Category Archives: Egypt events at the Manchester Museum

‘Mummies, Magic and Medicine’: New book honouring Rosalie David

cover-2Prof Rosalie David OBE is the UK’s first female Professor in Egyptology, and former Keeper of Egyptology at Manchester Museum, whose pioneering work at the University of Manchester on Egyptian mummies, magic and medicine has been of international importance.

The volume, published by Manchester University Press, celebrates Professor David’s 70th birthday. It presents research by a number of leading experts in their fields: recent archaeological fieldwork, new research on Egyptian human remains and unpublished museum objects along with reassessments of ancient Egyptian texts concerned with healing and the study of technology through experimental archaeology. Papers try to answer some of Egyptology’s enduring questions – How did Tutankhamun die? How were the Pyramids built? How were mummies made? – along with less well-known puzzles.

Rather than address these areas separately, the volume adopts the so-called ‘Manchester method’ instigated by Rosalie David and attempts to integrate perspectives from both traditional Egyptology and scientific analytical techniques. Much of this research has never appeared in print before, particularly that resulting from the Manchester Egyptian Mummy Project, set up at the Manchester Museum in the 1970s. The resulting overview gives a good history of the discipline, illustrating how Egyptology has developed over the last 40 years, and how many of the same big questions still remain.


Rosalie David at Manchester Museum in 1974

Dr Campbell Price, Curator of Egypt and Sudan at Manchester Museum and senior editor of the book, said: “As the Museum’s Keeper of Egyptology for 30 years, Rosalie David has inspired many people, old and young, and has brought the collection and her subject to the widest possible audience. This book celebrates her work and a proud Manchester Museum tradition.”

The book, published in June 2016, is aimed at researchers and students of archaeology or related disciplines with an interest in multidisciplinary approaches to understanding life and death in ancient Egypt and Sudan.

‘Mummies, Magic and Medicine in Ancient Egypt: Multidisciplinary Essays for Rosalie David’ C. Price, R. Forshaw, P. Nicholson and A. Chamberlain (eds) Manchester University Press 2016.

Details, including Table of Contents, can be found at the Manchester University Press website:

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Egypt in World War I: Manchester Histories Festival

WW1-Edfu.jpgTo commemorate the WW1 Centenary, researchers from Cardiff University will hold a ‘roadshow’ at the Museum on Saturday 11th and Sunday 12th June exploring local links between Manchester regiments serving in Egypt and the Middle East and collecting memories. Items from the Manchester Museum archive relating to the Great War will be on display, with short tours by the Curator of Egyptology. A special presentation will take place at 11am on Saturday 11th June.

The team hope that visitors will bring photographs, postcards, stereoviews, lantern-slides, or any other items relating to wartime spent in Egypt and Palestine along to find out more about how they fit into a wider picture. Once loaded to the website copies of images will be available for all to see and so give a more comprehensive view of the First World War in Egypt than is presently available.

Please bring along any photographs etc. for the team to re-photograph or scan for uploading to the website – they are not looking to keep any original material, everything will be rendered virtually.


Views of an Antique Land – Imaging Egypt and Palestine in the First World War

Much of the commemoration of the First World War has focussed on the Western Front and so gives the impression that the war was entirely one of mud and trenches with very little movement. However, the war in Egypt and Palestine was much more mobile and often fast moving. It is a surprise to many that a great number of personnel served in Egypt and Palestine at some point during the war with units regularly being withdrawn from the Western Front to serve in the area before returning to Europe.  A new project offers a different perspective on the First World War using images taken in Egypt and Palestine during the period of the conflict.

Leading the project from Cardiff University are Dr Steve Mills and Professor Paul Nicholson of the School of History, Archaeology and Religion supported by project officer Hilary Rees.  The project, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, focusses on collecting and making accessible images of Egypt and Palestine as they would have been seen by people during the First World War.  To this end we are collecting not only military images but also those of the ancient monuments of Egypt and Palestine which have much to tell us about the presentation of archaeological sites at that time.

The aim is to collect photographs taken by service personnel, postcards, lantern slides and stereo-views. The project does not collect the actual views but rather scans of them which will be uploaded to a dedicated interactive website where anyone interested in seeing what their ancestors saw or who is interested in how the ancient monuments, cities, towns and villages looked during the First World War can get that information.


The website at will be a perpetual online learning resource and archive offering new views of archaeological sites, military installations and cities as they appeared during the war.


The participation of members of the public at all stages of the project is very welcome. It is hoped that they will contribute by uploading relevant images and information to the site and in identifying images.  The project team can be contacted directly at

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

After Hours: Gifts for the Gods

Thursday 25 February


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.


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.


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?


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!


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.





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.



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.

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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 –

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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’.


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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