Tag Archives: Saqqara

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.

IMG_1969

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

1 Comment

Filed under Egypt events at the Manchester Museum

Animal Mummies #8: Secrecy, wrapping and revealing

Falcon_mummy

Gilded mummy of a falcon, an image of a god (Acc. no. 11293)

Mummies, whether human or animal, were never intended to be unwrapped. The ancient embalmers were wise to the fact that, especially for elite burials, tomb robbers might try to rip the mummies apart in search of valuables. But I doubt the ancients could ever have envisaged the extent of modern scientific curiosity. Yet we are, undeniably, curious. We see a closed, sealed package and it seems like a deliberate challenge: we almost instinctively want to know what’s inside. Modern technology allows us to look under the wrappings without damaging the mummies themselves. But why do we want to look, and why did the Egyptians wrap things in the first place?

Animal mummies and bronze statuettes of deities shared a common votive purpose: they were both appropriate gifts to give to the gods to further one’s prayers. Some bronzes have been found still wrapped in linen, as deposited by temple staff. Some more sizeable bronzes are hollow, with some even containing remains of mummified material; thus the boundary between ‘statues’ and ‘coffins’ is more blurred for animals than for humans. Regardless of what animal mummy bundles might contain, they were – like the bronzes – images of the gods. Such images were sacred and very powerful, and had to be carefully buried – either in a cache deposit or in a catacomb – after they had been donated by visitors to a temple.

wooden shrine i018

Wooden shrine with linen-wrapped images of gods (EES excavations, Saqqara)

It is important to acknowledge the role of wrapping in ancient Egyptian ritual practice. My predecessor as Curator of Egyptology at Manchester Museum, Christina Riggs, has written a provocative book on this topic, examining aspects of how wrapping and unwrapping have influenced the interpretation of ancient Egypt. Museums almost never acknowledge this. For example, in the tomb of Tutankhamun almost all the images of gods or the king were shrouded in linen coverings but none of these wrappings made it to displays in the Cairo Museum.

tut-shrouded gods

Shrouded divine statues from the tomb of Tutankhamun

Recent controversy surrounding the display of mummies – and the seemingly endless analysis of it – highlights how sensitive we can still be about the subject of wrapping and unwrapping.

Shrouding or veiling draws attention to the fact that a secret is being kept, and adds power and prestige to the item being covered. Wrapping also protects, maintaining and enhancing the sacredness of an object. Modern museum display has tended to favour the removal and quiet disposal of these original wrappings. That is why – for the first time ever, to my knowledge – we have included a rewrapped bronze statuette of Isis nursing Horus in our ‘Gifts for the Gods’ exhibition. We hope this will provoke visitors to think of the bronzes and mummies as two different aspects of the same votive concept.

Campbell-wrapping

Re-wrapping a divine image

Many visitors to the ‘Gifts for the Gods’ exhibition will expect that animal mummies were all pets, and that the Egyptians were very strange for mummifying animals. What we have tried to show is that gifting was – and still is – a very important means of seeking divine attention in many cultures. Ours is the first exhibition that explicitly looks at animal mummies as votives, rather than simply as animals or mummies.

Animals were a category of beings between humans and gods, and were the perfect intermediaries between them. Millions of animal mummies were produced as eternal gifts, tokens of prayers of people who died over 2000 years ago, given in the hope that only the gods would know what was inside.

Secrecy breeds curiosity. There are no texts explaining what the Egyptians aimed to achieve by mummifying animals in such large numbers, so their purpose is something of a mystery that science is helping to. Faced with so many wrapped packages, we are like excited (Western) children on Christmas morning – we simply cannot contain our curiosity to see what’s inside.

Leave a comment

Filed under Object biography

Object Biography # 18: A wooden cat coffin from Saqqara (Acc. no. 9303)

Cats-memeAncient Egypt is closely associated in the popular imagination with cats, and cat statuettes, coffins and mummies are common highlights of museum collections around the world. The reason they proliferate is because these images of the goddess Bastet were considered appropriate gifts to give to her.

 

Recently, archive research by volunteers at Manchester Museum enabled one particular example, previously without sure archaeological provenance, to be contextualised in time for our ‘Gifts for the Gods: Animal Mummies Revealed’ exhibition.

Firth at Saqqara_small

Cecil Firth surrounded by cat coffins and bronzes

At last year’s CIPEG (International Egyptology Committee of ICOM) conference in Copenhagen, I saw an archive photograph currently held in the Museum of Fine Arts Boston. It showed the archaeologist Cecil Firth (1878-1931) at the site of Saqqara, surrounded but recently-excavated cat bronzes and coffins. I immediately recognised an example on the left of the image as one now in Manchester Museum (Acc. no. 9303), with occupant still intact. It turned out that this impressive example had been donated by Thomas Alfred Coward (1867-1933), an ornithologist and Acting Keeper of the Manchester Museum during the First World War.

DPP_00119

Wooden cat coffin, acc. no. 9303. From Saqqara.

A letter survives in our correspondence archive from Coward, dated 27th October 1921, to the English excavator and Egyptologist James Quibell. In it, Coward expresses delight at the quality of the specimen he has received and jokes that the Assistant Keeper in charge of archaeology, Miss Winifred Crompton, had a particular liking for the piece:

The long expected lot has arrived. It is a beauty, and I want to thank you very much for selecting it. I had not seen one in a case before. The one by post, of course, came long ago, but this one seems to have taken its time!

As I believe you got it from a dealer, you may have no idea where it was found, but can you give me any approximate period or date for it?

I had to see Miss Crompton put it in a Tac case, or I think she would have taken it home to see if she could make it purr.

Cat-coffin-scan-small

Radiograph of cat coffin, acc. no. 9303, showing a complete cat mummy inside.

A brief note pencilled by Quibell in reply on the reverse of the same letter affirms that the cat coffin in fact came from the excavations conducted by Cecil Firth at Saqqara. This chance find in our archive, scanned and transcribed by volunteers, confirms the cat’s provenance. Coward’s interest in the piece is likely to have been zoological, so it is remarkable that the coffin remained intact. The coffin has now been CT-scanned and radiographed, and is the subject of an innovative haptic interface to enable blind and visually-impaired people. Research by the Ancient Egyptian Animal Bio Bank is enhanced by such sure cases of archaeological provenance, enabling conclusions to be drawn about mummification and bandaging techniques in certain locations at certain times.

Our current exhibition ‘Gifts for the Gods: Animal Mummies revealed’ is open until April 17th 2016, and can thereafter be see in Glasgow and Liverpool.

Leave a comment

Filed under Object biography

FREE Study day 14/11/15 – ‘Discovering Animal Mummies’

Ibis_MM_detail‘Discovering Animal Mummies’

Saturday 14th November, Kanaris Lecture Theatre, Manchester Museum.

10am-4pm.

FREE

A chance  to discover more about the fascinating stories behind our exhibition, ‘Gifts for the Gods: Animal Mummies Revealed’

Programme

10:00     Registration and coffee

10:20     Dr. Campbell Price (Manchester Museum) – Gifts for the Gods: Animal Mummies as Votives and Souvenirs

11:10     Dr. Chris Naunton (Egypt Exploration Society) – The Search for Imhotep? Emery at Saqqara

12:00     Lunch

13:00     Prof. Paul Nicholson (Cardiff University) – The Sacred Animal Necropolis at Saqqara

13:50     Dr. Ashley Cooke (World Museum Liverpool) – Auctions and Air-raids: Animal mummies at Liverpool

14:40     Coffee

15:00     Dr. Stephanie Atherton-Woolham and Dr. Lidija McKnight (University of Manchester) – Scientific Study of Animal Mummies

15:50     Concluding remarks

16:00     The end

Book onto the study day here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Egypt events at the Manchester Museum

Animal Mummies #2: Animals in the Ancient Egyptian landscape

Exhibitions on Ancient Egypt often favour black or beige as a way to represent either a gloomy/scary concern for death or sandy, washed-out monumental backdrops. ‘Gifts for the Gods: Animal Mummies Revealed’ challenges these notions and opens with an imagined vista of Saqqara at the beginning of the Late Period (c. 750 BC), populated with taxidermy specimens of species that might have been encountered. Contrary to many expectations, there’s a lot of greenery here. We have chosen green – the colour of new life and, importantly, the assurance of renewal after death – as the colour palette throughout the exhibition.

Saqqara_landscape

This recreated image shows the area just to the north of Saqqara, near the cultivation, is often referred to as the ‘Lake of Abusir’ and was once much marshier than it is today. This area has been suspected by Egyptologists to have been home to many ibis birds, sacred to the god Thoth, which were mummified as votive offerings to the gods. Much of this and other forms of wildlife have disappeared since ancient times.

Most of the ancient Egyptians worked on the land, and all would have had many more opportunities to observe animal behaviour than most of us do today. Since Predynastic times, the gods were shown as animals, or with animal heads, to illustrate the superhuman power of nature. The Egyptians believed that animals could pass between the worlds of humans and gods. As a result, representations of animals – pictures, statues and mummies – were used to carry messages to the gods.

Twitter_Cover

The evidence of millions of animal mummies – many without a full animal inside – suggests that demand for animals for mummification outstripped supply. Were animals therefore bred specifically for mummification? It is very difficult to locate large areas of animal habitat or even the sites of animal mummy production firmly in the archaeological record – but it seems likely these areas must once have existed. They may be lost because they were close to the river and have since been built on top of or been washed away by the Nile.

Some researchers have claimed to have found evidence of force-feeding birds of prey; however, it is difficult to establish this with certainly based on a single example. Establishing evidence of intentional farming from the mummified remains is difficult, mainly because diseases common in captive populations may not have manifest themselves in the skeletal remains during the relatively short lifespans of the animals. Finding evidence for cause of death, a further aspect of the management of these votive populations, is notoriously difficult to assess using radiography when many mummies have suffered extensive post-mummification damage.

Ultimately, in the absence of archaeological or extensive evidence, our best sources of information are the mummies themselves. The use of non-invasive imaging techniques means that we can recover the maximum amount of information from them, whilst keeping them intact for future research.

Find out more at the Ancient Egyptian Animal Bio Bank

Leave a comment

Filed under Egypt events at the Manchester Museum

Dogs in ancient Egypt

Our newest exhibition ‘Breed: The British and their Dogs’ has just opened, and has given me cause to ponder the relationship between the ancient Egyptians and their dogs. The canine that features most prominently in iconography, and which is most associated with the pharaonic Egypt, is the god Anubis – represented either as a recumbent jackal or as a jackal-headed man. As a guardian of the cemetery, the origins of the jackal god are often associated with desert scavengers who preyed on recently interred burials.

Acc. no. 11498. A limestone statuette of Anubis, from the EES excavations at Saqqara. Late Period (c. 750-332 BC)

Anubis was the deity who oversaw the mummification process, and (like another jackal deity Wepwawet, ‘The Opener of the Ways’) helped conduct the deceased into the afterlife. Perhaps these divine attributes reflected the attentive aspect observed in dogs. Many hundreds of dogs were buried as animals sacred to Anubis – in the form of votive dog mummies – at the Anubieion at Saqqara. Domestic dogs might also receive individual burials, either along with their owners or in their own coffins.

One ancient Egyptian word for dog is iwiw, an onomatopoeic reference to its bark. From the Old Kingdom (c. 2686-2181 BC), dogs generally shared the same names as humans and are often shown in attendance on an elite tomb owner, captioned with their names in hieroglyphs. Some dogs carry names likely to reflect their qualities, such as ‘Brave One’ and ‘Good Herdsman’, and the abilities of dogs as hunting companions appears to have been particularly prized.

Scene from the tomb of the 26th Dynasty official Pabasa, showing his dog Hekenu under his chair. Photo by Ken Griffin.

Evidence of breeding is difficult to trace and is unlikely to coincide with modern practices of the type illustrated in the exhibition ‘Breed’. Yet, despite a strong association in the popular imagination with cats, ancient Egypt provides ample early evidence for man’s best friend.

4 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Lecture: “In the Shadow of the Step Pyramid: Geophysics at Saqqara”, Middleton Archaeological Society, Thurs. 26th, 7.30pm

I will be giving a lecture on the recent work of the Saqqara Geophysical Survey Project at Middleton Archaeological Society at 7.30pm on Thursday 26th of July, at the Olde Boar’s Head pub. More details at the Society’s website.

Leave a comment

Filed under Egypt events