Gifts for the Gods travels north of the border

Ancient Egyptian Animal Bio Bank

We always knew that the six months during which Gifts for the Gods was open at Manchester Museum would be a very different time for us. Having a successful exhibition based on our current research open on campus, meant that we had many demands on our time – including public engagement events, learning programmes and community outreach initiatives. All of these events are vital in helping to publicise the research which underpins the exhibition, raise the profile of what we do and enthuse the public about the mummies themselves. Now the numbers have been counted, we know that 1011 school children have taken part in guided learning sessions and organised workshops around animal mummies (and many more school groups who used the exhibition space for self-guided learning activities). To date, an amazing 9655 visitors engaged with events linked to the themes of the exhibition.

It was lovely (and quite emotional!) to…

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by | May 10, 2016 · 9:20 pm

Curator’s Diary, March 2016: Examining coffins and the display of ‘beauty’

2TempleplaceI recently visited two current Egyptological exhibitions. The first was ‘Beyond Beauty: Transforming the Body in Ancient Egypt’ at Two Temple Place in London. ‘Beyond Beauty’ presents a diverse range of objects from small Egyptology collections around the UK, with particular attention paid to archaeological context and the role of regional funding in supporting British archaeologists excavating in Egypt. It is, therefore, something of an irony that at least one of the lending institutions is threatened with closure and the exhibition is being staged in the heart of London.

The venue, Two Temple Place, is undeniably stunning. It provides a stark contrast to the Pharaonic items on display, without being immediately overwhelming. ‘Beauty’ is the organising theme, from cosmetic items and jewellery to the idealised form of beauty represented by the decorated coffin. Because the ideals of eternal beauty and perfection pervaded (elite) Egyptian society, there is a feeling that everything and anything Egyptian might, conveniently, fit the bill for inclusion. Yet the exhibition’s interpretation succeeds in saying something meaningful about ideals of beauty in different contexts – both in the ancient and modern world (witness the gift shop).

A real strength is that the material in the exhibition is either not usually on display or is somehow lost in its usual display setting. There is an admirable emphasis on the process of the chances of archaeological discovery, export and subsequent acquisition by UK institutions. The fact that even fairly badly damaged pieces (such as the key image used in marketing) appeal to our modern aesthetic sensibilities is a testament to the intrinsic ‘beauty’ of (and our voracious appetite for) Pharaonic things today.

This theme is echoed in the exhibition ‘Death on the Nile: Uncovering the Afterlife in Ancient Egypt’ at the Fitzwilliam Museum, part of the University of Cambridge. This show focuses on Egyptian coffins, drawn largely from the Fitz’s own (impressive) collection.
There has been a notable increase in Egyptian coffin studies in the last few years, with new techniques more and more being applied to understand their construction, as once those techniques were solely focussed on mummies. This research work is clearly the chief inspiration for the exhibition, with a focus on materials and the crafting of coffins. Lengthy interpretation emphasises this. Borrowing the idea, perhaps, from a recent exhibition on the Bab el Gasus cache in Leiden, a conservation lab is recreated in the exhibition space to great effect. There were audible gasps when visitors I observed realised that no glass stood in the way of them and the ‘action’. This work has revealed many new facets to the coFitzffins – not least the prevalence of extensive reuse.

Here too, as in Two Temple Place, the broken – and rather sad-looking – components of coffins are shown as objects worth of display in their own right. Often, in bigger collections with more well-preserved examples, these broken parts have been relegated to storerooms (we have many in Manchester, for sure). It is therefore refreshing – and actually much more representative of the nature of Egyptology collections as a whole – to show these dismembered parts. Even as orphaned hands and faces (again, a coffin face is used as ‘cover image’) these items still have a distinct appeal, which perhaps explains why they were so commonly collected and, therefore, are largely without a secure archaeological provenance.

As very often in Egypt-themed exhibitions, it was not clear to me that visitors to either show fully understood the intended thematic selection of pieces. In that way, both exhibitions highlight the continued, inherent appeal of displays of (recognisably) Egyptian material, regardless of the clever connections we museum sorts think we’re making. Ultimately, the general public isn’t overly concerned with these.

The enduring fascination with (pretty and recognisable) Egyptian things shows no signs of decline.

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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

Animal Mummy Lab

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

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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Object biography #20: A baboon of Iuwlot (Acc. no. 1785)

1785

Acc. no. 1785

This imposing (65cm high) black granodiorite statue represents the god Thoth as a baboon (Acc. no. 1785). Damage to the baboon’s muzzle has resulted in a rather forbidding impression, although Thoth was appealed to as a god of wisdom and of healing.

The statue has until now been dated to the New Kingdom, following archaeologist W.M. Flinders Petrie’s 1894 publication of finds from the site of Coptos, just north of Thebes. Several of the finds unequivocally dated to the reign of Ramesses II and so Petrie assumed the baboon to be of that period as well. However, the reading of the unusual name of the donor of the statue – a High Priest of Amun, named in an inscription within a pectoral carved on the baboon’s chest – has always puzzled me.

Petrie read the name of the donor as ‘Iua-Mer’ but did not publish a photograph of the statue or a copy of the inscription in the excavation report. Perhaps as a result it does not appear in a standard reference work of monuments, the Topographical Bibliography of Egyptian Hieroglyphic Texts. Unless someone had visited Manchester, it is unlikely they would know what the statue looked like.

Christies_Baboon

The Christie’s baboon

By chance, whilst perusing a Christie’s sale catalogue for an auction held on Thursday 2 May 2013, I happened upon the perfect doppelganger of our piece: a granodiorite baboon statue, identified as having been dedicated by a 22nd Dynasty high priest of Amun named Iuwlot. The unusual name, combined with a rare combination of hieroglyphic signs in its spelling mean there can be no doubt that this is the same man as dedicated our almost identical statue. Unsurprisingly given its apparent lack of publication, the author(s) of the Christies catalogue entry were unaware of the Manchester baboon.

Iuwlot is an intriguing but little-known character. He was the son of the Libyan king Osorkon I, and held the important title of High Priest of Amun at Thebes. He is attested from five other inscribed objects: two Nilometer Texts (no. 20 and 21), a stela from Thebes (British Museum 1224), a stela in Moscow and finally the so-called Stèle de l’apanage in Cairo.

1785_detail

Detail of the pectoral carved on acc. no. 1785

In the vexed subject of ancient Egyptian chronology, especially of the Third Intermediate Period, all attestations of named and titled individuals count. Two new records can now be added for Iuwlot in the form of the baboons from Coptos – as the Manchester one has a firm provenance, it is likely that they were set up as a pair, perhaps to flank a temple doorway at Coptos. Interestingly, Iuwlot’s son Wasakawasa is known from an electrum pectoral dedicated to Thoth, Lord of Hermopolis (Petrie Museum UC13124), perhaps implying a particular family regard for this god.

These baboons may have been carved much earlier and have been repurposed by the 22nd Dynasty royal family. Other monumental elements, such as granite jambs of Tuthmose III, were reused by Osorkon I at Coptos, and such reuse is widely attested in ancient Egypt.

This is proof, yet again, that even well-visited objects on display can hide secrets in their stories.

Our baboon can be viewed in our award-winning ‘Gifts for the Gods: Animal Mummies Revealed’ exhibition tour.

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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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