Monthly Archives: November 2018

Object Biography #23: A False Door of Kha-Inpu (Acc. no. TN R4567/1937)

This pair of finely executed limestone reliefs comes from a larger false door emplacement. They entered the Manchester Museum from the collection of pharmaceutical baron Sir Henry Wellcome (1853-1936), whose vast numbers of objects apparently included material acquired from the collection of Victorian socialite Lady Meux (1847-1910) – including the present object. Pieces from the same tomb chapel are now in the Field Museum of Chicago and the Louvre. When first identified in the Wellcome collection, the limestone was marred by salt encrustations. Fortunately it has now been conserved.

Kha-inpu

The false door of Kha-Inpu

The purpose of the false door was to channel the presence of the deceased (or of a deity in some temples) into a sacred space in order to receive offerings. The eternal needs of the ‘ka’ (the spirit of sustenance) mirrored to some extent the needs of the living to interact with the deceased, and the relationship between the two were hoped to be reciprocal. The false door was thus the focal point of the architecture of the elite Old Kingdom tomb chapel, although the false door motif continues on the sides of Middle Kingdom coffins and even appears on those of the Late Period. Depicting a door remained a key metaphysical conduit between the worlds of the dead or divine and the living.

Asru-Falsedoor-motif

The false door motif on the coffin of Asru, c. 650 BC

In design, stone false doors varied considerably over time but tended to include several key elements: the recessed and bolted door itself, a curved drum above this, usually with the name of the deceased, and a central offering scene showing the deceased (and sometimes their spouse) seated at a table. The image, name and titles of the deceased are often repeated multiple times – perhaps to ensure that were one or other damaged then the spirit of the deceased would ‘survive’ through the others, although this is conjecture and apparently not stated explicitly in the ancient sources.

Here, Kha-Inpu is designated as the ‘overseer of the gold of the storehouse of the double house of the palace’, a role associated with resource management – a typical concern for the redistribution of goods that temples had even in the Old Kingdom. He served the cults centred on pyramids of the deceased Fifth Dynasty kings Neferirkare and Niuserre, located just next to each other at the site of Abusir. The ancient name of the pyramid temple of King Niuserre was Men-sut-Niuserre (‘Enduring are the Places of Niuserre’) and that of King Neferirkare, Ba-Neferirkare (‘Soul of Neferirkare’). A Czech Mission at Abusir recently identified the location of Kha-inpu’s tomb there, although previously it has been thought to have been located at Saqqara. We know about the functioning of the cultic activities in which Kha-inpu is likely to have been involved from the ‘Abusir archive’, a rich and important set of papyrus documents detailing the organisation of temple staff and their regular duties.

Abusir-Giza

The pyramids of (l-r) Neferirkare, Niuserre and Sahure at Abusir, with Giza (the arrangement on which they appear to have been modelled) behind. Photo: Ian Mathieson

The active, temple-based worship of Niuserre may have survived into the Middle Kingdom, with the presence of the tombs of two officials named Herishefhotep indicating that a functioning cult for the king lasted into at least the First Intermediate Period. The Manchester false door is an eloquent – and very finely-executed – testament to that cult.

Although our Ancient World galleries are temporarily closed, I am re-starting the Object Biography series with this post – which will be published in parallel by Ancient Egypt Magazine. 

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Curator’s Diary October 2018 – BM Interpretation Workshop in Aswan

I have just returned from helping to facilitate a workshop on interpretation organised by the British Museum International Training Programme (ITP) at the Nubian Museum, in Aswan, southern Egypt. I was delighted to join Dr Anna Garnett, Curator of the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, and Jane Batty and Stuart Frost,  of the BM’s Interpretation Dept. In addition to fellow facilitators Jackline Besigye (Uganda National Museum), Huzoor Choudhry (Huzoor Designs, India), Vandana Prapanna (CSMVA, Mumbai), we were given a wonderful Nubian welcome – with lively music and participatory dancing – and the chance to meet some 30 Egyptian and Sudanese colleagues.

Serious discussion

The Nubian Museum opened in 1997 and I had previously visited in 2005. It is one of those rare – and fortunate – museums that appears to defy the aging process, and I was struck by how fresh the displays still appeared, despite being relatively unchanged since my visit 13 years earlier. The Museum provided a perfect venue for discussion about interpreting Egyptian and Sudanese collections. Facilitators benefitted from a personal, introductory guided tour of the public galleries and behind the scenes spaces by the Director, Dr Hosny Abd el Rheem.

Bright, colourfully decorated education spaces contrasted with the darker, more dramatically lit display galleries. Our group were impressed by the award-winning architecture of the Museum, which is sympathetic to local building traditions. Especially effective use is made of outside spaces, including a reconstruction of a traditional Nubian House, an immersive ‘cave’ incorporating relocated rock art, and a sweeping amphitheatre space for major public performances.  The way the Museum tackled the representation of living Nubian culture – particularly surrounding issues of displacement during the construction of the Aswan High Dam – was noteworthy.

Labels – the bain of every curator’s life?

During the workshop, it was a privilege to reconnect with the vibrant ITP network on Egyptian soil, building on relationships forged through the international Summer programme, to which Manchester Museum has played host for some 10 years. Great to see several ITP past fellows and to meet new colleagues from the Ministry of Antiquities.

Discussion of interpretation focussed, inevitably, on label and panel text-writing, in addition to alternative strategies such as multimedia and performance/events. We agreed on the importance of that strange alchemy of ‘curatorial’ and ‘interpretation’ approaches to interpretation. Jane Batty introduced the BM’s very useful ‘Top 10 Tips’ for effective interpretation. I was especially struck by the importance of physically connecting text to specific objects rather than letting text float alone, in the hope that someone will read it.

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Campbell & Anna enjoying the Nubian sunshine

I have always been an advocate of object numbers on labels – the British Museum apparently less so. An excellent point that was raised in my discussion group was that it is perhaps only appropriate to dispense with accession numbers on labels if you have a reliable, working online catalogue to look the object up in or a comprehensive published catalogue for your temporary or permanent displays. Lacking these tools, accession numbers still seem a valuable tool for both collections management and finding out further information.

Throughout the almost week-long preparation for and delivery of the workshop, it really hit home just how similar our challenges are – from the biggest museum to the smallest, from Mumbai, to Cairo, Aswan to Manchester. ITP is not simply about “telling” other people how to “do” interpretation the British Museum way, but creating a genuine dialogue that can lead to collaborative interpretation. With so many excellent museum collections in Egypt and Sudan, and after this opportunity to discuss common approaches at length, I look forward to working more closely with Egyptian and Sudanese museum colleagues in future.

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