Tag Archives: Egyptology

Book Review – ‘Nefertiti’s Face: The Creation of an Icon’ by Joyce Tyldesley

Joyce Tyldesley’s new book concerns Ancient Egypt’s most well-known poster-girl: Nefertiti, or – more accurately – a painted limestone and plaster bust of her now in the Neues Museum in Berlin. Tyldesley has already written an excellent biography of the lady herself, and uses this opportunity to discuss her most famous representation – and how it skews our entire impression of who she was. The book follows the successful format of the biography of a single object adopted by Laurence Berman, curator at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in his accessible study of the Late Period ‘Boston Green Head’. As a fellow curator, the idea of spending a whole book on a sole museum object is particularly appealing to me.


Now, I must confess personal bias here – Joyce is a friend and University of Manchester colleague, and we have discussed the content of the book extensively. Yet the finished product is one of the most important popular and accessible books now available in Egyptology. It chimes in with a welcome mood of reassessment of the history of Egyptology explored very provocatively – though sometimes in rather acerbic terms – in more academic works; the real value here is that, thanks to the popularity of her previous books and online courses at the University of Manchester, the general public are actually likely to read Joyce Tyldesley’s work.


Joyce and the Manchester Museum replica of the bust.

The book is divided into two parts: the ancient context of the bust and the importance of image production in ancient Egypt (a personal research interest of my own); and the modern reception of the object. The ancient archaeological setting is an especially fascinating one: a sculptor’s workshop at the centre of the production of a vast and still-experimental series of royal images. Nefertiti’s bust is rarely considered in the context of contemporary sculptural practice, which is surprisingly well-attested at Amarna. Tyldesley packs a lot in: notably, the vexed question of how the bust actually left Egypt, a convincing rebuttal of theories that it’s a fake, and the intriguing history of official replicas of the bust. From Adolf Hitler’s fascination with her beauty to the unlikely appropriation of its imagery for Sci-Fi movies, the bust of Nefertiti has had a powerful effect on Twentieth and Twenty-First Century popular culture.

A description, attributed to Hitler, expresses a populist tone that has a sinister and familar ring to it today:

“Oh, these Egyptologists and these professors! I don’t attach any value to their appraisals. I know this famous bust. I have viewed it and admired it many times….”

Who needs an expert to know anything? This reminds us that an object can mean many things to different people, whether or not we like those people is a different matter.

Most importantly, Tyldesley eloquently argues against an exception status for the queen herself. The one-in-a-million chance that such a (seemingly) exceptional piece should be so exceptionally well-preserved has vastly inflated our expectations of her role. As Tyldesley points out, the best comparison is with Nefertiti’s mother-in-law, Queen Tiye (who was actually more ‘famous’ before the seductive bust was found).

Ancient culture in general, and the Nefertiti bust in particular, is so over-loaded with modern meanings and significations that it is a wonder the queen’s slender, elegant neck hasn’t snapped under the strain.


‘Nefertiti’s Face: The Creation of an Icon’ is launched at Manchester Museum on Thursday 25th January, and will be on sale in our shop thereafter.



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Collections Bites talk 01/05/13: ‘The Statue of the Admiral Hor’

Acc. no 3570 © Paul Cliff

Acc. no 3570 © Paul Cliff

Wednesday 1 May, 1.15-2pm.

Collections Study Centre, Manchester Museum

Join our series of guest speakers for lunchtime conversations discussing key objects from the collection. This month’s conversation will be:

The Kneeling Statue of the Admiral Hor: Ships and Sculpture in Sixth Century BC Egypt.

Often overlooked because of its damaged state, the kneeling statue of Hor [Acc. no. 3750] represents an important military man of the Egyptian Twenty-Sixth Dynasty (c. 595-589 BC). Hor was Admiral of Egypt’s royal Mediterranean fleet at a time of increasingly strained international relations. Campbell Price, Curator of Egypt and the Sudan at the Museum, will discuss Hor’s role and the meanings of his temple statue.

FREE. Book on 0161 275 2648 or museum@manchester.ac.uk

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100 years of Egypt on display at Manchester: Ancient Worlds are open!

On 30th October 1912 a group of dignitaries assembled for the opening of a new building in the Manchester Museum, designed to house the important Egyptology collections. Exactly one hundred years later, we have now opened our new ‘Ancient Worlds’ galleries – and they are already proving very popular.

The new galleries consist of three main parts. The first gallery (previously the rather claustrophobic ‘Egyptian Daily Life’) introduces archaeological methods and explains how we know about the past, through a number of guides related to the field. This section, for example, explains Manchester’s unique contribution to facial reconstruction of ancient peoples, and Flinders Petrie’s ‘sequence dating’ based on pottery typology. Further digital content – including text, images, audio commentary, and 360 degree photography – can be downloaded using codes that appear on object labels. A visitor services assistant can unlock this information for those without a smart phone. This information can also be viewed online, at www.ancientworlds.co.uk.

The second space – formerly the Egyptian Afterlife gallery – is now Egyptian Worlds. Objects are arranged chronologically, with a timeline running around the top of the wall cases – making clear to visitors when, relative to main ‘periods’ of Egyptian history, material is situated. This timeline is illustrated with pots, to show changes in ceramic styles over time. Within this chronological framework individual themes are developed, such as the importance of writing in the Old Kingdom and Manchester’s unique evidence for magical practice in the Middle Kingdom. A smaller adjoining space now houses our rich collection of painted mummy portraits from Roman Egypt, including two of the rare examples of mummies with portraits still in place.

Finally, in our third gallery ‘Exploring Objects’ – what previously housed Mediterranean Archaeology – we present dense displays of several categories of artefacts found in abundance in museum collections, such as Roman glass, pottery lamps, or Egyptian stone vessels. One section that has already proved popular is our case packed with shabti figures, arranged roughly in chronological order to show changes in colour with time. The reason behind creating these densely-filled cases was simple: museum visitors expressed an interest in seeing more material on display. More objects than ever before are now on view in all three galleries, many for the first time in over 50 years. With around a thousand whole and fragmentary shabtis in storage, we wanted to show many more than the dozen or so examples that had been on display in the old galleries. The result is an aesthetically striking display – as evidenced by the popularity of this case with photographers!

In the year since I arrived at the Museum, ‘Ancient Worlds’ has dominated almost every aspect of life. It has been a wonderful opportunity to bring objects from one of Britain’s (and, indeed, Europe’s) great collections from Egypt and Sudan to a new audience. Yet, it has also been very satisfying to hear people express surprise as seeing an object from the old galleries in a new context – in this way many familiar pieces are getting a second look.

This photo from the 1912 opening shows the gallery’s major benefactor Jesse Haworth (standing in the picture), archaeologist William Flinders Petrie (seated third from right), the museum’s first curator William Boyd Dawkins (first on right), and anatomist Grafton Elliot Smith.

A project of this size obviously runs into its fair share of challenges. Yet even when things didn’t go quite according to plan, solutions were found – and the results, we hope, speak for themselves. It was a particular pleasure to work so closely with a team of such tireless, talented, and enthusiastic people at the Museum. We all hope that our new galleries bring Ancient Worlds to life in new and exciting ways for our visitors.

You can see all of Paul Cliff’s photos from the opening at the Museum’s Flickr page.

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Curator’s Diary 30/09/12: CIPEG meeting in Brussels

This week I attended my first meeting of CIPEG (The International Committee on Egyptology, part of ICOM – The International Council of Museums), an annual event now in its 29thyear. The conference was held in the impressive surroundings of the Cinquantenaire Museum in Brussels, and provided an excellent opportunity to meet and discuss matters of common interest with other curators working with Egyptology collections. I presented a paper on the new Manchester Museum galleries, discussing in particular how we highlight both current and past research on the collection, and an update on the ACCES network.

Participants at the CIPEG conference in Brussels. Thanks to Paula Veiga for the photo.

Papers covered a range of topics, from acquisitions histories to museum-led fieldwork projects. In addition to updates on current and planned redevelopments and exhibitions, it was interesting (and somewhat reassuring) to hear of the challenges being faced across Europe. Unfortunately, a common theme was the pressure felt by cuts in government funding. The case of local authorities responsible for museum collections selling objects was raised, and the dangerous precedent this could set. Despite the generally gloomy picture, it was good to hear of the creativity and inventiveness of some museums in these financially-straitened times. The Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest was one such example, using competitions for schools to design museum exhibitions on an Egyptian theme. This not only interested young people, it equipped them with a broad range of learning outcomes and skills applicable to a variety of jobs. New uses of digital technology, which we will make extensive use of in the Ancient Worlds galleries, are being considered in a number of other museums. Each institution has its own unique circumstances, so it will be interesting to compare digital developments and how they have been adapted to individual museums in the future.

CIPEG will meet again at the next International Congress of Egyptologists, in Alexandria in September 2013.

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Event: Travellers from an Antique Land: Early Travellers and Visitors to Ancient Egypt 15/09/12

Society for the Study of Ancient Egypt 2012 Day School will take place on:

Saturday 15 September
at the Library Lecture Theatre, New Beetwell Street, Chesterfield
9.30 am to 5.00 pm


Featuring Guest Lecturers:

• Dr Robert Morkot: ‘1798 – A Beginning and an End: Napoleon, travellers and the birth of Egyptology’.

• Dr Campbell Price: ‘Early Travellers and their Perception of Pharaonic Art’.

• Dr Joyce Filer: ‘The Black Pall of Oblivion: Harriet Martineau’s Egyptian experience’.

• Dr Paul Nicholson: ‘Early photography in 3D’.

Tickets Prices: £25.00 SSAE Members, £30.00 Non-Members and £7.00 Buffet Lunch

More info at the society website

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Event: Ancient World Tours conference, 18th-19th August 2012

Ancient World Tours (AWT) will hold its annual conference on Saturday and Sunday 18-19th of August 2012, at University College London. More information is available on the AWT website.

Speakers include:

Mansour Boraik, Director General of Upper Egypt Antiquities.

Since Dr. Mansour last visited us in London at our 2010 conference, Egypt has changed dramatically in the aftermath of revolution. We are delighted that he now returns to give us the latest news on the effect of the revolution on his work in saving the monuments including finance, damage, restoration and excavation.

Aidan Dodson

The Land of Kush.

Aidan takes us on an exploration of Upper Nubia, now part of modern Sudan, the home of the ancient Kushite civilisation, and host to more pyramids than Egypt. These include tombs of the kings of the Egyptian 25th Dynasty, when millennia of Egyptian occupation were reversed by a century of Kushite dominion.

Stephen Buckley

New Research into New Kingdom Mummification: from King’s Valley to King’s College.

Stephen presents results of his project on 18th Dynasty mummification, undertaken with Jo Fletcher and televised in 2011. With the mummified body they created, now housed in the teaching museum of King’s College London, Stephen will discuss their findings and their implications for our understanding of mummification.

Philippa Walton

Zeugma: The archaeology of a Hellenistic and Roman town on the Euphrates.

Founded by one of Alexander the Great’s generals in around 300 BC, Zeugma developed into a flourishing Roman town. Philippa will look at what was found during excavations when a team of archaeologists worked the site as it was flooded during the construction of a hydro-electric dam in 2000. We have an update on what’s happening at Zeugma now.

Campbell Price

Redisplaying Ancient Worlds at Manchester Museum.

On October 30th 2012, The Manchester Museum – Britain’s 5th largest Egyptology collection – will open its refurbished Ancient Worlds Galleries, 100 years to the day after Flinders Petrie inaugurated the first Egypt galleries there. Curator Campbell Price will discuss planning and preparation for the redisplay, the reasons behind object selection and new methods of interpretation.


Sunday will be dedicated to:


Bill Manley

Travellers’ Hieroglyphs.

Bill Manley, hieroglyphs expert and popular author, will show us how to read some common inscriptions from tombs and royal monuments of Ancient Egypt. An accessible, no-nonsense guide to making sense of hieroglyphs, which assumes no previous knowledge.

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New webpage: Egyptology online @ Manchester

Egyptian bronze mirror

New Kingdom bronze mirror (Acc. no 10963) – one of many objects that will contribute to teaching on the online programme. © Paul Cliff

New Egyptology online @ Manchester website launched today


I’m looking forward to contributing to this new webpage and to the content of Manchester’s successful online Egyptology programmes, run by friends and colleagues Dr. Joyce Tyldesley and Dr. Glenn Godenho. We already have plans to record lectures, conduct virtual tours of our stores and spotlight objects. The website will be a hub for all things Egyptology at Manchester.


Watch this space!

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