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Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology

Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology: Characters and Collections OPEN ACCESS

Edited by Alice Stevenson
Copyright Date: 2015
Edition: 1
Published by: UCL Press
Pages: 120
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1g69z2n
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  • Book Info
    Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology
    Book Description:

    The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology first opened its doors in 1915, and since then has attracted visitors from all over the world as well as providing valuable teaching resources. Named after its founder, the pioneering archaeologist Flinders Petrie, the Museum holds more than 80,000 objects and is one of the largest and finest collections of Egyptian and Sudanese archaeology in the world. Richly illustrated and engagingly written, the book moves back and forth between recent history and the ancient past, between objects and people. Experts discuss the discovery, history and care of key objects in the collections such as the Koptos lions and Roman era panel portraits. The rich and varied history of the Petrie Museum is revealed by the secrets that sit on its shelves.

    eISBN: 978-1-910634-04-2
    Subjects: Archaeology, Art & Art History, History
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Table of Contents

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  1. Alice Stevenson and Debbie Challis

    Museums are much more than the sum of what is displayed in their galleries. They are spaces in which time and space are compressed, where complex and multilayered histories are reassembled, lost, rediscovered and contested. This occurs not only through the mix and match of objects, but via the flow of people who become caught up in the lives of objects and collections. The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology at University College London (UCL) is no exception. Despite its name, the Museum is a product of many more individuals than its famous founder, William Matthew Flinders Petrie (1853-1942), while the...

  2. Helen Pike

    Only one tin of Ptolemaic funerary masks and thirty limestone tomb-wall fragments were deemed beyond repair following the bombing raids of the Second World War. It is remarkable that more was not lost. We owe this to one ncredible lady who, through sheer determination, took up the challenge of packing and sorting the collection during this tumultuous time. Against a backdrop of wartime austerity and danger, Violette Lafleur managed almost single-handedly to save the Petrie collection .

    In 1938 the most fragile and most important objects in the Petrie collection began to be boxed up and moved to the Blockley,...

  3. Norah Moloney

    Stone tools indicate that humans had lived in Egypt for 400,000 years before the pyramids of the Old Kingdom were built. Until about 6,000 years ago these people led a nomadic lifestyle, moving from one place to another during the year in search of food. These were groups of hunters, fishers and plant collectors who did not build permanent homes or settlements but lived mainly in the open landscape. As neither pottery nor metals had been invented, they made tools from stone and other organic materials such as wood. Wooden tools are rarely preserved, but many thousands of stone tools...

  4. Alice Stevenson

    On 28 June 1911 a small farming village near Alexandria witnessed a fearful column of smoke as a meteorite fell to Earth with a sound like an explosive clap of thunder. It was the first meteorite ever reported in the country, but this was certainly not the earliest Egyptian encounter with space debris. Five thousand years previously an other small Egyptian community may have been equally awestruck by rocks descending from the sky. Even if Egypt’s prehistoric human inhabitants did not see the event, when the remains were found the unusual nature of this iron-rich meteorite must have caused quite...

  5. Alice Stevenson

    Flinders Petrie was good with numbers. He liked nothing better than to measure, calculate and plan. These were the skills that allowed him to create the world’s first detailed prehistoric timeline using nothing but pottery, paper and a pencil.

    In 1894-95 Petrie’s teams unearthed thousands of striking pottery vessels from a large necropolis at Naqada. At first Petrie thought that the discoveries were ‘wholly un-Egyptian’,¹¹ but when it was realized that these were in fact prehistoric – predynastic period – ceramics, he set about trying to create order from the mass of finds. He had always argued that pottery was important for...

  6. Janet Johnstone

    1912 was an Intense season of excavation for Petrie. As he led his team systematically surveying, recordmg, excavating and mapping a group of mastaba tombs at Tarkhan, an Early DynastiC cemetery 59.5 km south of Cairo, he entered Mastaba 2050 to find that the contents had been sacked in antiquity. Nevertheless, using his years of experience, Petrie located a quantity of linen cloth under the sand alongside some white stone jars, a lid from a pot and wooden handles for tools. In general, linen was discarded as worthless by the majority of archaeologists at that time, but Petrie preserved all...

  7. Alice Stevenson

    How do you lose two near-life-sized stone lion statues? That was the question that puzzled Petrie Museum Curator Barbara Adams in 1980 after she had spent a year cataloguing the Museum’s collection of rare, early Egyptian material from Petrie’s 1893-94 excavations at Koptos. Adams knew that Petrie had noted in his diary for January 1894 that ‘we have also found two large I ions in limestone ... we can put back these animal figures to the prehistoric time as they cannot be of any known age of Egyptian art’.¹⁴ Late nineteenth-century records showed that fragments of these beasts had been...

  8. Pia Edqvist

    Little is known about Egypt’s first king, Narmer. He is considered by some scholars to be the first king of Dynasty 1 and he is often credited with uniting Upper and Lower Egypt into one kingdom. Others place him in the period just before Dynasty 1. Whatever the political reality, his name was undoubtedly widely known at the time; it has been found on objects such as Jars, potsherds and tablets in locations ranging from Syria in the north to Nubia in the south.

    Among these records are a group of mud seals, excavated by Petrie’s teams in 1912 at...

  9. Richard Bussmann

    In 1898, shortly before Flinders Petrie discovered the tombs of the first pharaohs at Abydos, James Ouibell (1867-1935) and Frederick Green (1869-1949) were working at the site of Hierakonpolis, south of modern Luxor. They found the spectacular palette of Narmer (seeKing Catfish, p. 40). The palette is the earliest monumental representation of a pharaoh and, for many today, it embodies the origins of Egyptian civilization. Yet the more the Narmer palette was vested with symbolic value by Egyptologists, the further it was dissociated from its archaeological context.

    The palette was found in a temple deposit, together with more than...

  10. Alice Stevenson

    The Petrie Museum is rightly famed for the number of objects that have come from documented archaeological excavations. However, not everything in the collection was acquired through fieldwork. Flinders Petrie also prided himself on having a good eye for antiquities and he often took advantage of the Egyptian market to fill in gaps in his artefact sequences. Sometimes he was simply lucky and, as he noted in 1915, ‘good things have turned up in the most unexpected manner’. 15 This is certainly true of a rare sculpture that he acquired in Cairo some time during the early 1900s.

    One evening...

  11. Tracey Golding

    The fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent is famously quoted as saying ‘Fashions fade, style is eternal’ and this is one fitting way to think about the diverse array of Items of clothing and footwear in the Petrie Museum. It is particularly true for one of the rarest items in the collection: a 4,500-year-old bead-net dress currently on display amidst a gallery of pottery, one of only two such dresses known in the world.

    No one knows precisely when the dress was last worn and yet it looks so ‘now’ and ever so ‘couture’. The aesthetic qualities of the dress transcend...

  12. Alice Stevenson

    At the London Hippodrome in June 1930 a special performance was staged, showcasing Egyptian history and the research of Flinders Petrie. Act ill was the ‘Pyramid Age’ featuring the ‘power and vision’ of the builder of the Great Pyramid, Khufu (p. 44). That iconic monument was billed then, as it so often is today, as ‘the wonder of the ages ... all modern theories as to the significance of this pyramid are in vain’. Flinders Petrie himself was first drawn to Egypt in 1881 in order to measure this massive structure and to test theories about its meaning. How was...

  13. Debbie Challis and Alice Stevenson

    Unlike many museums with significant collections of Egyptian material, the Petrie has a ilmited number of monumental pieces. Nevertheless, there are a few sizable examples. One of the largest was, for about a century, also a big problem.

    In 1893 Petrie directed excavations at an important ancient Egyptian religious site called Koptos in southern Egypt. Temple after temple had been erected there in ancient times, although only parts of the Ptolemaic-Roman (c. 300 BC-AD 395) sanctuary were still standing in Petrie’s day. Below and around these, however, Petrie’s teams found the remains of earlier buildings and statues, including portions of...

  14. Carole Reeves

    Menstrual cramps, bladder infections, pregnancy testing, miscarriages, labour pain, birth injuries and the menopause all featured in the lives of women in ancient Egypt, as they do today. This is vividly apparent from one of the world’s oldest medical texts, excavated between 1889 and 1899 at the Middle Kingdom town of Lahun, where pyramid workers and artisans lived over a period of about a hundred years. The ancient hieratic text was written on papyrus during the reign of king Amenemhat ill (1831-1786BC), and is today joined by a modern notation: a Petrie Museum accession number (UC32057).

    The surviving content...

  15. Stephen Quirke

    In the winter of 1913-14, Flinders Petrie assigned to his younger colleague Reginald Engelbach (1888-1946) the task of supervising excavations of cemeteries and houses along an outcrop of sand and rock within the Nile’s floodplain, just east of al-Lahun. Delayed by the First World War and its aftermath, Engelbach published the results a decade later, under the site name Harageh (1923). Among the burial finds were outstanding examples of jewellery dating to around 1850 BC, including one masterpiece, somewhat drily recorded in the report:

    Tomb 211 (Middle Kingdom). This large tomb stood by itself to the North of cemetery A...

  16. John J. Johnston

    The enigmatic figure of the god Seth is one of the longest attested of the Egyptian pantheon. He appears time and again with his high, squared-off ears and his long, downturned muzzle-a recognizably outlandish appearance for a deity who is most frequently the outsider. The Petrie Museum holds a number of items that enrich our appreciation of his complex nature.

    The first and, perhaps, most important, is a fragmentary and heavily damaged literary or religious text (seen opposite), probably dating from Dynasty 12. It was excavated by Petrie at the town of Lahun in April1889, among an assortment of unrelated...

  17. Lucia Gahlin

    It is a wonder that painted wall decoration has survived at all at Tell el-Amarna. At this site are the remains of Akhetaten, the city founded on the eastern bank of the Nile around 1340BCby Egypts innovative royal couple Akhenaten and Nefertiti, who broke with tradition by worshipping only the Aten (the sun disk). Scenes adorned the walls of their palaces, pa inted on a layer of mud-plaster spread over mud-brick walls. Termites tunnelling through the mud-plaster and eating the straw binder have made the plaster extremely friable.

    The best-known fragment of Amarna painted plaster is probably the...

  18. Sherif Abouelhadid

    The ancient Egyptian gods were concerned not only with how to preserve sacred language, but also how to create a medium through which the sounds of wisdom could travel across the empire. By adding a kinetic dimension to abstract words, ancient Egyptians created a vessel in which their stories, events, festive prayers and hymns could be contained. According to Plato’sLawsit was only in Egypt that melodies, chants and music were uncorrupt. Contradicting the notion that ancient Egyptians were more occupied with death than life itself, they developed the science and structure of harmony, sounds and music, through which...

  19. Alice Stevenson

    What are the chances of two teams of archaeologists, separated by a more than century, stumbling across small fragments of the same object while working across a wide expanse of desert? Quite high, as it happens.

    At the turn of the nineteenth century Flinders Petrie’s teams were trawling through the sands around the tombs of the first rulers of Egypt at Abydos. One of the thousands of things discovered during those excavations was a small sherd of pottery marked with the name of the Dynasty 22 pharaoh, Osorkon l (c. 922-887BC). Today this ancient inscription is accompanied by a...

  20. Campbell Price

    Excavations at the site of Hawara count among Flinders Petrie’s more intrepid adventures. In particular, the 1888-89 clearance of deep shaft tombs gives a glimpse of an lndiana Jones-style character at work. Tomb shafts at Hawara led to several underground chambers containing intact burials of the Late Period (664-525 ec). Unfortunately, their contents had been submerged due to the high water table in the region. (Hawara lies near the lake in the Fayum, a large fertile area some 60 km southwest of modern Cairo.) This flooding, however, did not deter the then thirty-five-year-old archaeologist.

    Told by workmen of the discovery...

  21. Lidija McKnight

    In the autumn of 2014 four animal mummies made the short journey from the Petrie Museum to London’s Portland Hospital, where they underwent radiographic investigation. For the first time since their mummification over 2,000 years ago it was possible to see what was concealed beneath the wrappings. All was not quite as it at first appeared.

    The research was undertaken by the KNH Centre for Biomedical Egyptology, University of Manchester, which has been investigating animal mummification since 2000, utilizing a combination of X-ray and CT scanning techniques. The ability to use non-invasive techniques without causing damage is important from the...

  22. Debbie Challis

    Evidently a cat-lover herself, the Egyptologist and anthropologist Margaret Murray reflects on the worship and affection granted to the cat in ancient Egypt, in her review of the Langtons’ bookThe Cat in Ancient Egypt. Published in 1940, the book was based on their collection of cats in various forms, shapes and guises. The Langton Cat Collection seems like a curious anomaly in the Petrie Museum. The various cat figurines - amulets, bronze sculptures, busts and jewellery - were not excavated, but acquired by Henry Neville Langton (1874-1948) and his wife from dealers to illustrate the cult of the cat...

  23. Daniela Rosenow

    Glass was a valued commodity in the ancient world. Until the mid-first centuryBCit was still a relatively rare material, and significant enough that there were stories told about its discovery.

    One of the earliest tales comes to us from Pliny the Elder, who described in hisNatural History(78BC) how a Phoenician merchant ship laden withnitrum(= natron, a salt used in mummification) moored at the mouth of the river Belus. Located in modern israel, the river lies near an area where glass was indeed produced in ancient times. As the merchants prepared their meal, they...

  24. Edmund Connolly

    This is how the Greek goddess Athena went to war. It is just one small snippet of an epic ancient myth that survives on a small, 1,700-year-old pottery sherd and several very fragmentary pieces of papyri in the Petrie collection. The full epic poem,The Iliad, was supposedly composed by Homer but was intended to be recited rather than read. It tells the story of the war against Troy and the siege of the city by different Greek states, who finally infiltrated the city in a wooden horse. In the poem, the gods and goddesses took sides in the war...

  25. Alice Stevenson

    For the ancient Egypt1ans the journey to the Afterlife was full of hazards. Havmg the aid of a set of spells of protection and guidance, called by Egyptologist ‘the Book of the Dead’, was therefore a good mvestment. Around 300-200 ac someone bought just such an insurance policy, written on linen bandages that were probably placed in an Egyptian tomb. It was intended to remain beside the deceased for eternity, but the ‘book’ had an afterlife of its own.

    The texti le fragment above shows one of the most cru cial scenes in the Book of the Dead: the weighing...

  26. Jan Picton

    She was ‘a young married woman of about 25: of a sweet but dignified expression, with beautiful features, and of a fine complexion’³⁷ Flinders Petrie was captivated. The lady in question had died almost 2,000 years earlier in the first or second centuryAD, but her image was still vivid and striking millennia later, captured in a painting on a thin wooden panel known as a ‘mummy portrait’.

    Petrie excavated a large number of mummy portraits from a cemetery near the pyramid of Hawara during two seasons of work, first in 1888-89 and again in 1910-11. They caused great excitement...

  27. Amara Thornton

    So sayeth ‘Jackdaw’, a reviewer for the Leeds Mercury in June 1888. Entering Egyptian Hall on Piccadilly he saw Flinders Petrie’s exhibition of antiquities from Hawara. Viewing mummies some two thousand years old in this intimate setting prompted him to ‘uncover’ – a Victorian euphemism meaning to remove his hat as a mark of respect. He was struck by the freshness of the objects on display.⁴⁰

    During Petrie’s Hawara excavations in 1887–88, a series of Roman-era mummy cases had been discovered, featuring remarkably life like portraits of their dead inhabitants. At that point, two businessmen, Henry Martyn Kennard and Jesse...

  28. Debbie Challis

    Among the numerous trays in the cupboards of the Petrie Museum is one marked ‘Memphis “Race” Heads’. This drawer contains fifty-seven small heads, probably from terracotta figurines, that date from the Ptolemaic or Roman period. The occasional original typed label on yellowing paper lies beside them, with classifications such as ‘Sumerian’. They are only a small fraction of about 300 heads preserved in the Petrie Museum collection, though no other drawer is similarly marked. It is clear from this tag just how profound Flinders Petrie’s interest in race and racial types was. This collection of ‘Race’ heads was probably put...

  29. Alice Stevenson

    There are many artefacts in the Petrie which seem to have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with a museum of Egyptian archaeology. These include a Korean bronze mirror, engraved with a motif of a Chinese phoenix, gifted by a Japanese archaeologist. The story behind the mirror, however, reveals an important set of relationships between the development of archaeology in the West and in the East.

    Between 1914 and 1917 a young Japanese archaeologist from the Kyoto Imperial University, Kosaku Hamada, visited Brita in in order to learn more about European approaches to archaeology. Flinders Petrie was one of the Western...

  30. Debbie Challis

    Set among the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, the Greek letters and the Arabic script, the Chinese characters spelling outOing Xiang(meaning ‘clear and fragrant’) seem out of place. Yet these Words, impressed onto a stoneware storage jar fragment, are also part of the history of Egypt and Sudan. The fragment is one of a dozen or so pieces of Chinese pottery from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuriesADfound in Sudan and now held in the Petrie collect ion. Despite being so far removed from where they were made, in places such as the Guangdong and Fujian provinces of China,...

  31. Kandaoe Chimblri

    Many visitors to the Petrie Museum will probably assume that most objects on display are Egyptian. In fact, many objects in the collection are from Sudan. The achievements of the ancient Egyptians are well known to most people, but those of their neighbours in Sudan much less so. Relatively few people know that Sudan was once home to great ancient civilizations⁵²

    One such Sudanese object is a faienceankhinscribed with the name of t he king Aspelta (opposite). It was perhaps held during religious ceremonies or used as a votive offering. The ankh is based on the Egyptian hieroglyph...

  32. Al-Saddiq Al-Raddi

    This poem was written during Al-Saddiq Al-Raddi’s residency at the Petrie Museum, thanks to a partnership with the Poetry Translation Centre and funding from Arts Council England, He worked with objects from the Sudanese royal city of Meroe, the residence of Kushite royalty from the sixth century BC, and a site that has more standing pyramids than in Egypt. ‘He Tells Tales of Meroe’ was read in Arabic by Saddiq to a packed Museum of poetry-lovers in May 2014, bringing new life to the Museum’s objects....

  33. Jennifer Cromwell

    The image of camels striding between the pyramids, against the backdrop of the desert dunes and the blazing sun, is a romantic one. Yet camels were only introduced to Egypt on a large scale under the Persians (from 525BC), although they are sporadically attested in Egypt before this. From the Ptolemaic period (323-30BC), they became the main transport animal for the desert. Camels-in Egypt the evidence is mostly for one-humped dromedaries, although two-humped Bactrian camels were also used -occur in their greatest numbers in the written and textual evidence of the first to eighth centuriesAD, long after...

  34. Carolyn Perry

    With its sad-looking broken legs, tail and ears, this animal-shaped container seen opposite may look unprepossessing, but it is in fact one of only around 200 rock crystal objects that survive from medieval Egypt. Petrie is thought to have bought this small rock crystal animal in Memphis on 1 March 1908.

    Rock crystal, a form of quartz, was particularly highly prized during the rule of the Fatimid dynasty (AD969-1171). Ahmad al-Maqrizi (d.AD1442) wrote a History of theFatimidsand tells us that the treasury of the Caliphs included more than 17,000 crystal objects. Al-Maqrizi’s source was probably...

  35. Alice Stevenson

    On 10 March 1923, theLondon illustrated Newsran a double-page spread with the headline ‘Men who perform the “spade work” of history: British names famous in the field of archaeology’. Many familiar faces from Egyptology were featured, including Flinders Petrie, Howard Carter, and F. L. Griffith. What this feature completely overlooked, as many histories of ‘Great Discoveries’ have, is the important contribution made by female archaeologists. Indeed, many excavations in Egypt and Sudan were dependent upon them.

    Women were frequently members of fieldwork campaigns in Egypt and they shared with the whole team the discomforts of life in the...

  36. Alice Stevenson

    It was one of the areas of the new Museum in 1915 that Flinders Petrie was most proud of. He would often boast in publications that it was the biggest, most representative collection to be found anywhere in the world.⁵⁸ He was speaking not about pottery, but about beads, of which there are some 3,000 strings in the collection.

    These ornaments were created with almost every material, colour and texture imaginable and they come from across Egypt and beyond: vibrant blue lapis lazuli from Afghanistan, glossy black obsidian from Turkey, and aqua-green turquoise from the Sinai. A single etched carnelian...