Tag Archives: Faiyum

MAES Lecture 12 November 2012 – ‘A Page from the Book of Genesis’: Changing visions of the Fayum Landscape

A lecture by Dr. Claire Malleson at Manchester Ancient Egypt Society

Monday 12th November, 7:30pm

Days Inn, Sackville Street, Manchester, M1 3AL

‘A Page from the Book of Genesis’: Changing visions of the Fayum Landscape

Representing different things to different people, the Fayum region can be viewed as the land of the Labyrinth and the Lake, a rich fertile oasis, the home of some of the most important Middle Kingdom remains, and a focus of interest regarding the changing environment in Egypt. This lecture will present some of the very different perceptions of the Fayum, from Ancient Egypt, classical Greece and Rome, Medieval Islamic scholars and early European travellers. It will examine who influenced who, and how literary trends and story-telling played a critical role in shaping our ideas as well as tracking some of the perceptions of the region which have remained the same throughout history.

Having studied Egyptology at Birkbeck College and Bloomsbury Summer Schools in London Claire started her MA (part time) in Liverpool in 2002, graduating in 2004, the topic of her thesis being Investigating Ancient Egyptian Towns: a Case Study of Itj-tawy. She began her PhD (part-time) at Liverpool in 2005 and started working on sites in Egypt, training as an archaeobotanist with Dr Murry at Giza (Mark Lehner’s site), going on to work as a botanist at other sites in Egypt. She completed her PhD in 2012, her thesis titled ‘Imagined and Experienced: Changing Perceptions of the Fayum Landscape.’ As well as Giza, she has worked at the archaeological sites of Tell el-Retaba, Medinet Gurob, Sais, Tell Mutubis, Tell el-Borg, Zawiyet Umm el-Rakham and, in the UK, Sedgeford in Norfolk and Chester Roman Amphitheatre.

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Curator’s Diary 6/4/12: Visiting Egypt (1) – the Faiyum

Yesterday I returned from a 4-day trip to Cairo. One objective of this visit was to capture digital content for the new Ancient Worlds galleries, in the form of photographs and short film clips.


Manchester holds a world-class collection of objects excavated from the ancient towns of Kahun (modern Lahun) and Gurob. Both sites are situated close to the Faiyum lake, some 130 kilometres south-west of modern Cairo. Driving with my friend and colleague Mohammed Komaty on the second day of my trip, it took just over 2 hours on the Western Desert Highway to reach the area. I had never visited the Faiyum region before, so took the opportunity to stop at another important site nearby.

Pyramid at Meidum

Meidum is the site of a large, steep-sided pyramid – a tower-like structure visible from the road. It was perhaps begun by Huni, last king of the Third Dynasty (c. 2637-2613), and was completed – if not entirely constructed – by his son Sneferu (c. 2613-2589 BC). Nearby are several large mastaba tombs (so-called because they resemble the flat, rectangular structures – hence their Arabic name, meaning ‘bench’) belonging to high-ranking officials. One of the mastabas belonged to a son of Sneferu, named Nefermaat, and his wife Itet. In addition to almost 200 other small objects from Meidum, Manchester Museum holds two decorated blocks from Nefermaat and Itet’s mastaba – both of which will feature in the new galleries.

The next stop was Gurob, the site of a royal harem palace during the New Kingdom (c. 1550-1143 BC). I was very pleased my visit coincided with fieldwork by the Gurob Harem Palace Project, an international collaboration led by Liverpool University’s Dr. Ian Shaw, who showed me around the site. The Project has improved substantially our understanding of the extent and use of this intriguing settlement, the story of which will feature in the ‘Royal Cities’ section of the Egyptian World gallery.

GHPP Director Ian Shaw and Tine Bagh

GHPP Director Ian Shaw and Tine Bagh

Of particular interest is the work of Anna Hodgkinson, a friend and colleague from Liverpool, who has been excavating kilns at the site. These contain the remains of glass and faience production, but may have had other uses. It may have been here that some of the most beautiful Gurob objects now in Manchester were created. Anna kindly agreed to speak about her research on camera, which will be included in a video exploring the making of faience and glass objects.

Finally, I made a trip to the site from which arguably the greatest number of Manchester’s Egyptian objects come: the workers’ town of Lahun. Here were housed the builders of the nearby pyramid of Senwosret II (c. 1880-1874 BC) and their descendants. The site was dug extensively by William Matthew Flinders Petrie at the end of the Nineteenth Century. Despite the fact that Petrie discovered many objects that cast unprecedented light on life – and not just death – at the town, there is very little to see today. It was, however, a special privilege to be at the place that has such a close connection with objects I am getting to know so well. Although weathered, the site is still dominated by the mud-brick pyramid of Senwosret II – a feeling enhanced by the total lack of other visitors. The pyramid’s haunting majesty was intended to ensure that the king’s cult continued at the town after his death. This is attested at Lahun by the large number of papyri found there, dealing with a range of matters – including the royal cult – from long after the pyramid had received its intended occupant.

The pyramid of Senwosret II at Lahun

The pyramid of Senwosret II at Lahun


Filed under Curator's Diary, Research projects