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Because that’s how we (wrap and) roll!

Ancient Egyptian Animal Bio Bank

On Thursday 25th February, a momentous event took place at Manchester Museum. Crowds gathered to witness a theatrical spectacle; this time it wasn’t a mummy ‘unwrapping’, but a mummy ‘re-wrapping’. Over 400 people attended the event and a further 1000 engaged via the internet with the help of the live-streaming app, Periscope. The event was a bold move; there was no guarantee that the re-wrapping would be a success. After all, our practice efforts had been less than encouraging! Nonetheless, we decided to take the bold move to forge onwards and take our research at the University of Manchester out of the laboratory and into the public spotlight.

Fig 100 copy

Time had not been on our side in the run up to the event, with many other commitments meaning that we had just one afternoon to practice what we hoped to achieve on the night. We have studied many mummies over the…

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by | March 23, 2016 · 11:21 pm

Experiential Mummification #1

Hot new experimental animal mummification research

animalmummylab

As part of our research for The Leverhulme Trust, the BioBank Team have mummified several bird cadavers using experiential methods seen in the ancient mummies (Fig. 1) (kindly provided by the Natural History Museum Bird group, Tring and productive household pet hunting activity). The use of simple observation and clinical imaging were used to monitor smell, weight loss and temperature/humidity, level of desiccation and preservation, and difficulty in the mummification technique; all of which particularly relate to EM1 and EM10.

Experimental Mummies Figure 1: Wrapped Experimental Animal Mummies

Our experiences with clinical imaging have shown that they can be limited when it comes to collating zooarchaeological data (species identification, Minimum Number of Individuals, age and sex) from animal mummies that contain something other than a single, complete individual. To assess this difficulty, the NHM, Tring donated 6 bags of bird remains for mummification; the caveat being that they did not tell us how many or what species were present…

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by | March 16, 2016 · 4:08 pm

Who’s coming to a mummy ‘re-rolling’?

We will stage an animal mummy re-rolling, LIVE!

Ancient Egyptian Animal Bio Bank

Mummy unwrapping ‘spectacles’ were a popular pastime in the nineteenth century with mummies brought back from Egypt as souvenirs by travellers providing the majority of the candidates. These events were as much a spectacle, a Victorian socialite pastime, but as time wore on, the studies became increasingly linked to the people behind the mummies and the science behind the embalming process.

On June 10th, 1850, Lord Londesborough issued a now infamous invitation to witness the ‘unrolling’ of a human mummy from Thebes ‘at half past two’. A spectacle which was to take place at his home, in the comfort of his drawing room, no doubt with a glass of claret in hand. This invitation epitomises an ‘un-rolling’ event. Delving into the bandages, cutting through the layers of linen, to reveal the person within. Yet the vast majority of Lord Londesborough’s invitees were members of the Royal Society of Antiquaries, a…

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Talk Like an Egyptian – English Corner at Manchester Museum Tuesday 2 Feb

Museum Meets

Join us at Manchester Museum for English Corner on Tuesday 2 February at 1pm for free English conversation class.

The theme is Egyptian amulets.

English Corner also takes place in Manchester Art Gallery and Whitworth Art Gallery.

The February dates are:

Daytime sessions

Tuesday 2 Feb 1-2.30 at Manchester Museum, Oxford Road, M13 9PL
Wednesday 10 Feb 1-2.30 at Manchester Art Gallery, Mosley Street, M2 3JL
Friday 26 Feb 10.30-12 at The Whitworth Art Gallery, Oxford Rd, M15 6ER

Evening Sessions

Thursday 18 Feb 6.30-8 p.m at Manchester Art Gallery, Mosley Street, M2 3JL

English Corner runs every month on the first Tuesday, second Wednesday, third Thursday and fourth Friday. You are welcome to attend as many sessions as you can.

What is English Corner?

English Corner uses art and objects to help people practise English.

Practise your English speaking and listening skills. It’s a free English conversation class for…

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MAES Lecture 14/12/15 – Roger Forshaw ‘The Saite Revival: Resurgence of Egypt’s Power’

Hor statue

Saite statue of Hor. Acc. no 3570 © Paul Cliff

The next Manchester Ancient Egypt Society lecture will be given by Dr Roger Forshaw (University of Manchester)

The Saite Revival: Resurgence of Egypt’s Power

Monday 14th December, 7:30pm
Pendulum Hotel, Sackville Street, Manchester, M1 3AL
All welcome

 

Following the turmoil and political fragmentation of the Third Intermediate Period, a family of rulers from Sais in the Delta, in an extraordinary story of adroit diplomacy and military activity, reunited Egypt into a single state. For nearly a hundred and forty years Egypt was once again ranked as a major power and under Saite rule Egypt entered a period of economic prosperity and cultural revival.
Roger Forshaw, a retired dental surgeon, studied Egyptology at Manchester University and is now a research associate at the KNH Centre for Biomedical Egyptology.

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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?

King_Tutankhamun_Guardian_Statue

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.

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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.”

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