Excavating Egypt, The Egypt Exploration Society.

The Egypt Exploration Society
12th-26th July 2015
Free entry
Click here for opening times

The pop-up exhibition Excavating Egypt explores the rich and fascinating history of the Egypt Exploration Society. Through the Society’s extensive archive collection the exhibition allows visitors to access the lived experience of those who organised, directed, and took part in archaeological excavations in the Nile Valley from the Society’s foundation in 1882 to the present day. The focus of Excavating Egypt lies in the characters and stories that the archives reveal, providing first-hand accounts of developments in the discipline and an alternative perspective to the history of archaeology in Egypt.

Excavating Egypt pop-up exhibition.

Excavating Egypt pop-up exhibition.

The exhibition is divided into four main sections: Prepare, Explore, Discover, and the Future. These sections guide the visitor through the process of organising and conducting an excavation, illustrated by archival images, documents, and personal anecdotes from the history of the Society. They cover everything from how to pick your team members and how to direct an excavation, to archaeological techniques and the conditions of living and working on site. The exhibition even explores the role of the archaeologist post-excavation, considering the Society’s responsibility to share its findings through the distribution of objects, the publication of results, and organising educational events for its members and the wider archaeological community.

Visitors to the exhibition can explore a wide variety of archival material usually only available to researchers by appointment. Some of the highlights include excavation diaries, such as those from Emery’s excavations at Buhen in 1957/8, correspondence from early excavators such as Petrie and Naville, watercolour paintings by a young Howard Carter, and detailed object record cards from Pendlebury’s excavations at Tell el-Amarna.

Film footage of Meir archaeological mission, 1950, projected on to tent canvas.

Film footage of Meir archaeological mission, 1950, projected on to tent canvas.

Excavating Egypt provides some wonderful and unique ways of engaging with the archive collection. Original film footage of Aylward Blackman’s mission to Meir in 1950, entitled ‘To Work’, is on show continually throughout the exhibition, projected on to tent canvas and displayed alongside the actual camera used in its filming. The Society have also included some truly excellent 3D models of excavated objects which can be accessed by scanning object record cards on display using the Augment app. In addition to this, the display of original archaeological tools and replica artefacts arranged amongst object packing crates, similar to those used in early fieldwork, really helps to contextualise the material and adds an extra dimension to the archive experience.

The exhibition, organised as part of the Festival of Archaeology, is accompanied by a great programme of events for visitors of all ages, including twice-daily tours of the exhibition, lunchtime lectures, and exclusive screenings of films from the archive. Younger visitors can get involved in a number of tailored activities too, including taking part in an on-site excavation and learning how to record and label their finds.

For those unable to attend the exhibition, you can find the text panels and some of the archival content on the Society’s pop-up website: excavatingegypt.wordpress.com. For more details of the Society’s Lucy Gura archive featured in this exhibition visit the EES website and their Flickr account where a great deal of the archive is being published online.

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Cairo to Constantinople, The Queen’s Gallery.

The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace
7th November 2014 – 22nd February 2015
Tickets: £0.00 – £9.75
#royaltour1862

A view of Egypt.

A view of Egypt.

Cairo to Constantinople: Early Photographs of the Middle East documents the Prince of Wales’ (Edward VII) grand tour of the Middle East in 1862 through the eyes of photographer Francis Bedford. The four-month educational tour, organised by his parents Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, took in the sites of Egypt, Palestine and the Holy Land, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and Greece. Shown together for the first time since 1862, Bedford’s photographs, and the history of their public reception, provide a unique insight into Victorian Britain’s relationship and fascination with the region, and a rare opportunity to see the collection that “helped shape the Victorian understanding of the Middle East.”

The exhibition invites you to follow in the footsteps of the grand tour with photographs arranged chronologically by country, starting in Egypt and concluding in Greece. The collection reflects a diverse range of Victorian interests, from ancient sites to Islamic architecture, biblical landscapes to those of more recent historical interest. It also features more ethnographic style shots of ‘typical’ street scenes and of people they met along the way. Each image is coupled with a label that relates the significance of the location, often featuring relevant extracts from the Prince’s journal.

Statue of Queen Senet, 12th Dynasty.

Statue of Queen Senet, 12th Dynasty.

The display is interspersed with watercolours, archive material and artefacts that work together to contextualise the images. Collecting antiquities was actively encouraged by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert who considered it an important part of their children’s education. The majority of archaeological artefacts on display were acquired by the Prince from Egypt, Rhodes and the Eastern Mediterranean during the tour, and remain part of the royal collection today. Highlights include the Papyrus of Naskhem, Priest of Amun Ra, a stunning collection of papyri found during an excavation attended by the Prince, a wooden funerary stela belonging to Nakhtmontu dating to the 3rd century BC, and a 12th dynasty statue of Queen Senet, which remains the oldest item in the royal collection. The collection gives a fascinating insight into the kind of objects that were considered desirable as souvenirs at the time and which went on to form the foundations of many Victorian established collections.

From an Egyptology perspective Cairo to Constantinople is full of fascinating little archaeological details. The number of sites and excavations visited by the Prince demonstrates just how much archaeology, as an emerging discipline, had captured the public imagination and how it was becoming increasingly significant as part of a broader education. I was particularly drawn to a watercolour by Jemima Blackburn from 1862 which captures the moment when the Prince was presented with an Egyptian mummy whilst attending his own excavation in Thebes. The small scale excavation was organised for the Prince by Sa’id Pasha, the Viceroy of Egypt, with the understanding that the Prince could keep any artefacts found.

A view of Syria and Lebanon.

A view of Syria and Lebanon.

The photographs hold great value as archaeological records, not just for Egypt but across the Middle East and the Mediterranean. Bedford’s photographs show sites and monuments pre-excavation and, in the case of examples like Luxor Temple, in the process of being excavated. Many of the photographs capture a moment in time that is now lost forever, such as the photographs of Medinet Habu which show the columns of the Coptic church that once stood in the second court. Equally, the collection is a wonderful resource for placing Egypt in its wider archaeological and geographical context, allowing an interesting comparison between archaeological sites and interests across the region.

The Millar Learning Room is a thoughtful and valuable addition to the exhibition. Aimed at families in particular, the room provides a space to explore exhibition themes and content in greater detail. From interactive screens to explore the Prince’s original journal entries and audio points to listen to John McCarthy’s BBC Radio 4 commentary, to the ‘1862 Royal Tour’ board game and dressing up box, the Millar Learning Room has elements that will appeal to visitors of all ages.

This is one exhibition where the architecture of the gallery adds to the overall narrative. The opulent and grand setting of the Queen’s Gallery, coupled with the exhibition’s sophisticated styling and design elements, certainly enhances the visitor experience.

The Millar Learning Room.

The Millar Learning Room.

The Millar Learning Room.

The Millar Learning Room.

Exhibitions on Egypt 2015: What to see this year.

Cairo to Constantinople: Early Photographs of the Middle East
The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace
7th November 2014 – 22nd February 2015
Tickets: £0.00 – £9.75
#royaltour1862

Previously on display at the Queen’s Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse, in Edinburgh (March – July 2013), Cairo to Constantinople continues its tour of the UK royal collections with a trip to Buckingham Palace.

This exhibition documents the Prince of Wales’ (Edward VII) grand tour of the Middle East in 1862 through the eyes of photographer Francis Bedford. Exploring the Prince’s journey through Egypt, Palestine and the Holy Land, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and Greece, Cairo to Constantinople provides a fascinating insight into Victorian Britain’s relationship with the region and archaeology as an emerging discipline. The exhibition also has some excellent online content featuring a selection of photographs, documents and stories from the archive.

Ancient Lives: New Discoveries
The British Museum
22nd May 2014 – 19th April 2015
Tickets: £0.00 – £10.00
#8mummies

This exhibition tells the story of eight people from the ancient Nile Valley, covering 4,000 years from Prehistoric Egypt to Christian Sudan. Using the human remains as a starting point Ancient Lives introduces new technology and interactive displays to explore how these people lived and died. The ancient lived experience is at the heart of this exhibition and Ancient Lives presents a ground-breaking and sensitive approach to the study of human remains.

Ancient Lives: New Discoveries has proved extremely popular with British Museum visitors. Last year it received an unprecedented six month extension, taking it through to April 2015, and it is still very much in demand. If you get a chance check out the accompanying book, it’s a great addition to the exhibition.

Secret Egypt: Unravelling Truth from Mystery
Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery
24th January – 26th April 2015
Tickets: £0.00 – £4.00

Secret Egypt aims to challenge modern myths and misconceptions surrounding ancient Egypt by exploring subjects like the mummy’s curse, and answering questions such as ‘were the ancient Egyptians obsessed with death?’. This exhibition provides an interesting and eclectic mix of Egyptian archaeology and modern Egyptomania, and includes a diverse collection of 150 ancient Egyptian artefacts ranging from jewellery and ceramics to statuary and coffins.

The Secret Egypt exhibition, which has been touring UK museums since 2011, has been produced by Birmingham Museums Trust in partnership with the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum and is supported by Arts Council England. To find out more about UK tour dates and to download the Herbert Touring pack visit the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum website.

Ancient Egypt Lives Forever
Museum of St. Albans
24th January – 17th May 2015
Free entry

This exhibition offers an insight into the daily lives and funerary practices of the ancient Egyptians, covering a wide range of themes from home-life, work-life, religion and recreation. Ancient Egypt Lives Forever includes a selection of artefacts on loan from collections across the UK, such as Manchester, Liverpool, Brighton, Hertford, Ipswich and the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. With an extensive programme of talks for adults and activity-led sessions for children this exhibition has something for visitors of all ages.

Egypt Explored
The Egypt Exploration Society
12th – 26th July 2015
Free entry

Founded in 1882 the Egypt Exploration Society in London houses one of the largest and most significant Egyptian archaeological archive collections in the UK. Egypt Explored will provide a unique opportunity to learn more about the history of the Society and its work in Egypt through the exploration of this world renowned collection. Find out more about the archaeologists behind the discoveries and experience what life was like on excavation when the Society opens its doors to the public in July this year.

Egypt Explored, and accompanying events, is organised as part of the UK-wide Festival of Archaeology which takes place between 11th and 26th July 2015. Further details will be announced nearer the time, so keep an eye on the Egypt Exploration Society website.

Gifts for the Gods: Animal Mummies in Ancient Egypt
Manchester Museum
September 2015 – March 2016
Free entry

This much anticipated exhibition will tell the story of ancient Egypt’s mummified animals, placing this particular votive offering practice within its social, cultural and religious context. According to the Museum’s press release, Gifts for the Gods will also provide a more recent historical perspective by looking at the history of their excavation, collection and interpretation. This exhibition will present an exciting collaboration between Manchester Museum and the Ancient Egyptian Animal Bio Bank Project that will explore the scientific study of these specimens.

There is not very much information out about this exhibition yet so keep checking the Museum’s website for further details. I would also recommend following the Egypt at the Manchester Museum and Ancient Egyptian Animal Bio Bank blogs for possible exhibition updates and behind-the-scenes posts.

Do you know of any other exhibitions on Egypt happening in the UK this year? If so, I would love to hear about them! You can either reply to this post or send me an email at museumegyptology {at} gmail {dot} com.

Discovering Tutankhamun, Ashmolean Museum.

Ashmolean Museum.
24th July – 2nd November 2014.
Tickets: £4.50 – £10.00.

The Ashmolean Museum’s current exhibition breathes new life into the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb. With a unique mix of archaeological artefacts, archive material and early twentieth century memorabilia, Discovering Tutankhamun succeeds in weaving together the many different histories and stories that have become associated with the tomb over time. The wealth of archival material on display, much of which is being shown in public for the first time, adds a new and exciting perspective to this well-known tale.

The exhibition is divided into three sections. The first tells the story of the discovery and the detailed recording of the tomb and its contents, set to a spectacular backdrop of Harry Burton’s original photographs. The floor to ceiling reproductions of these images, found on every wall, reflect the excitement and energy of the discovery with beautiful and breath-taking clarity. While many will be familiar with the role played by Howard Carter and his patron Lord Carnarvon, this section also draws attention to the many people involved in the archaeological process. From photographing and conserving the finds, to conducting the autopsy, Howard Carter’s team of specialists are shown as ahead of their time in their approach. Their story is told through the meticulous and methodical records they kept: diaries, plans, photographic negatives, notes, and drawings, all demonstrate the skill and patience that was required of them.

The accompanying book by exhibition curators Paul Collins and Liam McNamara.

The accompanying book by exhibition curators Paul Collins and Liam McNamara.

The second section explores how the news of the discovery was received world-wide and the wave of ‘Tut-mania’ that was to follow. The room is visually dominated by art-deco set dressings and a projection of original film footage from outside the tomb’s entrance, while an audio soundtrack of the song ‘Old King Tut’, released in 1923, successfully captures the atmosphere of the period. Here the visitor is treated to newspaper reports, exhibition posters, and fan letters, as well as fashions inspired by the discovery and items relating to the intrigue surrounding Tutankhamun’s death. Importantly, this section includes a discussion on ‘Tutankhamun and modern politics’ which explores the reaction of Egyptian nationalists at the time, its links to Egypt’s independence, and the important consequences the discovery had for Egyptian politics. It’s a fascinating and poignant contrast to the reaction of the West that I wish could have been explored in greater detail.

The third and final section focusses on archaeological context, introducing visitors to ‘Tutankhamun and his time’ through an examination of the time periods surrounding Tutankhamun’s rule. In this gallery a selection of objects from the Ashmolean’s permanent collection, alongside those on loan from the British Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, tell the story of the Amarna period, the return to orthodoxy, and how Tutankhamun’s name was almost lost to history. These objects are displayed in the Ashmolean’s characteristic fine arts style, with single objects well lit upon pedestal showcases, which gives you a chance to examine every intricate detail and maker’s mark. This section is concluded by returning to the present, discussing the importance of preserving the tomb in Egypt as well as the archival records housed at the Griffith Institute.

In the 75th anniversary year of the Griffith Institute at the University of Oxford, it is wonderful to see an exhibition that celebrates the relationship between archaeology and the archive. It is equally wonderful to see archives taking centre stage in an exhibition. What Discovering Tutankhamun provides is a master class in how to interpret and display archival material. Not only are there elegant mounts and excellent environmental conditions, but their use in audio soundtracks, big bold graphics and recreations of in-situ displays really adds to the dynamic, immersive, and almost theatrical experience that this exhibition has to offer.

Understanding Egyptian Collections, part 1.

At the beginning of September I attended the Understanding Egyptian Collections conference at the Ashmolean Museum. This two day international conference, organised by the Ashmolean’s Conservation Department in partnership with Oxford ASPIRE and ICON, explored innovative display and research projects in museums with a focus on conserving, displaying, understanding and interpreting Egyptian collections. Over the next few blog posts I hope to highlight some of the main themes from this conference.

Ashmolean Re-Development.

Ancient Egypt and Nubia gallery guide.

The first two sessions of the conference celebrated the Ashmolean’s ancient Egypt and Nubia galleries which opened in November 2011. Assistant Keeper for Ancient Egypt and Sudan, Liam McNamara, opened the conference with an overview of the collection and re-development.

The 16 month refurbishment project gave the Museum an opportunity to improve showcases, lighting and environmental controls, as well as introduce a clearer layout to the galleries and new contextualising interpretation. The re-development was also instrumental in improving documentation and storage of the collection. Liam McNamara explained how the first three months of the project was spent packing and removing 35,000 objects from the gallery, some of which had been stored beneath the original showcases. The team created an ‘Egypt Decant Database’ to record objects as they were removed, unique barcodes were introduced to improve location control, and existing stores were refitted to provide space for decanted objects. The opening session provided a great insight into how the re-development of galleries can have a greater impact and legacy beyond what is seen on display.

Inter-Disciplinary Collaborations.

Richard B. Parkinson, Professor of Egyptology at the University of Oxford and Director of the Griffith Institute, provided the keynote lecture entitled ‘Egyptology Beyond the Institutional Divide’. Within this lecture, Professor Parkinson emphasised the importance of increasing inter-disciplinary relationships, bridging the gap between museum and academic spheres in order to overcome Egyptology’s institutionalisation and sometimes outdated 19th century paradigms. The intellectual relationship between the curator and conservator was highlighted as particularly significant, creating a dialogue that would allow a greater appreciation and understanding of an object’s physical materiality, as well as a vital step towards engaging wider audiences. In the Griffith Institute’s 75th anniversary year, it was poignant that collaborations between Egyptology and archives were also discussed, with the conclusion that such a wealth of documentation can help us to historicize not only individual objects but the entire discipline also.

Research Projects.
Understanding Egyptian Collections conference.

Marie Svoboda, from the J. Paul Getty Museum in California, introduced the new Ancient Panel Paintings: Examination, Analysis and Research (APPEAR) project. In collaboration with international partners, this four year study (2013-2017) aims to build a database for the comparative study of ancient mummy portraits, and similar material types, in collections around the world. The team have estimated that there are at least 1,028 mummy portraits in museums and private collections world-wide, and they hope that this study will allow researchers to compare examples in terms of historical and contextual information. In addition to the online database the project team is planning a conference in 2017, including practical workshops, and there is even the possibility of an exhibition to present and discuss the findings of the study.

Jennifer Marchant and Abigail Granville, from the Fitzwilliam Museum, spoke about their on-going project to analyse the pigments used on ancient Egyptian coffins. This presentation focussed on their use of Fibre Optic Reflectance Spectroscopy (FORS), a non-invasive means of identifying organic and inorganic pigments. The speakers highlighted the benefit of FORS as an initial assessment: this surface technique is non-invasive and portable, it carries low risk to the object with low, brief light exposures, it can identify pigments both on their own and in mixes, and has the potential to analyse binding media and coatings, albeit beyond the scope of this project. The results of this research will provide technical evidence to support the Fitzwilliam Museum’s forthcoming exhibition ‘Death on the Nile’, planned for Spring 2016.

Development Projects.

Mohamed Gamal Rashed, Museum Display and Research Director for the Grand Egyptian Museum project, introduced current designs and concepts behind some of the permanent galleries under development. The talk focussed on two permanent introductory galleries: the meet-and-greet gallery and the grand staircase, a vertical display space showcasing key ‘discovery’ objects. The Museum aims to unite Egypt’s past and present, explore matters of Egyptian identity and highlight Egypt’s responsibility in protecting its own heritage. The Grand Egyptian Museum, one of the largest museum development projects in the world, is currently under construction and is due to open in 2017.

A Fusion of Worlds, the Petrie Museum.

The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology.
11th March – 24th May 2014.
Free Entry.

A Fusion of Worlds.

A Fusion of Worlds.

The temporary exhibition A Fusion of Worlds: Ancient Egypt, African Art and Identity in Modernist Britain explores the influence of ancient Egypt upon the work of artists Mahmoud Mukhtar, Jacob Epstein, Edna Manley and Ronald Moody, proving that there is far more to the reception of ancient Egypt in early twentieth century Britain than the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb. Focussing primarily on the interwar period, this multi-disciplinary exhibition explores the parallel worlds of the modernist art movement, contemporary archaeological thinking and the African diaspora, drawing upon the social, cultural and political landscape in which they were situated and the ancient Egyptian objects that linked them.

An interpretation panel from A Fusion of Worlds.

An interpretation panel from A Fusion of Worlds.

A Fusion of Worlds was inspired by the discovery of a letter from Flinders Petrie, published in the Manchester Guardian in 1929, in which he criticised the ‘primitive barbarism’ of a public sculpture by Jacob Epstein. From this initial discussion of Petrie’s views on the use of sculpture as a marker of civilisation and cultural achievement the exhibition introduces you to the vibrant world of the African-American Harlem Renaissance art movement in which ancient Egypt, alongside other cultural influences, was used to “re-create and re-frame modern black identities.” The exhibition incorporates a diverse range of themes, from the changing view of the ancient Egyptian object from artefact to artwork and the increasingly political nature of the ancient Egyptian image in popular culture, to the philosophical perspectives shared by the ancient and modern sculptor.

The exhibition consists of a series of interpretation panels positioned along the back wall of the main gallery, each exploring different exhibition themes and artist biographies, and a display case featuring a selection of archival material. This presentation style has allowed the Museum to display a greater depth of research than most other exhibitions and presents a level of detail that would make an excellent publication. In this shared space, interspersed amongst the cases in the gallery, the exhibition is contextualised by the permanent collection that surrounds it, allowing you to view and interpret the Museum’s objects from a new and exciting perspective.

Scrapbook style pin board showing images that inspired the exhibition.

Scrapbook style pin board showing images that inspired the exhibition.

This exhibition, co-curated by Debbie Challis (Petrie Museum) and Gemma Romain (UCL Geography, Equiano Centre), stands as another great example of inclusive exhibition practice from the Petrie Museum. Through public engagement workshops the Museum established a project team who were invited to contribute both ideas and text to the exhibition. Many of the interpretation panels include text written by members of the project team, describing visits to archives and museum collections, as well as their personal research and thoughts on particular artworks.

This approach has added an important sense of multi-vocality to the exhibition and it certainly feels richer for their input. I particularly enjoyed an interpretation panel entitled Form and Function: Petrie Museum Objects in which members of the project team picked out objects from the collection that appealed to them aesthetically and explored their similarities in style to the modernist art movement.

There are some brilliant additions to A Fusion of Worlds that allow you to actively engage with the exhibition and participate in some of the research behind its content. Scrapbook-style pin boards display some of the images and artworks explored by the project group and the presence of a comments board encourages visitors to share their thoughts and feedback with the Museum. There is also a table of books and a reading file of articles and newspaper cuttings linked to the exhibition for visitors to look through, and a short film, played on two tablets in the Museum, showing interviews with the curators and members of the project team about their experiences of working on the exhibition.

A view of the Petrie Museum and A Fusion of Worlds exhibition.

A view of the Petrie Museum and A Fusion of Worlds exhibition.