Monthly Archives: February 2013


Over the past several decades anthropologists active in the field of ancient Peruvian civilisation have scrutinised the role played by the grain maize. This may seem like a rather odd thing to be scrutinising but how a civilisation feeds itself has a remarkable impact on how it develops. Ancient civilisations that became dependant on farming, such as Egypt and China, established permanent settlements.  The consequence of this was the development of traits that we attribute to a civilisation, such as monumental architecture and organised religion. Recently a consortium of north and south American higher education institutions, including the Field Museum, Chicago, USA,  published a paper confirming that the rise of ancient Peruvian civilisation was linked to the extensive farming of maize during the Late Archaic period (3000–1800 BCE). You can read the full paper at

Manchester Museum has a wealth of ancient Peruvian artefacts including textiles, ceramics and tools, some of which are on display in the…

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The mystery of the spinning statuette

9325 statue

Acc. no. 9325. Photo by Paul Cliff

Most Egyptologists are not superstitious people. When I first noticed that one of our Middle Kingdom statuettes (Acc. no. 9325) had been turned around 180 degrees to face the back of its case in our new Ancient Worlds galleries, I wondered who had changed the object’s position this without telling me. The Egyptians themselves would have appreciated the concern to make visible for passers-by the text on its back pillar – a prayer for offerings for the deceased. Yet the next time I looked into the case, the statue was facing in another direction – and a day later had yet another orientation. None of the other objects in the display had moved. The case was locked. And I have the only key.

 The statuette had always intrigued me. It entered the Manchester collection in 1933, as part of a donation of five objects from Miss Annie Barlow of Bolton – three of which at one time were considered to be modern forgeries.

Feb 2013 005The inscription on the back pillar reads: “An offering which the king gives to Osiris, Lord of Life, that he may give a voice offering, consisting of bread, beer, oxen and fowl for the Ka-spirit of’. As is known for other statues of this date and type, the man’s name – Nebsenu(?) – is inscribed on the front of the statue’s base. He bears what Alan Gardiner called as “obscure” title: Hry (n) tm. The distribution of the inscriptions suggests that the statuette was prefabricated with the standard offering formula on the back pillar and that the man’s name was added later to the base.

Feb 2013 007Logical attempts to explain the statues movement centre on the subtle vibrations caused by outside traffic, causing imperceptible movement. Lill, a colleague on the visitor services staff, suggested that perhaps the man wanted us to say the prayer for him – yet when this text is visible his name is impossible to read. What is very strange is that the statue has spun in a perfect circle – it hasn’t wobbled off in any particular direction. The intriguing suggestion that the statuette was carved of steatite and then fired may imply that it it now vulnerable to magnetic forces. But is so, why did it not move on its glass shelf in pretty much the same position in the old Egyptian Afterlife gallery?Feb 2013 008

I lied – others do have a key to the case, and it is just possible that someone is playing a trick. But I doubt it.

The simplest solution seems to be to apply a tiny amount of museum wax to the base to stop the movement. But what if the statue continued to keep moving? What would our explanation be then..?


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Vote for the Museum to win Richard Wentworth for Museums at Night 2013!


Part of Richard’s display in Ancient Worlds. Photo by Paul Cliff.

The Manchester Partnership of museums and galleries is hoping to work again with Richard Wentworth, who has played a leading role in New British Sculpture since the end of the 70s. Richard contributed a display to our Ancient Worlds galleries on the theme of collecting objects, inspired by our Egyptian material.

His work has altered the traditional definition of sculpture as well as photography, subversively transforming and manipulating industrial and/or found objects into works of art.

A playful Connect10 event will launch the whole city’s Museums at Night Weekender (16-18 May) in an event at The Manchester Museum, Whitworth Art Gallery and Manchester Art Gallery, by inviting Manchester’s most ardent amateur collectors to help Richard curate a pop-up exhibition that night, drawing on museum and hobby collections.

This sociable event (co-hosted with Creative Tourist) will explore the story of a city and its people via its collections, and will include a collectors’ fair with stalls and meet-ups for those children and adults united in their passion to collect.

Vote for the Museum to win Richard Wentworth by 5 March at the Culture 24 website

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Ancient Worlds

The Manchester Museum’s Big Saturday event on 9th February was about skills in archaeology. My job was to show visitors how to draw Roman pottery, whilst Jamie Skuse and Suzanna Haddow from the Archaeology Department (who both kindly gave up their Saturday to help) talked to visitors about flints and obsidian.

Meanwhile in the foyer area Rachel from the Botany Collection had arranged for Geoff Killen to do a wood-turning demonstration. This is part of a project to explore trees and the use that we make of different kinds of wood and other materials that come from trees. It transpires that the equipment Geoff uses is very similar to that used in ancient Egypt. Yigal Sitry, a researcher who lives in Israel, visited the Museum in November 2011 to see some pieces of iron of Assyrian date that were excavated at Thebes in Egypt. There are two of them and they look a bit like snakes. The long shank was embedded in…

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MAES Study Day: Stories, Myths and Hieroglyphs 23rd March 2013

Shabti spell on Acc. No. 3727b.

Shabti spell on Acc. No. 3727b.

Manchester Ancient Egypt Society will be running its annual study day on Saturday 23rd of March.

The morning will be dedicated to ancient Egyptian stories and myths, with Joyce Tyldesley and Helen Stewart, a MAES member who is a professional story teller, so you’ll get to hear some of the best tales told as they were in ancient times!

In the afternoon, Claire Ollett from the University of Liverpool (and who runs the Blackburn AE soc, THEBES) will continue the story theme with the tale of hieroglyphs -the origins, development and usage of hieroglyphic writing and a closer look at the stories behind individual signs – why these signs were used, what they meant and their wider meaning in the context of Egyptian thought.

So a great chance to practice your hieroglyphs and find out more about the signs and how they were used.

• The day begins at 9:30 and finishes around 4:30.

• There will be a raffle for charity, book auction to raise funds for MAES and a fun photo-spotting competition.
• Tea / coffee / biscuits provided morning and afternoon.

• You need to make your own lunch arrangements, but there are lots of places in the shopping centre to buy / eat food.

Tickets are £25 for members, £30 guests, from Gillian Cook, 298 Manor Avenue, Sale, Cheshire, M33 4NB (0161 976 1165)

There is a limit on numbers so please book early! Cheques to MAES.

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Great blog by Nicky on our woodworking session with Geoff Killen on Saturday

Seshat's Journal

As advertised on the Egypt at the Manchester Museum blog today we had a chance to see Dr Geoffrey Killen demonstrate how ancient Egyptians would have made their wooden items.

Dr Geoffrey Killen began by explaining a little bit about the tools used by the ancient Egyptians. For example: their saws were both similar and very different to our modern day ones. On a modern saw the teeth are set in both directions whereas the ancient Egyptian version would have all teeth pointing in the same direction. As a result you’d have to correct it constantly to make sure you get a straight cut. Correcting would be necessary anyway as they were not strengthened at the top. Also, the teeth would point backwards (meaning the backwards movement would do the actuall cutting) as opposed to the forward pointing position of modern saws.

He also showed how the chisel worked. The…

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Curator’s Diary: CT-scanning Demetria with the BBC

Demetria 3ajpgOn Thursday the 31st of January, a team from the Museum returned to the Manchester Children’s Hospital to CT-scan two more of our 24 human mummies. This time we were accompanied by a BBC film crew, who recorded proceedings for a segment on The One Show.

The mummy of Demetria had been chosen – shamelessly, I admit – as she was the most outwardly attractive for a TV audience. She had been X-Rayed by the Manchester Museum Mummy Project, led by Rosalie David, in the 1970s but there was lots more information that could come from a modern CT-scanner.


Some of the team (Sam, Ray, and John) lift Demetria onto the scanner. With all the resin and gilding, she’s very heavy.

We know the name of Demetria because it appears – in Greek, along with the name of her husband Icaous – on the headband of her elaborate gilded covering. Demetria’s mummy (Acc. no. 11630) was discovered in 1910 during excavations by the British School of Archaeology in Egypt at the site of Hawara. Like many other mummies for the Demetria 2asite, Demetria died under Roman rule – in the First Century AD. Her burial arrangements are a typical fusion of Graeco-Roman styles – in her hair, jewellery and attire – and traditional Egyptian imagery. This expresses a mixed expectation for the afterlife: as a fashionable, contemporary woman, but also someone who depends on Egyptian ideas about resurrection and eternity. The outer surface of Demetria’s wrappings is still brightly painted with scenes of mummification and the protective Egyptian deities. She stands on her bound enemies, depicted in paint on her cartonnage footcase. Such an approach utilised as many motifs for survival after death as possible.

Initial results of the CT-scan revealed a fairly well-preserved body, with a distorted spine and crushed rib-cage that imply post-mortem injuries. Gilded studs appear in the wrappings, but there was no sign of other jewellery – though at this period little would be expected. The results – 10s of 1000s of individual images – will need considerable study to disclose further information.


The distinct glow of gold. Not posed at all.

Having the BBC film the procedure revealed much more about modern expectations of ancient Egypt than it did about Demetria. The opportunity to showcase the reinvestigation of the mummies – which is fairly standard, and has been practiced around the world for more than a decade – was a superb one. If nothing else, up to five million people now know about the superb Egyptian holdings, and a little of the history, of the Manchester Museum. Yet, despite the polish of the short film and the intelligence, professionalism and obviously deep understanding of John Sergeant, the framing of our 5 minutes of fame re-enforced most of the old tropes about Ancient Egypt: an exotic, potentially scary place, morbidly obsessed with mummies, material value, magic, the weird – a side-show. The attention span of the average viewer of such primetime, magazine-style coverage is not long – nor should it be expected to be. Hopefully those interested by this glitzy snapshot will visit the Museum and learn something more of Ancient Worlds than just mummies and bling.


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