shows a delight in representing the natural world, with plants and animals featuring prominently. Part of the royal palace, for example, had a painted floor showing pin-tale ducks flying out of the marshes beside the River Nile, as they would at dawn. Yet here, in a palace, before the king’s throne, the motifs of the painted floor can also be interpreted as heralding the presence of the divine living ruler and his sole god, the sun disc, who – together – dispel darkness each day. Akhenaten and his courtiers clearly wished to emphasise through decoration their desire to be “living in nature”.

Faience inlays and amulets from Amarna

There is extensive archaeological evidence at Amarna of kilns and workshops, which supplied palaces with a range of glazed inlays and appliqués for palace interiors and other decorative objects. Remains show that this was a thriving centre for the manufacture of luxury materials such as glass, and the typically-Egyptian glazed ceramic known as faience. In the new galleries we explore the technology behind faience-making, after conducting our own firing experiments with colleagues from Daresbury laboratory.

I have been particularly struck by the rich array of colours and shapes used. We hold a mixture of decorative elements including tiles and the inlays once attached to them, in addition to separately modelled flowers and fruit such as bunches of grapes and pomegranates. The explosion of colour may seem gaudy to us now, yet it is important to remember that these elaborate decorations were an outward sign of divine bounty, the natural world created by the Aten and ruled over by his only prophet – Akhenaten (whose name literally means ‘Effective for the Aten’). In their own way, these palace decorations created an effect no more ostentatious than the state rooms of Buckingham Palace or Versailles.

These decorations were made for the residence of the living ruler, a transient place compared to the stone-built tomb, or ‘House of Eternity’. This philosophy makes many details of palace decoration seem even more whimsical, illustrating a love of life in ancient Egypt that is often overshadowed by a perceived obsession with death. Manchester Museum is in a fortunate position to have a wealth of material from ‘living’ sites, such as Amarna. In contrast to the previous, 1970s-designed galleries, which were dark and sepulchral (the ‘Daily Life’ section even more than the ‘Afterlife’ one!) our new galleries celebrate the life of ancient Egypt. I hope it would be a celebration Akhenaten – and other Pharaonic Egyptians – would recognise.

This post is an adapted version of one which appeared on the blog of Andante Tours.


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Object biography #10: A relief from the tomb chapel of Nefermaat and Itet (Acc. No. 5168)

This month’s object biography was the first Egyptian piece to be installed into the new Ancient Worlds galleries last week. The relief (Acc. No. 5168) comes from the mastaba tomb chapel of Nefermaat and his wife Itet at Meidum. Nefermaat was probably a son of King Sneferu (c. 2613-2589 BC). At this period the highest offices of state were held by members of the king’s close family, and Nefermaat had the titles of ‘Vizier’ and ‘Overseer of All the King’s Works’. Although Sneferu is perhaps best known as the father of Khufu, builder of the Great Pyramid, Sneferu himself build more in terms of volume – his two (perhaps three) pyramids are located at Dahshur (the ‘Bent’ Pyramid, and ‘Red’ Pyramid), and Meidum (though this was perhaps begun by his predecessor Huni). Nefermaat is likely to have overseen these monumental projects.

The conserved relief in its new home, in the Egyptian Worlds gallery.

Nefermaat and Itet’s mastaba tomb was originally excavated by Auguste Mariette in 1872 and later re-examined by Flinders Petrie in 1890–1891. It is from the latter excavations that our relief comes. The upper scene shows an ox and ibex. Hieroglyphs describe the two boatmen pictured below as ‘coming out of the marshes’, where they have been catching birds.

Our relief was created using a very unusual form of decoration, which is attested chiefly from Nefermaat and Itet’s tomb chapel. Reliefs have been sunk into the limestone walls and then filled with coloured paste. An inscription from another part of the tomb chapel, on a relief now in Chicago, explains the purpose of this unusual decorative technique. In words attributed to Nefermaat: “He is one who fashions his representations (lit. ‘gods’) in writing that cannot be erased”. Other parts of the tomb chapel were decorated in the more conventional fashion of paint applied onto mud plaster. The other Nefermaat scene we hold in Manchester uses this technique, and comes from the same wall as the famous ‘Meidum Geese.’

Nefermaat restoration

The relief being conserved and (somewhat imaginatively) restored in the Museum at the beginning of the 20th Century.

The paste-inlay technique appears to have been an innovation at the time, and seems unique in terms of tomb decoration. It is for this reason that it is often supposed to have been abandoned at an early date, having been found to be unsuccessful. However, the paste-inlays were largely intact at the time of the tomb’s discovery by Auguste Mariette in 1872, and their subsequent deterioration – as shown in an archive photo I recently discovered of the relief’s consolidation when it arrived in Manchester – may be due to rough handling after excavation rather than because of the intrinsic weakness of the technique.

Egyptian tomb owners greatly feared damage to, or usurpation of, their ‘houses of eternity’. Several Old Kingdom tombs, only a little later than Nefermaat’s time, bear curses against trespassers intent on such damage. It is interesting to observe another use of this type of filled decoration occurs in the inscription of the famous seated statue of Khufu’s ‘Overseer of Works’ Hemiunu in Hildesheim (#19622). Perhaps both men, intimately involved with construction and themselves all-too-aware of how easily decorated walls could be reappropriated or destroyed, took special pains to carve their ‘gods’ for eternity. Perhaps the fashion was abandoned due simply to being too labour-intensive.

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MAES Lecture: ‘Felines, Facts and Fantasies: The Role of Cats in Ancient Egypt Society’

Coffin for a cat (Acc. no. 9703)

– A lecture by Joyce Filer

Manchester Ancient Egypt Society

Monday 8th October, 7:30pm

Manchester Ancient Egypt Society

Days Inn, Sackville Street, Manchester, M1 3AL

The talk will look at the large and varies sources of evidence for cats (both large and small) in the Egyptian arena.  We shall examine the ancient Egyptian attitude towards these creatures from  the extremes of hunting and killing to worshipping and domesticating … and more!  The talk will be illustrated by tomb scenes, artifactual exhibits and radiological images.  Following a career in audiology and Deaf education Joyce studied Egyptology at University College, London.  She then undertook postgraduate work in ancient pathology and forensic work and was Curator for Human & Animal Remains in the Dept. of Ancient Egypt & Sudan for twelve years.  She now undertakes a wide range of freelance projects including: archaeological excavation, publishing, CT scanning and lecturing.

Following a career in audiology and Deaf education Joyce studied Egyptology at University College, London.  She then undertook postgraduate work in ancient pathology and forensic work and was Curator for Human & Animal Remains in the Dept. of Ancient Egypt & Sudan for twelve years.  She now undertakes a wide range of freelance projects including: archaeological excavation, publishing, CT scanning and lecturing.

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Dogs in ancient Egypt

Our newest exhibition ‘Breed: The British and their Dogs’ has just opened, and has given me cause to ponder the relationship between the ancient Egyptians and their dogs. The canine that features most prominently in iconography, and which is most associated with the pharaonic Egypt, is the god Anubis – represented either as a recumbent jackal or as a jackal-headed man. As a guardian of the cemetery, the origins of the jackal god are often associated with desert scavengers who preyed on recently interred burials.

Acc. no. 11498. A limestone statuette of Anubis, from the EES excavations at Saqqara. Late Period (c. 750-332 BC)

Anubis was the deity who oversaw the mummification process, and (like another jackal deity Wepwawet, ‘The Opener of the Ways’) helped conduct the deceased into the afterlife. Perhaps these divine attributes reflected the attentive aspect observed in dogs. Many hundreds of dogs were buried as animals sacred to Anubis – in the form of votive dog mummies – at the Anubieion at Saqqara. Domestic dogs might also receive individual burials, either along with their owners or in their own coffins.

One ancient Egyptian word for dog is iwiw, an onomatopoeic reference to its bark. From the Old Kingdom (c. 2686-2181 BC), dogs generally shared the same names as humans and are often shown in attendance on an elite tomb owner, captioned with their names in hieroglyphs. Some dogs carry names likely to reflect their qualities, such as ‘Brave One’ and ‘Good Herdsman’, and the abilities of dogs as hunting companions appears to have been particularly prized.

Scene from the tomb of the 26th Dynasty official Pabasa, showing his dog Hekenu under his chair. Photo by Ken Griffin.

Evidence of breeding is difficult to trace and is unlikely to coincide with modern practices of the type illustrated in the exhibition ‘Breed’. Yet, despite a strong association in the popular imagination with cats, ancient Egypt provides ample early evidence for man’s best friend.


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