Last weekend I headed off into Bloomsbury for Hidden Treasures at the Petrie Museum, an event that gave visitors the opportunity to go behind-the-scenes and be shown some of the many objects not currently on display. Throughout the afternoon Curator Alice Stevenson and Public Programmer Debbie Challis led guided tours of their specialist collections, highlighting key pieces to reflect major themes for discussion. Each tour lasted 20 minutes, running regularly throughout the afternoon, and was followed by an opportunity to chat to the museum team and ask questions about the collection.
The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology houses an estimated 80,000 objects, and with only about 10% on display these events are a brilliant way for museums like the Petrie to share and make better use of stored collections.Alice Stevenson’s Predynastic and Early Egypt tour included examples of slate palettes, mace heads and grave goods to represent aspects of everyday life, burial practice and the early use of materials. While Debbie Challis’ Ptolemaic and Roman tour showcased the museum’s collection of finds from the city of Memphis, including a series of terracotta heads, which allowed visitors to reflect upon cultural diversity and identity in the period. Both periods are well represented within the collection and have been the subject of recent research by both guides.
It was great to see two of the less iconic periods of Egyptian history sharing the focus of this event, showcasing material culture and comparing the lived experience from opposite ends of the ancient chronology. Hidden Treasures at the Petrie Museum also demonstrated the value and importance of object-centred events. Not only could visitors examine the objects in detail and experience them outside of the display case setting, something which people can often feel is a negative barrier to access, but also use them as a tool to directly engage with the latest theories and interpretations. For many museum visitors, myself included, this informal and accessible style of engagement is far more effective and conducive to learning.
Now in its second year Hidden Treasures is a national initiative, led by the Collections Trust, to promote and celebrate collections in museums and archives. This year saw over 70 museums and archives across the United Kingdom take part with special events allowing public access to a wide range of stored collections.