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
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?
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.
At the beginning of this week I attended a conference at UCL entitled ‘Forming Material Egypt’. The themes of the meeting centred on how collections of ancient Egyptian and Sudanese objects have been formed, and how they might be researched and disseminated today. I gave a paper on the collection of Max Robinow (1846-1900), a Manchester cotton manufacturer who assembled an impressive collection of Egyptian antiquities and donated a large proportion of these to the Museum. Although sadly largely lacking in provenance, the Robinow collection raises questions about 19th Century styles of collecting and how to present such “cherry-picked” objects to museum audiences.
Participants at the ‘Forming Material Egypt’ conference
Papers ranged from the subject of individual collectors to the Cairo Museum Sale Room and material from specific sites. One session focussed on the use of databases in museums, and how these can best be used for the organisation and dissemination of knowledge about collections, and how they might inter-relate with one another. The complementary use of archives to contextualise collections, and the importance of archive material in university teaching, was a recurring theme. Another key point that emerged from discussions was the need to advocate ancient Egypt. This might seem odd, given the wealth of enthusiasm amongst Egyptologists in general, but targeted advocacy of our subject – of the type that attracts serious funding – remains the exception not the norm.
In post-Revolution Egypt, the security of objects and archaeological sites in Egypt is a pressing concern but many of the underlying issues (e.g. storage space, the position of regional museums vis-à-vis the ‘central’ collections) also apply to Britain. The conference aimed to provide practical propositions for collaboration and discussions, which involved several Egyptian colleagues, were hopefully the beginning of a new form of honest dialogue. As one participant pointed out, in the aftermath of the 2011 Revolution the treatment of Egyptian cultural heritage is at a critical, historic juncture.
This week I also took part in children’s television programme Blue Peter. Having filmed our latest CT-scan – of a Roman Period child mummy (Acc. no. 1769) – last month, I appeared on the live show to demonstrate how to ‘mummify an orange’ – an activity that we have run at the Museum for several years.
Mummifying oranges with appropriately-attired Blue Peter presenters Helen and Barney.
With government plans to change curricula, it seems more important than ever for the Museum to advocate the study of ancient Egypt. The planned changes have potentially far-reaching implications. Where once Ancient Egypt might have been thought so popular as to “sell itself” – with school Egypt sessions experienced huge demand – if the planned changes go ahead then the Museum will have to find new ways to engage school groups with our Egyptian and Sudanese collections.
I confess I never imagined that I would ever mummify a piece of fruit live on children’s TV. But if we are to properly safeguard the Egyptian collections we have in the UK, we will have to continue to find new and exciting ways to demonstrate how important and inspirational they are for people of all ages.