Category Archives: Egypt events at the Manchester Museum

After Hours event 25/02/16: A mummy re-rolling

After Hours: Gifts for the Gods

Thursday 25 February

6-9pm

Manchester Museum. Drop-in, free, adults

A vibrant and eclectic evening where you can meet the curators, mummify some oranges, enjoy a glass of wine and much more.

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Join Drs Stephanie Woolham, Lidija McKnight and Campbell Price as they rewrap a mummy, print a poem or hieroglyphic message to send to the gods or take a journey through the catacombs in the ‘Gifts for the Gods’ exhibition.

 Programme

The University of Manchester is synonymous with the historic unwrapping of Egyptian human mummies. In a reversal of these events, as a way of learning more about how mummies were wrapped, rather than preserved, a public ‘re-rolling’ of an experimental animal mummy will take place. Manchester-based researchers and curators will work together with the view to answering the question – how easy is it to wrap a mummy? – and how long does it take?

ibis

How easy is it to replicate the intricate wrapping of a fine animal mummy…?

Re-rolling a mummy

6:15-6:30 –  Opening and introduction

6:30-6:45 –  Poetry reading with Anthony Parker

6:45-9:00 – Re-rolling a mummy

 6-9pm Drop in activities to explore and enjoy

‘Mummy Auction TV’ by iOrganic

Let curious performers iOrganic transport you back to 1890 through ‘Mummy Auction TV’: a fusion of historical fact and surreal modernity. This Victorian auction ‘TV programme’ puts the decision in your hands. How much would you pay for mummified cat furniture or Mummified Cat(tm) health food supplements? Have your say in this interactive performance. Every bid counts!

Saqqara-pots

Ibis mummy pots at Saqqara – see how they were made

Ceramic demonstration by Pascal Nichols

Local Manchester ceramicist Pascal Nichols will be making a clay pot to house an ibis mummy, demonstrating the coiling technique used by the ancient Egyptians.

Textile printing with Sally Gilford

Manchester-based textile artist Sally Gilford introduces visitors to the screen print technique, to immortalise poems and hieroglyphic prayers.

Mummifying Oranges

Drop by to mummify an orange and create an animal head in the form of a suitable Egyptian deity.

With music by The Music Curators

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Study Day 13 Feb 2016: ‘Meeting the Gods: Interactions between mortals & the divine’

Acc. no. 5839. New Kingdom stela from Riqqeh.

‘Meeting the Gods: Interactions between Mortals & the Divine’

Saturday 13th February, 2016

Kanaris Lecture Theatre, Manchester Museum, Oxford Road

Presented by Egyptology Online in association with The Manchester Museum and the KNH Centre.

 

 

 

PROGRAMME

9.15 REGISTRATION: tea/coffee
9.45 Welcome and Introduction
10.00 Egypt’s Queens: Royal or Divine?
Joyce Tyldesley
10.45 Animals and Gods in the Ancient Egyptian Landscape
Stephanie Atherton Woolham
11.15 BREAK
11.45 Iron and the Bones of Seth
Diane Johnson
12.30 Lunch – (please make own arrangements)
1.30 Divine Communication: Animals as Intermediaries between Humans and Gods
Lidija McKnight
2.00 Imhotep & Amenhotep son of Hapu: Creative geniuses who became gods
Campbell Price
2.45 BREAK
3.15 Medicine and the Healing Deities
Roger Forshaw
4.00 Who you Gonna call? Dealing with Ghosts in Ancient Egypt
Glenn Godenho
4.30 Conclusion

 

For details of fees, and to book this event, please visit the Egyptology online website

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

Ibis_MM_detail‘Discovering Animal Mummies’

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

10am-4pm.

FREE

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

Programme

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.

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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 – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gotaq.jpg#/media/File:Gotaq.jpg

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Animal Mummies #6: Making experimental mummies in Manchester

Part of the research for the Ancient Egyptian Animal Bio Bank project involves assessing whether it is possible to make modern experimental animal mummies in Manchester. Previous attempts at mummifying animals have used species not known from the votive mummy record and many have used techniques that are commonly witnessed in human mummies, rather than animals. This means that the experiments are not reliable indicators through which to investigate the mummification of votive animals.

Drs Lidija McKnight and Stephanie Atherton-Woolham making mummies in the lab

Drs Lidija McKnight and Stephanie Atherton-Woolham making mummies in the lab

The subjects for these experiments are a mixture of birds donated to the Natural History Museum in Tring, including Sparrowhawks, Kestrels and Buzzards. All of these species have been identified in mummies. Other candidates include rodents, passerines and snakes.

As no ‘recipe’ for votive animal mummification has been found from ancient Egypt, chemical analysis from samples has identified combinations of tree resins, beeswax and animal fat (Buckley et al. 2004; Brettell et al. forthcoming). This resinous substance is often visible on radiographs as a radiodense layer close to the animal body or as patches throughout the wrapping layers.

Radiographic analysis of animal mummies has shown that in many cases the internal organs remain in situ indicating that evisceration was not always practiced. Mummies which show no internal contents cannot be taken as evidence of evisceration, as the small body sizes and the effects of the desiccation process can mean that they are present, but not visible radiographically.  Only two mummies in the 330 studied so far for the project have revealed evidence for abdominal packing, showing that the organs were removed. It is likely that the quick process involved in votive mummy production meant that this time-consuming action was omitted. Whether the ancient Egyptians routinely used natron to preserve animal mummies is unknown so no natron was used in these experiments.

A molten emulsion of four parts pine resin to one part beeswax was made and was poured directly over the animal cadaver before being wrapped in linen strips. Dabs of the emulsion were used to stick down the ends of the linen as has been noted in the ancient examples.

A batch of experimental mummies

A batch of experimental mummies

Radiography plays a large part in the experimental process as it enables the animal to be assessed prior to mummification and then at regular intervals post-mummification to chart how successfully it is desiccating. The first mummy, a Sparrowhawk, is now nearly four years post-mummification and remains stable with no malodour. Radiography shows that the muscle mass has reduced and the abdominal contents have dried and shrunk away from the cavity walls. Studying the modern mummies in this way enables direct comparisons with the ancient mummies to be assessed.

One of the main concerns with using radiography to study mummies, is the difficulty with obtaining a positive identification, particularly in species where morphological differences are slight. To investigate this, six mummies have been made using ‘blind’ collections of disarticulated bird remains, selected by the NHM which have been mummified and will be used to assess how accurately species identifications can be made using radiography alone.

Experimental mummification has a vital role to play in the study of ancient Egyptian animal mummies. Using known species and ingredients, guided by our knowledge of the ancient practice obtained through radiographic investigation, the efficacy of the technique can be assessed. The climate in Manchester might be a lot colder and wetter than that of Egypt, but the mummies look remarkably similar!

A simulated micro-CT scanner interactive can be found in the new exhibition ‘Gifts for the Gods: Animal Mummies Revealed’.

References

Buckley, S. A., Clark, K.A. and Evershed, R.P. 2004. Complex organic chemical balms of Pharaonic animal mummies. Nature 431, pp. 294-299.

Bretell, R., Martin, W., Atherton-Woolham, S., Stern, B. and McKnight, L. forthcoming. ‘Unparalleled Opportunities’: Organic residue analysis of Egyptian votive mummies and their research potential. Studies in Conservation.

 

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Animal Mummies #5: Seeing inside the wrappings

A Liverpool kitty in the CT-scanner

A Liverpool kitty in the CT-scanner

X-rays have been used as a method by which to see inside bodies since they were discovered by Wilhelm Rontgen in 1895. Some of the first ‘patients’ to be studied in this way were Egyptian animal mummies which were not able to be damaged by the somewhat unknown effects of radiation. Since this time, radiography has become increasingly invaluable in clinical practice on living humans and animals, but it has become one of the primary research techniques to investigate the contents of wrapped mummy bundles, preventing the need to unwrap, and ultimately destroy them.

Radiography has been widely used at the University of Manchester since the 1970s to study the mummy collections. From these early stages when plain film X-rays were the main method, the technology involved in radiography has developed quickly and we are now able to use much more advanced technologies to gain a better understanding of mummies and how they were made. Although CT scans have been around since 1979, their routine use on mummies has really occurred since 2000. Advances made since 2005 with the introduction of fully digitised methods have reduced the complexity of the X-ray and CT process and have made it much easier to share results with fellow researchers around the world.

Inside a kestrel mummy

Inside a kestrel mummy

As part of the Ancient Egyptian Bio Bank project, over 300 animal mummies have been studied through a collaborative partnership with the Central Manchester NHS Trust. The Trust have allowed access to radiography facilities and experienced staff outside of clinic hours to enable this work to take place. In fact, the mummies always attract a lot of attention when they go to the hospital with patients and staff alike taking a keen interest in the rather unusual patients! We tend to study mummies in groups of around 20 mummies at a time, simply because it is logistically difficult to deal with more than this in one session. We always have experienced conservators and curators on hand to ensure that the mummies are kept safe during the process. Most mummies do not need to be handled at the hospital at all as they can be scanned in their protective boxes which minimises the dangers of handling and keeps movement to a minimum.

2D30134F-BC22-454F-BF80-D15C70FAABA8During their visit to the hospital, all mummies are given a full investigation using X-rays and they also receive a full body CT scan. X-rays are taken in two opposing angles to ensure that we obtain the maximum amount of information about each specimen. In some cases, the contents are lying at an unusual angle within the bundle which means that further images are required taken at oblique angles to capture any missing information. X-rays have the advantage of giving excellent spatial resolution of the contents, but they do suffer from magnification and superimposition of structures which can make interpretation difficult. The advantage of a CT scan is that images are obtained from multiple directions which eliminates these issues and allows for direct measurement of bones and increases our chances of identifying anomalies. The data obtained through the CT process to 3D print anomalies from inside mummies, giving the ability to handle them directly and compare them to skeletal collections. CT has proved successful in identifying non-skeletal material within mummy bundles such as egg-shell, feather and reeds which often don’t show well on X-ray.

928E7059-C6E8-418F-B615-4EE48CC33D00Clinical radiography is limited by the radiation doses allowed by the equipment. For mummies which reveal interesting anomalies, it is sometimes possible to use industrial CT (micro-CT) where higher radiation is used to obtain better resolution. Some mummies which have appeared ‘empty’ when scanned at the hospital, have revealed skeletal contents when scanned using this technique. This battery of radiographic techniques provides the best available method to see inside mummies non-invasively.

Find out more in the exhibition (including an interactive micro-CT scanner!), Gifts for the Gods: Animal Mummies Revealed, at Manchester Museum from 8th October 2015..

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Animal Mummies #4: Travellers, Collectors and Souvenirs

“it would hardly be respectable, on one’s return from Egypt, to present oneself in Europe without a mummy in one hand and a crocodile in the other” (European monk, 1883)

Tourists climbing the Great Pyramid at Giza, late 1800s.

Tourists climbing the Great Pyramid at Giza, late 1800s.

Ancient Egypt has, it seems, always held a special allure for the West. From the curiosity of Greeks and Romans through to modern sightseers, Egypt is seen as an exotic treasure house filled with endless mysteries. Early British fascination with ancient Egypt was intertwined with political ambitions. After the defeat of Egyptian-Sudanese forces by the British in 1882, Egypt became a British ‘protectorate’ enabling the British Empire to considerably increase its influence in this strategic part of the world.  This created a unique link between the African country and the European super-power.

To wealthy British socialites of the 19th Century, Egypt represented the ideal travel destination where they could experience the wonders of an ancient civilisation, a warm climate to cure ills brought on by the inclement British weather, and collect tales and mementos with which to astound family and friends upon their return. It is through the surviving memoirs of early travellers that we learn much about the attitudes towards the people and customs of both ancient and modern Egypt. Personal accounts echo, yet also contrast with, Romantic, orientalising depictions of Egypt in 19th Century paintings. The collection of monumental sculpture and inscriptions were highly prized, yet these were very expensive to procure and unwieldy to transport. Acquisition of such impressive antiquities was largely the privilege of national governments, who competed to stock state museums.  Mummies, however, were relatively easy to come by at this time and embodied many perceptions of Egypt as a strange, eternal, yet somehow familiar land.

The Gods and Their Makers, 1878 (oil on canvas), Long, Edwin Longsden (1829-91) / © Towneley Hall Art Gallery and Museum, Burnley, Lancashire / The Bridgeman Art Library

The Gods and Their Makers, 1878 (oil on canvas), Long, Edwin Longsden (1829-91) / © Towneley Hall Art Gallery and Museum, Burnley, Lancashire / The Bridgeman Art Library

The custom of purchasing mummies as souvenirs sparked a trend for ‘mummy unrollings’, popular in 18th and 19th Century Britain. Interestingly, although these events were destructive acts largely staged as entertainment, those conducting the theatrical ‘performance’ were often trained clinicians, well-versed in human anatomy and respected in their fields. The audience may not have necessarily understood what they were witnessing, but the person wielding the scalpel invariably claimed to; so although the resulting destruction of irreplaceable artefacts would be considered unforgivable to modern eyes, at the time it represented the best that scientific mummy studies could offer.

Marianne Brocklehurst

Marianne Brocklehurst

Despite their relative abundance, human mummies still posed logistical challenges for a traveller, as the Macclesfield heiress Marianne Brocklehurst describes during her 1873-4 trip along the Nile: the mummy she purchased was too much of an inconvenience to take home.  In contrast, an animal mummy was the ultimate portable curio; a little piece of ancient Egypt that would fit neatly into a trunk for shipment to Britain, especially at a time when it was popular to hunt the living relatives of mummified species. Even the famous explorer and showman Giovanni Belzoni performed the “unrolling” of the mummified monkey. Many animal mummies in UK museums left Egypt with such travellers, were installed in their homes as talking points and objects of fascination, before being donated to museums during life as philanthropic acts, or bequeathed upon death when surviving relatives found little use for them.

One such traveller was William Wilde (1815 – 1876), Irish surgeon and father to eminent writer and poet Oscar Wilde. With a keen passion for archaeology, William travelled extensively in Egypt from 1830s, publishing his travel memoirs as ‘Narrative of a Voyage to Madeira, Tenerife, and along the shores of the Mediterranean’ in 1840. William’s account is typical of 19th Century adventurer-travellers and document Egypt at first hand, describing the people he met and the spectacles he witnessed. Wilde draws particular attention to the catacombs at the site of Saqqara:

Wilde_ibis_urns_detail“At length we arrived at where we could stand upright, and creeping over a vast pile of pots, and sinking in the dust of thousands of animals, we came to where we felt the urns still undisturbed, and piled up in rows with the larger end pointing outwards.”

He even mentions comparing ibis bones from the catacombs with some zoological specimens:

“In the museum of the school of medicine at Cairo, I had an opportunity of seeing and comparing both the black and the white ibis with the bones of those found in the mummy-pits at Sackara [sic]……..Great heat must have been employed in the preparation of these mummies, as the majority of them are so much roasted, as to crumble to dust on being opened.”

Sadly, we do not know the current whereabouts of the six ibis pots mentioned in Wilde’s memoir; however, like many early travellers, his account is immensely evocative, fuelled by the magic and mystery of ancient Egypt and the quest to report on the riches of its civilisation for the benefit of a Western readership.

This is a version of a chapter which appears in a new book to accompany the exhibition: L. McKnight & S. Atherton-Woolham (eds) Gifts for the Gods: Ancient Egyptian Animal Mummies and the British. Liverpool University Press.

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