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    Papyrus for the People – engaging the public through storytelling

    By Natasha Downes, on 28 July 2017

    pencil-iconWritten by Natasha Downes, Media Relations Manager, UCL

    Divorce papers, tax documents, and a gentlemen that listed his days and whether they were good, bad or both – these are a few examples of the fascinating papyri that are on display at the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, part of UCL Culture.

    Detail from a Fragmentary papyrus scroll bearing on one side columns of cursive hieroglyphs and vignettes giving a selection of formulae from the Book of the Dead for a man named Tjaymesu or Paymesu (initial sign unclear).

    Detail from a fragmentary papyrus scroll.

    This week I attended a Papyrus Storytelling event held at the museum, where families and adults were invited to explore fragments of stories from ancient Egypt preserved on papyrus.

    Helping to bring the stories of ancient Egypt to life, professional puppeteer Allison DeFrees from Puppet Story led a puppet making workshop for the kids, and parents, to delve deeper into the museums artefacts.

    Popular amongst parents looking for something a bit different to do in the school holidays, one family explained that Egypt has become a kind of passion project after they visited the Swansea Egypt Centre.

    The Petrie museum is located at the heart of the UCL campus and the artefacts on display, most of which were excavated by English Egyptologist Flinders Petrie, illustrate life in the Nile valley from prehistory through the time of the pharaohs, the Ptolemaic, Roman and Coptic periods to the Islamic period.

    I was fortunate enough to have Louise Bascombe, curatorial assistant at the museum, who used to work at the Horniman Museum in South London, talk me through their collection. Some 80,000 objects in total, including over 500 papyri (a material similar to thick paper that was used in ancient Egypt as writing surface) and 1600 ostraca (historic fragments of pottery or small pieces of stone that have writing scratched into them).

    What makes the Petrie special is the access that you get to wonderful experts and passionate Egyptologists that you wouldn’t often find at a larger museum. There were plenty of opportunities for the families involved in the workshop to ask questions about life in ancient Egypt.

    The storytelling workshop forms part of a major push to improve understanding and accessibility of the Petrie collection. Supported by a grant from the Arts Council England, the collection of written texts are set to get the special attention they deserve, both in terms of preservation and how they are displayed. The project will also include an upgrade of its online catalogue, a searchable database with all 80,000 of its artefacts on it.

    The Petrie may be small but it houses one of the largest collections of Egyptian and Sudanese artefacts anywhere in the world. For anyone interested in exploring ancient history and archaeology, the Petrie is definitely worth a visit.

     

    Training, cheating, winning, praising: athletes and shows in papyri from Roman Egypt

    By Lubomira Gadjourov, on 29 June 2012

    In keeping with the Olympic spirit, on Wednesday 20 June, UCL in collaboration with the British Academy held three short lectures on the public games held in Roman Egypt, as revealed to us by recently restored papyri.

    PapyrusChaired by Professor Dominic Rathbone (Kings College London, Ancient History), the featured talks were held at the Academy’s headquarters and led by Professor Christopher Carey (Head of UCL Greek & Latin), Emeritus Professor William J. Slater (McMaster University, Canada), and Margaret Mountford (Corporate lawyer, holding a PhD in papyrology from UCL).

    An excavation made between 1896 and 1897 at Behnesa, the Roman Oxyrhynchus, unearthed the largest collection of Greek papyri from the Roman period found to date.

    Still in the process of being restored, some nine volumes, equating to approximately 3,000 pages, have been published and the lectures focused on different aspects of what they reveal to us about competitive sport in ancient Rome.

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    Ancient Egyptian or Greek? Fit Bodies debate

    By Lubomira Gadjourov, on 27 June 2012

    Who had the better body, the ancient Egyptians or the ancient Greeks? What do we even mean by “fit” exactly?  Is what we understand fit to be today the same as what it was in ancient times?

    These are some of the questions that were brought up in the light-hearted discussion between Debbie Challis (UCL Petrie Museum) and Chris Naunton (Egypt Exploration Society) at the Petrie Museum on Tuesday 19 June. The talk accompanies the exhibition in the UCL Cloisters, entitled Fit Bodies: Statues, Athletes and Power.

    Arguing his case first, for the ancient Egyptians, Chris Naunton brought up the very valid point, that even today the meanings of the word “fit” are numerous. One suggested meaning is, “To be the proper size and shape” – what is meant by “proper”, however, is fairly ambiguous.

    Among the proposed definitions are: “To be suitable for a certain purpose”, as well as “To be physically sound, athletic, sporting” and lastly, the more colloquial, “To be sexually attractive”.

    We learned that the human body as it is portrayed in ancient Egyptian art and sculptures differs with regard to the person being illustrated.

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    The Mummy’s Curse: The Truth Behind an Edwardian Rumour

    By Katherine L Aitchison, on 29 May 2012

    Anyone who knows anything about the horror genre will have heard stories of curses placed on tombs in Ancient Egypt to deter grave robbers and those who would plunder the graves of priests and pharaohs. But where do these stories come from and is there any truth behind them?

    On 21 May Professor Roger Luckhurst of Birkbeck College presented the true story of a mummy’s curse to a packed Petrie Museum audience.

    Or perhaps, I should say, he presented the truth behind the rumour as far as he could piece it together drawing from numerous different accounts. A little more convoluted as a turn of phrase, but much more accurate.

    The mummy in question is, in fact, simply a coffin lid known as “The Unlucky Mummy”, or to give it its official name: British Museum object-22542.

    This lid, once part of the last resting place of an unknown woman from a high-ranking family in the priesthood, was donated to the museum by the sister of Arthur F. Wheeler, the man who was believed to have brought it back from Egypt.

    But the story surrounding the lid is full of intrigue, featuring a number of shooting accidents and suspicious deaths as well as a lost fortune and a picture of a ghostly face.

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