Category Archives: Egypt events

A review of ‘The Mummy’: sex, death and inaccuracy

Mummy movies play an undeniably powerful role in feeding (pre)conceptions about ancient Egypt among the general public, particularly for museum-goers. In my experience of working with school groups in the last ten years, a good deal of time was spent correcting misinformation gleaned from the swashbuckling Brendan Frasier/Rachel Weiss 1999 ‘Mummy’ franchise. To ignore the most recent re-boot, starring Tom Cruise and on general realise from today, would be churlish. Some Egyptologists will simply laugh it off while others will grumble about inaccuracies, perhaps assuming that Egyptology is in some way an exact science or that museums don’t construct their own ‘facts’ about the Egyptians all the time.

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Leaving aside the issue of the quality of the film (which I actually found quite enjoyable), ‘The Mummy’ tells us some interesting things about museums, archaeological research and the ancient Egyptians. The film’s opening exposition connects with very current issues – U.S. intervention in the Middle East and the iconoclastic tendencies of Daesh – and is jarringly candid about the Black Market in the antiquities trade. In this 2017 reboot, it’s the looters and traffickers (rather than the archaeologists) that get their comeuppance by unleashing an ancient evil. There is, of course, a vague but consistent sense of archaeological enquiry; as always, this is never research for the sake of it – this film perpetuates the myth of archaeologists (and researchers in general) as on the hunt for particular things, trying to fathom a specific ancient mystery. The pernicious subtext has always seemed clear to me: don’t trust anyone with a doctorate who isn’t a medic, because research that isn’t hard science is somehow frivolous and indulgent.

Ancient Egypt appears, as usual, much more boring than it actually was: a bland, overly-sandy wilderness as backdrop to some predictable palace-based intrigues. Although, unsurprisingly, no Egyptologists are credited (or would own up to being) among the ‘researchers’, there’s some passable vocalised Late Egyptian among the confused dialogue. One might charitably assume that the name of Princess ‘Ahmanet’ is a reference to Amunet, the female counterpart of the god Amun, representing ‘hiddenness’ – but this may simply be a coincidence. Researchers also seem to have picked up on the idea of (gilded) finger- and toe-stalls from genuine mummies (such as Tutankhamun and Third Intermediate Period royals from Tanis) to add an unusual detail to ‘other’ even further the ancient princess. The appearance of pseudo-hieratic tattoos indicate her possession by the evil forces of Seth, who is actually very rarely name-checked in mummy films as a bringer of chaos.

One intriguing twist in Ahmanet’s backstory is her stated role as the ambitious and capable heir of her father, resentful of being displaced in the succession by the arrival of a baby half-brother. It is easy to see this as a nod to the historical person of the female pharaoh Hatshepsut (c. 1473-58 BCE); with ‘Ahmanet’ even suffering the same eventual fate, of being stricken from the historical record. More might have been made of this, but the opportunity was lost.

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Regarding the ‘horror’ of the film, perhaps most interesting is the fundamental premise of the eponymous Mummy as a sexual being. Ahmanet is a kohl-eyed seductress, who uses men to advance her position. In this, the story returns to early fictional treatments of the Egyptian mummy not as a shuffling (male) servant/lover of a princess, in 20th Century films, but as a beautiful princess herself ‘stripped’ of her bandages and – restored to life – able to tempt mortal men. This in some way misrepresents genuinely ancient sexualised images of the deceased woman as eternally young and fertile, to aid in her own rebirth. Perhaps the best cinematic example of these misinterpretations was Valerie Leon’s Queen Ta-ra in Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb (1971) – inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1903 novel Jewel of Seven Stars.

BLOOD FROM THE MUMMYS TOMB VALERIE LEON HAMMER FILMS BLACKBOXCLUB 1000

A film critic for The Guardian was quite wrong that the ‘mummy’s curse’ has no basis in ancient Egyptian reality. Imprecations against those who would damage monuments are common in Pharaonic sources, and appeals to the spirits of the ‘bad’ dead to desist from bringing harm are relatively well-attested. The Demotic tale of ‘Setne Khaemwaset’ vividly describes the consequences of stealing secret knowledge from the tomb of a magician. The same trope of illicitly acquiring ancient, hidden knowledge from an ‘archive’ of papyrus scrolls still appears here, in 2017, attesting to its continuing fascination.

So, what will this film add to – or detract from – popular knowledge of ancient Egypt? Well, the impact of the movie will likely be lessened by the fact it is not a ‘family’ film; it is aimed at an older audience than the Abbott and Costello-style treatment of the 1999 franchise. It represents ancient Egypt (specifically the ‘New Kingdom’ – described variously as ‘5000’ or ‘3000’ years ago) as a place of sensual exoticism – but also of disquieting horror. There is little point in quibbling about individual points of inaccuracy – if anything, the overall effect was more ‘accurate’ to our present idea of ancient Egypt than many previous ‘Mummy’ movies.

Most people who enter Manchester Museum have some idea of Egyptian mummies from fiction. For many visitors, mummies are not real. Our other main attraction in Manchester – ‘Stan’ the T-Rex – is a cast; many people have no experience of seeing a real corpse; mummies exist in fiction, alongside werewolves and vampires – so can’t be real. Given that this new ‘Mummy’ launches Universal’s ‘Dark Universe’ series of such characters, this film will likely reinforce these assumptions.

Egyptian mummies exist in a strange dimension between desire and revulsion. This film exploits that quandary more than most of recent times. Although she is evil, there are moments when one feels sympathetic towards Ahmanet. In the end, the film proves that unlike many other subjects contained within – and created by – museum collections, ancient Egyptian material has a uniquely seductive mixture of glamour and horror – of sex and death – that people are drawn to time after time.

For museums, it is useful to have this ‘pop’ fantasy as a counterpoint to debunk.

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Zahed Taj-Eddin’s ‘Shabtis: Suspended Truth’, 1 April – 30th June 2017

Zahed Taj-Eddin’s ‘Shabtis: Suspended Truth’ to feature at Manchester Museum

Responding to the current political debate on the subject of migration, Manchester Museum has commissioned a gallery installation by Syrian-born artist Zahed Taj-Eddin, which reflects on the Museum’s world-class Egyptology collection. Zahed Taj-Eddin was inspired particularly by Manchester Museum’s extensive collection of shabti figurines, which were placed in large numbers in tombs to act as servants for the afterlife. He has previously created 99 faience ceramic ‘Nu’ Shabtis for popular shows at the V&A, Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology and elsewhere.

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Zahed’s new work places a multitude of his ‘Nu’ Shabti figures in new and unexpected contexts, many suspended as if floating in the main Ancient Worlds gallery space. The focus of the installation is to reflect the experience of migrants on a boat travelling across the Mediterranean towards a new existence.
Zahed said: “For this new installation I decided to suspend my ‘Nu’ Shabtis in the Museum
galleries. They are taking a new journey into time and space; suspended between the past and the present, searching for a new truth, different from the one they were made for. The display invites visitors to think about ancient and modern human issues such as the beliefs and actions that lead us to venture into the unknown and explore a better life beyond.”
Dr Campbell Price, Curator of Egypt and Sudan, said: “Our aim in working with Zahed has been to address contentious social questions through the lens of archaeological collections; to use seemingly familiar objects and provoke discussion of big contemporary topics. Zahed’s sculptures are both serious political commentary and enthralling objects in their own right.”
Late Period shabti on white.jpgZahed’s installation is accompanied by a display of more than 250 ancient examples from one of the world’s most important private collections of shabtis, many never seen on public display before.

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Shabtis from the Kemehu Collection

‘Shabtis: Suspended Truth’ will be on view at in Manchester Museum’s Ancient Worlds galleries from the 1 st of April until the 30th of June 2017.

#MMShabtis

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“If a crocodile has sex with her…” Lecture by Dr Luigi Prada, 13/1/17

To close our season of events in conjunction with the touring exhibition, ‘Gifts for the Gods: Animal Mummies Revealed’:

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If a crocodile has sex with her…”: Animals between magic, religion, and divination in Graeco-Roman Egypt.

Dr Luigi Prada, University of Oxford

2pm, Friday 13th January, Collections Study Centre, Manchester Museum

Book here

Animals played a huge role not only in the practical daily life of the ancient Egyptians, but also in their intellectual and spiritual life, especially in the Graeco-Roman Period.

Whilst we may be familiar with their overall role in Egyptian cults, there are aspects which remain often unknown outside the specialists’ circle–such as, for instance, the fact that sacred animals typically carried personal names (very much like our pets), that archaeological excavations revealed the existence of animal nurseries in Egyptian temples where, for instance, thousands of crocodile eggs were looked after to hatch, and many more such intriguing facts.

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Greaco-Roman tunic from Egypt, with figures of animal divinities

Even more remarkably, animals in Graeco-Roman Egypt were seen as divine agents not only in a cultic milieu, but also in private magical and divination practices. Thus, we know for instance of numerous papyri, many of which are still unpublished, that discuss omens connected with animals. Some are dream interpretation handbooks, and discuss the meaning of dreams in which animals are sighted, explaining what this foretells with regard to the dreamer’s future. Other, even more remarkable texts (such as one known under its ancient title as ‘The Book of the Gecko’) focus instead on animal omens experienced in the waking state, interpreting a myriad of animals’ movements and behaviour as signs of events to befall the human observer.

This talk will introduce the audience into this fascinating and little-known material.

Dr Luigi Prada is Lady Wallis Budge Junior Research Fellow in Egyptology at the University of Oxford, a Theodor Heuss Research Fellow (Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg) and a Trustee of the Egypt Exploration Society.

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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).

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DAYSCHOOL 24/10/15 – Egypt: 7000 Years of History In A Day!

AbuSimbelDAYSCHOOL: Egypt: 7000 Years of History  In A Day!

With Sarah Griffiths, Deputy Editor, Ancient Egypt Magazine

When boy king Tutankhamun came to the throne in around 1336 BC, the pyramids were already ancient history, over 1000 years old, and Cleopatra would not appear on the scene for more than a thousand years later.

Ancient Egyptian history stretches over a vast period of time – from the earliest prehistoric hunter gatherers to the Arab conquest and beyond and is peppered with fascinating pharaohs, monumental building, wars, invasions and conquests, the development of writing and literature, amazing advances in technology and medical treatment, tomb raiders and treasure seekers and great archaeological discoveries.

In this study day we will chart the entire span of 7000 years to build to a complete timeline of ancient Egyptian history, from Predynastic pots to pyramids, warrior kings to murdering queens, through feasts, floods, famine and pharaohs, mummies and monuments, gods and goddesses, ascendency and assassination, death and divinity,  providing a broad overview of Egyptian history through a closer study of the key people, monuments and events of each period – ideal for beginners and for those wishing to bring perspective and context to their knowledge of this ancient civilisation.

Saturday, 24th October, 2015           

Time: 10.30am– 4.30pm.

Venue:

Cross Street Chapel

Cross Street, Manchester, M2 1NL

Bookings and further details: bit.ly/7000Years or www.mancent.org.uk

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MAES Study Day 21/03/15: ‘The Power Behind the Throne’ – Key Personalities in Ancient Egyptian History

CG 42127 Amenhotep son of HapuManchester Ancient Egypt Society present their annual study day:

The Power Behind the Throne: Key Personalities in Ancient Egyptian History

Dr. Campbell Price, Colin Reader and Sarah Griffiths explore who really pulled the strings in the ancient Egyptian court, from the Old Kingdom through to the end of the Late Period. Find out more about the lives and times of some of the most famous ancient Egyptian celebrities such as Imhotep and Senenmut and meet some of the lesser known powerful personalities of the Pharaonic era.

The study day will be held at the Longfield Suite, Prestwich from 9:30am to 4:30pm, Saturday 21st March. 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 £30 you’ll also receive a free MAES folder (while stocks last). Speak to Gillian Cook, 298 Manor Avenue, Sale, Cheshire, M33 4NB (0161 976 1165)

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

Preliminary programme

9:30 Tea and coffee

10:00-10:30 Campbell Price – Introduction

10:30-11:30 Colin Reader – Old Kingdom: Imhotep

11:30- 11:50 Tea and coffee

11:50-12.50 Sarah Griffiths – Middle Kingdom personalities

12:50 – 13:00 Campbell  – summary

13:00 – 14:00 Lunch

14:00 – 14:15 Auction / raffle / competition

14:15- 14: 45 Sarah – Early New Kingdom personalities

14:45 – 15:15 Campbell – New Kingdom continued: Royal master builders

15:15 – 15:30   Tea and coffee

15:30 – 16:30 Campbell – Late Period: The Gods Wives and their Staff & Admirals of the Fleet

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‘Teacup Travels’ – CBeebies series features our objects!

TEACUP TRAVELS ADSHEL (Manchester Museum)Manchester Museum has recently participated in a project to recreate ancient objects for children’s television. The TV series Teacup Travels tells a series of adventure stories, which aim at opening the door to ancient worlds and civilisations to young viewers. Each 14 minute episode revolves around Great Aunt Lizzie telling her fictional adventures in Ancient Egypt, Imperial China, Roman Italy and the Celtic Lands of Iron Age Britain. Each story features a replica of a historic artefact from museums across the UK.

Great Aunt Lizzie’s wondrous stories are told to her niece Charlotte and her nephew Elliot, who, whilst cradling one of Great Aunt Lizzie’s special teacups, can’t help but imagine themselves long ago and far away, in Great Aunt Lizzie’s old battered boots.

Brick mould from Kahun (Acc. no. 51). © Paul Cliff

Brick mould from Kahun (Acc. no. 51). © Paul Cliff

Manchester Museum worked with the makers of Teacup Travels to recreate historical artefacts on display at the museum: an Ancient Egyptian brick mould and wooden horse toy. Painstakingly re-made by highly experienced and skilled prop-makers, two unique stories were inspired by these objects from the collection at Manchester Museum.

  • Can Charlotte replace a broken brick mould before the Pharoah’s architect arrives?
  • Will Charlotte be able to convince a carpenter that people will love the wooden horse toys she makes?
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Replica of our Roman Period wooden horse (Acc. no. 6974)

The production team has been truthful to the original artefacts, ensuring that they look the part through a detailed process of recording how the items were found, the state they were in, how they were originally used so that the replica in the series could be portrayed accurately by the cast.

In support of the show, CBeebies has built a website to help children go on a journey of discovery. From watching the show on television, to clicking online, they can easily find out about the ancient artefacts by downloading a printable PDF of the Teacup Travels “museum map” which features an introduction to each of the artefacts – where they can be seen, how they were used and so on.

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