Tag Archives: UCL

Curator’s Diary 25/5/13: Advocating Ancient Egypt

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.

Forming Material Egypt 2

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.

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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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