Tag Archives: British Museum

Curator’s Diary October 2018 – BM Interpretation Workshop in Aswan

I have just returned from helping to facilitate a workshop on interpretation organised by the British Museum International Training Programme (ITP) at the Nubian Museum, in Aswan, southern Egypt. I was delighted to join Dr Anna Garnett, Curator of the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, and Jane Batty and Stuart Frost,  of the BM’s Interpretation Dept. In addition to fellow facilitators Jackline Besigye (Uganda National Museum), Huzoor Choudhry (Huzoor Designs, India), Vandana Prapanna (CSMVA, Mumbai), we were given a wonderful Nubian welcome – with lively music and participatory dancing – and the chance to meet some 30 Egyptian and Sudanese colleagues.

Serious discussion

The Nubian Museum opened in 1997 and I had previously visited in 2005. It is one of those rare – and fortunate – museums that appears to defy the aging process, and I was struck by how fresh the displays still appeared, despite being relatively unchanged since my visit 13 years earlier. The Museum provided a perfect venue for discussion about interpreting Egyptian and Sudanese collections. Facilitators benefitted from a personal, introductory guided tour of the public galleries and behind the scenes spaces by the Director, Dr Hosny Abd el Rheem.

Bright, colourfully decorated education spaces contrasted with the darker, more dramatically lit display galleries. Our group were impressed by the award-winning architecture of the Museum, which is sympathetic to local building traditions. Especially effective use is made of outside spaces, including a reconstruction of a traditional Nubian House, an immersive ‘cave’ incorporating relocated rock art, and a sweeping amphitheatre space for major public performances.  The way the Museum tackled the representation of living Nubian culture – particularly surrounding issues of displacement during the construction of the Aswan High Dam – was noteworthy.

Labels – the bain of every curator’s life?

During the workshop, it was a privilege to reconnect with the vibrant ITP network on Egyptian soil, building on relationships forged through the international Summer programme, to which Manchester Museum has played host for some 10 years. Great to see several ITP past fellows and to meet new colleagues from the Ministry of Antiquities.

Discussion of interpretation focussed, inevitably, on label and panel text-writing, in addition to alternative strategies such as multimedia and performance/events. We agreed on the importance of that strange alchemy of ‘curatorial’ and ‘interpretation’ approaches to interpretation. Jane Batty introduced the BM’s very useful ‘Top 10 Tips’ for effective interpretation. I was especially struck by the importance of physically connecting text to specific objects rather than letting text float alone, in the hope that someone will read it.

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Campbell & Anna enjoying the Nubian sunshine

I have always been an advocate of object numbers on labels – the British Museum apparently less so. An excellent point that was raised in my discussion group was that it is perhaps only appropriate to dispense with accession numbers on labels if you have a reliable, working online catalogue to look the object up in or a comprehensive published catalogue for your temporary or permanent displays. Lacking these tools, accession numbers still seem a valuable tool for both collections management and finding out further information.

Throughout the almost week-long preparation for and delivery of the workshop, it really hit home just how similar our challenges are – from the biggest museum to the smallest, from Mumbai, to Cairo, Aswan to Manchester. ITP is not simply about “telling” other people how to “do” interpretation the British Museum way, but creating a genuine dialogue that can lead to collaborative interpretation. With so many excellent museum collections in Egypt and Sudan, and after this opportunity to discuss common approaches at length, I look forward to working more closely with Egyptian and Sudanese museum colleagues in future.

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Object Biography #17: An Anonymous Gilded Mummy Mask (Acc. no. 7931)

The mask on display

The mask on display

This striking gilded cartonnage mummy mask (Acc. no. 7931) came into the Manchester Museum from the collection of William Sharpe Ogden in 1925, and reputedly derives from the Luxor area. At some point after its arrival in the Museum the mask was subject to modern reconstruction for display. The mask’s unusual appearance resulted in it being given a ‘Late Period’ or ‘Ptolemaic’ in some records.

In fact, based on the work of Aidan Dodson, the mask is likely to be one of a small number of examples from the early New Kingdom (c. 1550 BC). The feathered (or rishi) pattern is a distinctive feature of many of these, which exhibit proportionately rather small faces. A comparison may be drawn with a well-known gilded mummy mask in the British Museum (EA 29770), identified by John Taylor as belonging to Queen Sit-djehuty of the 17th Dynasty. Based on this comparison, it may be suggested that our mask belonged to a very high-status women, perhaps even a member of the royal family.

8106A common feature of such early New Kingdom masks is a projecting ‘tab’ or ‘bib’ at the bottom of the broad collar. By chance, a fragment is preserved in Manchester (Acc. no. 8106) that is a strong contender for our missing ‘tab’.  This fragment was also part of the Sharpe Ogden collection and, although the fragment bore a different sale number than the mask, a join is likely because of the pattern 7931_conservationof the edge of both mask and fragment. The mask was in poor condition when it arrived at the museum and it is conceivable that the ‘tab’ snapped off long before it arrived, being given a separate number for sale because it carried a visually appealing set of inked hieroglyphs. These spell out a standard offering formula for the ka of the deceased. Unfortunately, like several other examples of this type, it does not carry a name, almost as if it was a prefabricated piece awaiting magical personalisation (and activation) through the addition of a name. The high quality of the masks with anonymous tabs would seem to argue against an ‘off-the-peg’ arrangement – perhaps  the filling in of the name was a ritualised part of the funerary preparations and was never (properly) completed, or done in less durable pigments than those that have survived?

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10/11/14 Bob Partridge Memorial Lecture: Dr Renée Friedman on Hierakonpolis

Syenite vessel from the site of Hierakonpolis (Acc. no. 2755)

Syenite vessel from the site of Hierakonpolis (Acc. no. 2755)

The next Manchester Ancient Egypt Society Bob Partridge Memorial Lecture will be given by Dr. Renée Friedman (British Museum)

Everything in its Place: New Views of the Elite Predynastic cemetery at Hierakonpolis.

Monday 10th November, 7:30pm
Pendulum Hotel, Sackville Street, Manchester, M1 3AL
All welcome

Hierakonpolis is famous as the home of the Palette of King Narmer, but on-going work at the site is revealing the tombs of kings some 500 years earlier, who expressed their power not only in the size and wealth of their graves set with above-ground architectural compounds, but also with the people and intriguing array of wild and domestic animals they took with them to the afterlife. This unique collection of animals gives insight into the physical reality behind early symbols of power, while the architectural settings in which the burials are arranged is revealing how the early Egyptians understood and ordered their world. This lecture will present our current thoughts on this remarkable cemetery modified as required by the new discoveries to be made in the January-March 2014 season of excavation at the site.

Dr. Renée Friedman is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley in Egyptian Archaeology and has worked at many sites throughout Egypt since 1980.With special interest in the Predynastic, Egypt’s formative period, in 1983 she joined the team working at Hierakonpolis, and went on to become the director of the Hierakonpolis Expedition in 1996, a title she still holds. Currently the Heagy Research Curator of Early Egypt at the British Museum, she is the author of many scholarly and popular articles about all aspects of the fascinating site of Hierakonpolis.

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New light under old wrappings (II): The temple singer Perenbast

Perenbast about to be CT-scanned at the Manchester Children's Hospital

Perenbast about to be CT-scanned at the Manchester Children’s Hospital

The British Museum opens its latest exhibition, Ancient Lives, New Discoveries, this week. Here in Manchester, which the exhibition acknowledges is the home of mummy studies, we have been carrying out similar research on our 20 human mummies, and many of the discoveries we have made tie in with those presented in the BM exhibition.

Between 1908 and 1909, while clearing the courtyards of some New Kingdom tombs on the Luxor west bank at Qurna, W. M. Flinders Petrie discovered an unopened tomb of “about the 25th Dynasty.” This camped space turned out to contain the burials of a man and a woman, presumably husband and wife, which can now be dated to the 22nd Dynasty based on their funerary provisions and the iconography of their coffins. In addition to the coffins, the burial contained a Ptah-Sokar-Osiris figure and two shabti boxes for each occupant. Most of the objects are wooden, covered in a black resin, with details on the coffins picked out in yellow and white paint. The assemblage belonging to the male mummy (whose name is not preserved) was sent to Bristol Museum and the group belonging to his (presumed) wife, a temple singer named Perenbast, came to Manchester.

Perenbast and her presumed husland after Petrie's discovery of their tomb

Perenbast (right) and her presumed husband after Petrie’s discovery of their tomb

X-rays taken in the 1970s as part of the Manchester Egyptian Mummy Project revealed some dense shapes in the area of Perenbast’s chest. These were identified as likely to be amulets but it was only in 2013 that their precise nature was understood. Using the latest CT-scanning technology, it is possible to visualise the objects at high resolution. What appeared as grainy masses on the older X-rays were revealed to be a plaque on the left side of the abdomen, used to cover the embalming incision, a scarab beetle and detached wings, and an ‘ib-shaped’ heart amulet. It is not clear if these objects are made of metal, faience, or perhaps wax.

Scan showing heart scarab and 'ib' amulets. (Image courtesy of Professor J Adams, Central Manchester Healthcare Trust)

Scan showing heart scarab and ‘ib’ amulets. (Image courtesy of Professor J Adams, Central Manchester Healthcare Trust)

It is now also possible to isolate objects such as amulets and print then in three dimensions, using resin. Such 3D renderings are displayed in the BM show and are planned for Perenbast to enable visitors to handle copies of objects which will never be seen for real. It would be interesting to know what, if any, similar amulets occur in the wrappings of “Mr. Perenbast” in Bristol.

The “revelation” of the “secrets” of Egyptian mummies – whether through physical unwrapping or more modern non-destructive methods such as CT-scanning – has a perennial favourite with the general public for over 200 years. And for just as long there have been (often circular) arguments about the ethics of investigation and display. In a provocative new book, Christina Riggs, formerly Curator of Egypt and Sudan here at the Manchester Museum, charts (and challenges) our obsession with mummies, evaluating ancient intentions and modern preconceptions.

The response to the latest British Museum exhibition shows that, more than ever, we want to probe underneath the mummy’s bandages in new and visually stimulating ways. The value of the answers these investigations provide depends, I suppose, on the value of the questions we come up with in the first place.

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Being a Future Curator at the Manchester Museum

Egyptian_xmasOur new British Museum Future Curator, Anna Garnett, describes her experiences so far at the Museum.

Since this is my first blog post since arriving at Manchester Museum at the beginning of March I thought I’d tell you a little bit about what I’m actually doing here…

For the last six months I have been working as a trainee curator in the Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan at the British Museum, as part of the HLF-funded Future Curators programme. During this time I worked with Derek Welsby, Assistant Keeper and Curator of Sudanese Archaeology, focussing on the documentation and presentation of the Sudanese collection and taking part in many varied activities including school sessions, gallery talks, exhibitions and community events. There was also the occasional, more unusual task, such as helping with the design of the Egyptian-themed Christmas decorations for the Great Court, something which you certainly don’t get to do everyday!

anna gallery

Anna with hieroglyph-learners

This prepared me well for the second part of the programme: spending 12 months training at a UK Partner museum. Manchester Museum was chosen as the host museum for an Egyptology trainee and I am very lucky to have the opportunity to work with such an important and fascinating Egyptology collection. So far I’ve assisted with the documentation and exhibition of the Egyptian objects as well as a wide variety of other tasks including helping with Egyptology-themed events for both adults and children – one of the most memorable being the ‘Museum Meets’ Hieroglyphs Study Day in March, when I helped the group translate hieroglyphic inscriptions on objects in the Ancient Worlds gallery for themselves. I even have the opportunity to help out on the Museum allotment – today we are hopefully planting potatoes!

It is a great privilege to be a ‘Future Curator’ since there are very few other opportunities to be able to work so closely with and learn from such fantastic people and collections, and I look forward to the challenges which I’m sure the next year will bring during my traineeship.

 

More from Anna soon!

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