Author Archives: Campbell@Manchester

About Campbell@Manchester

Curator of Egypt and Sudan

Dazzling things for Akhenaten & Nefertiti: Glass production at Amarna

In a guest blog, Dr Anna Hodgkinson, of the Freie Universität and the Egyptian Museum, Berlin, discusses some interesting pieces from Amarna, the capital city of ‘heretic’ king Akhenaten

I recently spent two days working in the stores of Manchester Museum, studying objects related to glass-working from the sites of Tell el-Amarna, in Middle Egypt, and Gurob, in the Egyptian Fayum. Both sites were partially excavated by W.M.F. Petrie in the 1890s, which is the reason for the large numbers of objects from these sites at Manchester and other UK collections.

My research project, which is based at the Freie Universität and the Egyptian Museum, Berlin, focusses on the manufacture of glass- and faience items in Late Bronze Age Egypt and Mesopotamia, in conjunction with the production of foodstuffs. While this largely took place at a domestic level, much evidence of institutionalised industries exists. This particularly applies to the palatial, or royal settlements of the ancient Egyptian New Kingdom.


Much evidence of glass-working and, possibly, raw glass production exists from Amarna. However, while extremely high quantities of objects have been found in the course of recent, thorough, excavations, such as those led by Barry Kemp since 1977, the early excavations by Petrie (1891-2) also yielded vast quantities of such items. Petrie had a special interest in the manufacture of glass in ancient Egypt, and, for this reason, he brought back a huge quantity of items, which were presented to various museum collections. Unfortunately, since the precise find locations were not recorded, we are only aware of the general area in which the objects were found: the north-western Main City and also the Central City “palace wasteheaps” at Amarna.

During my time at Manchester, I studied almost 160 objects related to glass-working from Petrie’s work at Amarna. While finished glass artefacts, particularly intricately decorated vessels, can be considered elite objects, simple items of jewellery would have still been accessible to people who were less well-off. The distribution of finished goods is thus equally important a case study as that of the manufacturing materials. I am, however, concentrating on the latter group, since this can tell us much more about the methods used and the skills involved in the working of glass.


The large number of items was rather unexpected, and some items had been grouped under a common accession number and needed to be given individual numbers. Items I studied encompass fragments of glass ingots of various sizes and colours, i.e. blocks of raw glass used for the production of finished objects. Furthermore, there were numerous glass rods that had been drawn from the molten ingots, and used for the manufacture and decoration of core-formed vessels and items of jewellery. They had occasionally been flattened into bars and chipped in order to be used as inlays for hieroglyphic inscriptions or to decorate pieces of sculpture. Two large fragments of cylindrical pottery vessels are coated in run-off glass, indicating that they were probably used as moulds for normed glass-ingots.

Petrie even produced his own reconstruction of the manufacturing processes and the ovens used for melting the glass. He states in his publication from 1894 that “Fortunately the sites of three or four glass factories, and two large glazing works, were discovered; and though the actual work-rooms had almost vanished, the waste heaps were full of fragments which shewed the methods employed: moreover the waste heaps of the palace, as we have mentioned in Chap. Il, contained hundreds of pieces of glass vases which illustrate the finished objects.” Petrie used the cylindrical vessels and the oven debris to reconstruct the glass factories in the Main City North. However, excavations by Paul Nicholson in the area in the 1990s have created a slightly different picture: Site O45.1 was found to contain two large and thick-walled kilns, capable of reaching temperatures high enough to produce raw glass from scratch.

In 2014 I was able to undertake a season of excavations at buildings M50.14-16 in Amarna’s southern Main City. This site did not contain any large ovens or kilns, but evidence of pit firing was found, indicating glass-working at lower temperatures. The site also yielded numerous fragments, rods and bars of glass, together with c.90 unfinished and waster glass beads. Similar items were also found by Petrie, probably also in the northern Main City.

While the cataloguing of the glass objects from Amarna in museums worldwide continues, the Manchester collection has already demonstrated that the materials recovered by Petrie are far more numerous than previously assumed. The evaluation of the materials in Manchester Museum will contribute to our knowledge of New Kingdom Egyptian glass-working techniques and the skills of the craftsmen who, in around 1350 BC created large amounts of colourful glass objects in their houses and in larger workshops, catering to the elite, to Pharaoh as well as producing objects for their own use.

Read further:

Petrie, William Matthew Flinders, 1894. Tell el-Amarna, London: Methuen.

Nicholson, Paul T., 2007. Brilliant Things for Akhenaten: The Production of Glass, Vitreous Materials and Pottery at Amarna Site O45.1, EES EM 80, London.

Leave a comment

Filed under Object biography

MAES Lecture 09/11/15: ‘The Mysteries of Nefertiti’ by Dr. Aidan Dodson

Replica of Nefertiti's painted bust in Manchester

Replica of Nefertiti’s painted bust in Manchester

The next Manchester Ancient Egypt Society lecture will be given by Dr Aidan Dodson (University of Bristol)

The Mysteries of Nefertiti

Monday 9th November, 7:30pm
Pendulum Hotel, Sackville Street, Manchester, M1 3AL
All welcome

Nefertiti remains one of the most iconic figures of ancient Egypt, but ideas about her origins, career and fate have varied greatly over the decades. Dr Dodson will review what we really know about her, including some of the very latest discoveries and his own views on the possible location of her tomb.

Dr Aidan Dodson is a Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Bristol, and a former Simpson Professor of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo. Amongst his 17 books are two volumes on his history of the later Eighteenth Dynasty, Amarna Sunrise and Amarna Sunset (AUC Press, 2014 and 2009).

Leave a comment

Filed under Egypt events

FREE Study day 14/11/15 – ‘Discovering Animal Mummies’

Ibis_MM_detail‘Discovering Animal Mummies’

Saturday 14th November, Kanaris Lecture Theatre, Manchester Museum.



A chance  to discover more about the fascinating stories behind our exhibition, ‘Gifts for the Gods: Animal Mummies Revealed’


10:00     Registration and coffee

10:20     Dr. Campbell Price (Manchester Museum) – Gifts for the Gods: Animal Mummies as Votives and Souvenirs

11:10     Dr. Chris Naunton (Egypt Exploration Society) – The Search for Imhotep? Emery at Saqqara

12:00     Lunch

13:00     Prof. Paul Nicholson (Cardiff University) – The Sacred Animal Necropolis at Saqqara

13:50     Dr. Ashley Cooke (World Museum Liverpool) – Auctions and Air-raids: Animal mummies at Liverpool

14:40     Coffee

15:00     Dr. Stephanie Atherton-Woolham and Dr. Lidija McKnight (University of Manchester) – Scientific Study of Animal Mummies

15:50     Concluding remarks

16:00     The end

Book onto the study day here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Egypt events at the Manchester Museum

What is missing from the tomb of Tutankhamun?

Keeper of Secrets? Anubis on his shrine

Keeper of Secrets? Anubis on his shrine

The world of archaeology is holding its breath. Will radar results confirm recent claims that there may be more to the tomb of Tutankhamun (KV 62) than it’s discoverer Howard Carter, and most Egyptologists since, believed?

The excitement centres on the claims of English Egyptologist and established authority on Tutankhamun Nicholas Reeves. Reeves is not a crack-pot, which makes the claims all the more exciting. Referring to recent 3D scans by high-tech conservation firm Factum Arte, Reeves identifies the possible traces of two previously undetected doorways leading off the burial chamber of KV 62 – with potentially sensational implications. Not least, that there is an intact storeroom to the west and a continuation of a one-time corridor leading north, perhaps containing the burial of Nefertiti (or, rather ‘Smenkhkare’ as she may have been styled as pharaoh and predecessor of Tutankhamun). Although other scholars have critiqued some of the methods, such as the art historical evaluation of the scenes on Tut’s burial chamber wall, Reeves’ claims seem intriguingly possible. Even if Nefertiti does not lie behind the north wall, two additional (intact) chambers of any size or shape would be of enormous interest.

I recently wrote an article on the objects – other than coffins, sarcophagi and canopics – found in the Kings Valley tombs for a Handbook of the Valley of the Kings. Tutankhamun’s tomb contents are often regarded as a ‘full set’ of objects, despite some losses of valuable items in (limited) robberies. While there are many correspondences between Tutankhamun’s objects and the fragmentary remains found in other tombs, it is interesting to consider what is not represented in Tut’s assemblage.

We know from records on ostraca that tombs were stocked in advance of the royal funeral proper, so this would have allowed time to seal up a storage chamber in the manner of the ‘Annexe’ and of the burial chamber itself. The ‘Treasury’ appears to have been left open in anticipation of the elongated poles used to carry the Anubis shrine.

Ram-headed divine statue from the tomb of Tuthmose III now in the British Museum (EA 50702)

Ram-headed divine statue from the tomb of Tuthmose III now in the British Museum (EA 50702)

One curious category of divine statues is not attested in KV 62, showing fearsome entities with hippo, gazelle or turtle heads. These are known from wooden examples in the tombs of Tuthmose III, Horemheb and Ramesses I, some now in the British Museum. As so often, these wooden sculptures had their precious metal coatings removed either by tomb robbers or during a state-sanctioned sweep of the Valley at the end of the New Kingdom. Tutankhamun’s objects are unique in that they retain their gilding. At a discussion of Tutankhamun’s tomb goods in Cairo in May, Professor Stephen Quirke emphasised the importance of these divinities being in close proximity to the king’s sarcophagus. Might the putative ‘secret’ western chamber contain (fine, gilded) versions of such images?

The number of shabti figures provided for a royal burial seems to have increased steadily during the 18th Dynasty – from the one known example for Ahmose I to the supposedly “complete” set of 413 examples for Tutankhamun. But a couple of generations after Tut, Seti I was given in excess of 1000 examples – so should more shabtis be expected of Tut?


So-called ‘guardian statue’ of Tutankhamun

Thirty years ago, Reeves drew attention to the fact that no papyri had been found in Tutankhamun’s tomb. Drawing analogies with hollow statues containing papyri in the tombs of Amenhotep II, Ramesses I and Seti I, papyrus scrolls might have been secreted in the kilt parts of the so-called ‘guardian statues’ flanking the entrance to the burial chamber. Though X-rays showed no such cavities, the question remains: if they existed at all, where are Tutankhamun’s papyri and what might they contain? While hardly likely to be a diary of the Boy King, they are likely to be funerary texts from an interesting time of religious transition.

While the original intended contents of Tutankhamun’s burial is unknowable, it is an intriguing possibility that further objects may await discovery.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Snakes unlikely to have killed Cleopatra…

Cleopatra VII  at the temple of Dendera

Cleopatra VII at the temple of Dendera

Academics at The University of Manchester have dismissed the long-held argument that the ancient Egyptian queen Cleopatra was killed by a snake bite.

Andrew Gray, Curator of Herpetology at Manchester Museum (and fellow blogger), says venomous snakes in Egypt –  Cobras or Vipers – would have been too large to get unseen into the queen’s palace.

He was speaking  to fellow Manchester Egyptologist Dr Joyce Tyldesley in a new video which is part of a new online course introducing ancient Egyptian history, using six items from the Museum’s collection.

According to Dr Tyldesley, the ancient accounts say a snake hid in a basket of figs brought in from the countryside, and was also used to kill one or two of her serving maids.

But according to Andrew Gray, Cobras are typically 5 to 6 feet long but can grow up to 8 feet – too big to hide very easily.

There would also be too little time to kill 2 or 3 people-  because snake venom kills you slowly-  with in any case only a 10 per cent chance of death.

He said: “Not only are Cobras too big, but  there’s just a 10 per cent chance you would die from a  snake bite: most bites are dry bites that don’t inject venom.

“That’s not to say they aren’t dangerous: the venom causes necrosis and will certainly kill you, but quite slowly.

“So it would be impossible to use a snake to kill  2 or 3 people one after the other. Snakes use venom to protect themselves and for hunting – so they conserve their venom and use it in times of need.”

Cleopatra is strongly associated with snakes, like many ancient Egyptian kings and queens of Egypt. In addition, Cleopatra also believed she was the embodiment of the Goddess Isis, who can take on the form of a snake.

Dr Tyldesley, whose book Cleopatra: Egypt’s Last Queen was a BBC Radio 4 book of the week, says one aspect of the accounts has proved to be correct. The ancient Egyptians believed snakes were good mothers.

“Very few snakes have a maternal instinct. However, the cobra is an exception: they sit on the nest and protect them until they hatch. So in this case, it seems the Egyptians were right,” agrees Gray

The free Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), ‘A History of Ancient Egypt’, launches on 26 October. 

Dr Tyldesley added: “The MOOC includes behind-the-scenes access at the Museum and detailed descriptions of many objects from our Egypt and Sudan collection.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Come along and join us at Manchester Museum with a range of ‘Gifts for the Gods’ events!

Originally posted on Ancient Egyptian Animal Bio Bank:

Well, it’s been a week since Gifts for the Gods: Animal Mummies Revealed opened to the public and plenty of visitors have already come along to see what all the fuss is about! To mark the occasion, the Museum have compiled a series of public engagement events to entice visitors to come along and learn more about the fascinating topic of votive animal mummification.


Science Week will kick off with a talk by Steph on some of the stories behind key objects in the exhibition on Friday 23rd October at 1pm. During the following week there will be a range of activities for children based around the topic of animal mummification – including trying your hand at mummifying an orange and building junk animals.

On Saturday 14th November, the team will be hosting a dedicated study day where we will explore the subject further. We are very pleased to be…

View original 181 more words

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Animal Mummies #7: Micro-Encounters with Animal Mummies

Fig 1. Light microscopy in action

Fig 1. Light microscopy in action

Our first encounter with animal mummies is with the complete artefact. Photography enables us to record the current appearance of the mummy bundle and assess its level of preservation. Radiography helps us to understand the construction techniques and the animal (or non-animal) remains that each mummy bundle contains. However, this is usually as far as macroscopic techniques can take us. More in-depth information about the materials used to create animal mummies requires microscopic and chemical analysis. And these techniques require samples.

Sampling methods have, in the past, often been highly destructive with large amounts of ‘animal mummy’ required to get meaningful results. This is usually the vision of many museum curatorial and conservation staff when sampling is mentioned, often based on previous experience. Sadly, some museums offered up their finite resource to have no results (or leftover samples) returned to them by the researchers involved. Thus, their caution is understandable.

Fig 2. A feather under microscope transmitted light

Fig 2. A feather under microscope transmitted light

Research by The Ancient Egyptian Animal Bio Bank Project is mindful that museums are in a dichotomous position whereby they are responsible both for the preservation and study of their collections. To help them achieve this goal, it is important to follow a protocol which does two things: firstly, only take a sample that does not affect the appearance of the animal mummy (even if that means not sampling at all); and secondly, prioritise non-invasive and non-destructive methods over destructive analysis.

Some animal mummies lend themselves to sampling as they are in a poor state, primarily due to the fact that they are over 2000 years old, have travelled by boat from Egypt and were not always considered valuable artefacts! Samples come in all forms – from linen pieces, feather, fur and bone collected by museums over the years in labelled bags and the ever-present ‘mummy dust’. One problem is that they all seem to look the same! So, first thing is to try to identify what they are and the best non-destructive tool is the light microscope (Fig. 1).

Fig. 3. Feather coated in dense material

Fig. 3. Feather coated in dense material

The sample is placed on a glass slide to allow it to be viewed under different types of light. Transmitted light (Fig. 2) is useful for samples that were not treated with embalming substances – resins for instance – and are very thin. Those samples which are denser and were covered with mummification ingredients were better suited to reflected light (Fig. 3), which reflects light off the surface of the sample, rather than passing through it.

Reference collections are important for comparison and show us particular characteristics of samples. For instance, feathers are recognisable by their almost leaf-skeleton formation, whereas cat fur has a symmetrical, vertical pattern, a little like a ladder. The flax plant under the light microscope is recognisable by its smooth and flexible appearance and bamboo-like nodes placed at regular intervals along the length of the individual linen strands. These were woven together to make linen for everyday use as clothing and in mummification of humans and animals.

Fig. 4. Tree resin

Fig. 4. Tree resin

Some samples are a little trickier; in particular a variety of materials collectively called ‘resins’. A light microscope can say that these substances are present (very important fact!), were hot, thick and sticky when applied to the animal mummy and are thought to originate from tree resins (Fig. 4[1]). However, it cannot identify exactly what the material is. That requires chemical analysis by way of Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS, for short). Each ancient material has an elemental fingerprint, which can be identified by way of a chromatogram, which is a type of print out of the GC-MS result. This graph shows which individual elements are present and in what quantities – almost like a recipe! – helping us to identify the material present.

A collaboration with the University of Bradford has allowed suitable animal mummy samples to be analysed using GC-MS. This has produced interesting results showing the wide use of plant products in animal mummification, including the use of pistacia resin in an ibis mummy in a stone coffin (Fig. 5), tentatively from Saqqara, and the use of pine resins and beeswax in some animal mummies.

Fig. 5. Ibis mummy in stone coffin - courtesy of Durham University Museums

Fig. 5. Ibis mummy in stone coffin – courtesy of Durham University Museums

Come and experience some of the sights and smells in our interactive mini-lab in the new exhibition Gifts for the Gods: animal mummies revealed.

[1] Image courtesy of “Gotaq” by Ailinaleixo – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons –

Leave a comment

Filed under Egypt events at the Manchester Museum