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.


Cairo to Constantinople, The Queen’s Gallery.

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

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

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

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.

Interpreting Egyptian Art, The British Museum.

At the end of June Alaistair Sooke, writer and presenter of BBC4’s recent documentary series Treasures of Ancient Egypt, was at the British Museum to discuss how we present and interpret ancient Egyptian art on television and in museums. He was joined in conversation by Marcel Marée, a curator from the Museum’s Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan, who shares a similar interest in the history of art. The event provided an opportunity to compare and contrast two quite different approaches to interpretation, not just in terms of the media used but in the disciplinary perspectives they present. While Treasures of Ancient Egypt was keen to promote a more art historical and aesthetically-led approach, museum displays are often guided by a more traditional egyptological and archaeological viewpoint.

For Marcel Marée this topic holds particular relevance as the department is currently in the middle of a project to refresh the interpretation of the Museum’s famous Egyptian sculpture gallery, the results of which are due around November 2014. The mention of a potential temporary exhibition at the Museum in 2017/18 on how to interpret ancient Egyptian art also demonstrates that it is a topic gaining far wider appeal.

The event took the form of an entertaining and engaging conversation between the two speakers structured around some of the key themes, periods and pieces from ancient Egyptian art. This structure allowed us to consider both ancient and modern interpretations of the same pieces whilst demonstrating the development of ancient Egyptian art over time. Both speakers are keen, through their respective media, to dispel the myth that ancient Egyptian art was static and uncreative, a perception often reinforced in the media and more traditional museum displays, and want to encourage people to overcome this long-held prejudice that exists in comparison to other classical cultures.

Marcel Marée reminded the audience that, although the ancient Egyptians had no word for art, evidence shows there was certainly a great appreciation for beauty in both objects and architecture. By approaching ancient Egyptian objects as works of art and viewing them aesthetically, rather than solely from an archaeological perspective, we can breathe new life into some objects, engaging new audiences and encouraging important cross-disciplinary interpretations.

For our speakers this aesthetic approach provides a very logical and meaningful way of interpreting ancient Egypt to the public. It is clear that many of us are initially drawn to ancient Egypt through an appreciation of their visual culture and this approach would allow us to engage more with that underlying attraction. Similarly, an aesthetic approach emphasises a universal and shared commonality and is therefore a form of interpretation that can be appreciated and understood by everyone on many different levels.

It was really interesting to hear the similarities that exist between the roles of the museum curator and the television writer/presenter. Not only do they share similar responsibilities in selecting, editing and curating stories to be presented to the public, but both find themselves restricted in the stories they can tell by the availability of material culture and the preservation bias in the archaeological record. Notably, both speakers emphasised the importance of moving away from purely recounting facts to encouraging people to question evidence and former interpretations. This event highlighted how, as means of presenting and interpreting an ancient culture to the public, the media and the museum share many similarities and have much to offer each other in terms of experimenting with interpretation styles and reaching new audiences.

It was great to attend an event that truly encourages us to question and think more about how and why we interpret and present ancient Egyptian artefacts the way we do. It was even greater to see this kind of discussion happening in the public arena. We can only hope that other museums follow suit – events like this could act as a forum for sharing ideas, providing an opportunity for museum visitors to feedback and potentially influence the way museums approach their interpretation.

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.

The Petrie Museum on Tour, London.

The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology will be closed in January and February 2014 to allow for the installation of new lights within the museum space. So, until the Museum reopens to the public on Tuesday 4th March, the Petrie team have come up with a series of ‘pop-up’ events across UCL campus and Camden. With walks, talks, and object-handling sessions, the Petrie Museum on tour looks to explore innovative topics in new contexts, linking the Petrie with other spaces and museum collections at UCL.

You can find a selection of pop-up events listed at the bottom of this post. For further details and to see the full events programme visit the Petrie website.

For those interested in conservation and collections management, the Petrie is providing some fascinating updates and behind-the-scenes photos of the conservation work currently underway. You can follow their progress on the Museum’s Twitter, Facebook and Instagram pages, or find out more in their latest blog post.

Tuesday 21 January 1-2pm
An overview of the Egyptian Students who attended the Slade School of Art and modernist artists in Egypt and how the rise of Egyptian nationalism, artists such as Mahmoud Mohktar reflected, led to a change in the way antiquities were excavated by foreign archaeologists, including Petrie.
UCL Art Museum. Drop in.

29 January 6-7.30pm
Stones, their sources, and why some were valued over others, is an aspect of elite consumption of these materials that receives little attention. This seminar addresses issues of stone preferences during antiquity and crafting through an object handling session.
UCL Rock Room. Booking essential via https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/stones-and-symbolism-analysing-values-in-egyptian-rocks-tickets-9314450773

13 February 6-7.30pm
What do archaeologists owe to natural science? Explore Linnaean systems of classifying life forms and Flinders Petrie’s sequence of pots; then disrupt the patterns of knowledge with Foucault.
UCL Grant Museum of Zoology. Drop in.

Wednesday 19 February 6 – 8pm
In their installation in the Flaxman Gallery, artists Lynn Dennison and Gen Doy combine sound with video projection to create an immersive work which highlights themes explored by John Flaxman in his lectures and sculptures.
Flaxman Gallery, UCL Main Library, Wilkins Building. Drop in.

20 February 6-8pm
John J. Johnston chairs an event exploring how sexuality has been classified or not through ‘Sex and History’ Jennifer Grove (University of Exeter) and ‘Queer Time Capsules’ Tim Redfern / Timberlina .
G6 Lecture Theatre, Institute of Archaeology. Booking required via https://definingdesire.eventbrite.co.uk

26 February 2-4pm
We will start at the Carreras ‘Black Cat’ building with a discussion of the popular image of Egypt in the 1920s. Then we will take the tube and/or walk to Jacob Epstein’s public sculpture in out door spaces in London.
Booking required via https://modernistsculpturewalk.eventbrite.co.uk

27 February 6-9pm
A screening of ‘Amphipolis Under Siege’ featuring Athena and her girlfriend Illainus from Season 5 of Xena: Warrior Princess and an episode from Spartacus: Vengeance that shows the relationship between Agron and ex-body slave Nasir.
Wilkins Portico / G22 Lecture Theatre Pearson Building.
Booking required via https://xenaspartacus.eventbrite.co.uk

Exhibitions on Egypt 2014: What to see this year.

Happy New Year! 2013 saw some excellent exhibitions on Egypt across the United Kingdom and, with a fair few announced already, this year promises to be just as exciting. Here is a selection of temporary exhibitions to look out for in 2014.

A Fusion of Worlds: Ancient Egypt, African Art and Identity in Modernist Britain.
Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, London.
11th March – 24th May 2014.

This exhibition considers the influence of ancient Egypt and African art upon the work of modernist artists, including Jacob Epstein, Edna Manley and Ronald Moody, and explores the wider socio-political and cultural contexts in which their art is situated.

A Fusion of Worlds looks set to continue the Petrie Museum’s tradition of thought-provoking, cross-disciplinary exhibitions, with a focus on community involvement. Co-curated by Gemma Romain (UCL Geography) and Debbie Challis (UCL Museums and Collections), in partnership with a group of community participants, this exhibition will provide new insights into the reception of ancient Egypt as well as some interesting accompanying events, including a gallery talk with artist Edna Manley (15th March) and a ‘Meet the Curators’ talk (8th April).

Discovering Tutankhamun.

Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.
24th July – 26th October 2014.

The Ashmolean’s much-anticipated summer exhibition will tell the story behind the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb through a mix of archival and archaeological material, covering the search for the tomb, its excavation, documentation and reception.

Planned to coincide with the 75th anniversary of Oxford’s Griffith Institute of Egyptology, Discovering Tutankhamun will feature Howard Carter’s original records and photographs from the archive. According to the Griffith Institute’s blog this will be the first time they have been “presented as a whole to the public.” This exciting collaboration should provide a unique perspective on this iconic story in what will undoubtedly be a very popular exhibition.

Advanced booking now available.

Ancient Lives: New Encounters with Egypt and Sudan (title tbc).
British Museum, London.
22nd May – 30th November 2014.

Following the success of the British Museum’s recent interactive exhibit on Gebelein Man (November 2012 – March 2013), this exhibition will take a closer look at physical anthropology, highlighting the role of new technologies and scientific analysis in exploring the ancient lived experience.

This exhibition plans to tell the story of eight people who lived in ancient Egypt and Sudan between 3500BC and 1500AD, interpreting their life, death and mummification through a combination of archaeological artefacts, interactive exhibits and digital media. There is still very little information about this exhibition, and the title and dates may be subject to change, so don’t forget to keep an eye on their website in the next few months for further details.

Cairo to Constantinople: Early Photographs of the Middle East.
The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, London.
31st October 2014 – 22nd February 2015.

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, it promises to provide a fascinating insight into Victorian Britain’s relationship with the region and place Egypt firmly within its Middle Eastern context. The exhibition also has some excellent online content featuring a selection of photographs, documents and stories from the archive.

Advanced booking now available.