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    Unrolling Egypt’s ancient dead

    By Katherine L Aitchison, on 4 April 2012

    “I have to start with a warning. There will be pictures of mummies.”

    Apparently the last speaker in the Petrie Museum’s programme of events for this term, John Johnston (UCL Institute of Archaeology), had been told that he was best off warning his audiences about what they were about to see. Although what people expect to see at a talk entitled “Unrolling Egypt’s Ancient Dead,” I’m not quite sure.

    In case (like me) you’re unaware of “mummy unrolling”, let me explain. The term refers to a popular fad in the 19th century in which wealthy members of society would purchase an Egyptian mummy and have a grand unveiling in which they opened the bandages to see what was underneath.

    This was an integral part of the “Egyptomania” that gripped Britain from around 1798 to the 1900s. If this idea isn’t disturbing enough for you, we also heard tales of French and English monarchs who took potions of mummy or used mummy as an ingredient in lotion to make them ‘pharaoh-like’.

    And the most unsettling tale? How about the one about a British paint company that in 1968 regretfully announced that they would no longer be producing a shade of brown paint because it had run out of the key ingredient – powdered mummy.


    Archaeology and Contemporary Society

    By news editor, on 15 March 2012

    With on-going national debates about cultural identity, funding for the arts, planning and the environment, there is no doubt that archaeology has a role to play in contemporary society.

    On 12 March, the UCL Institute of Archaeology hosted a panel debate on this topic as part of a programme of events to mark its 75th anniversary.

    The debate was chaired by cultural analyst and consultant Professor Sara Selwood and the panellists represented a very diverse set of viewpoints on archaeology and the human past.


    Are museums failing us?

    By news editor, on 9 March 2012

    A distinguished panel of experts agreed that, in general, museums are failing the public they are intended to serve. That was the resounding opinion of four heritage professionals forming the panel for the UCL Institute of Archaeology’s debate entitled “Presenting the past” held on Monday 5 March.

    David Clarke, former Keeper of Archaeology at the National Museum of Scotland, complained that museums all display things the same way, slavishly sticking to a chronological walk through their exhibits, when the majority of visitors to a museum care little whether an artefact is 200 or 2,000 years old.

    Dominic Tweddle, Director General of the National Museum of the Royal Navy, described the majority of museum displays as “stultifyingly boring” and bemoaned the uniformity of approach. He highlighted the need for creativity in display in order to excite the public, in the same way that archaeologists and curators are excited by the past.


    Archaeology and Politics

    By news editor, on 5 March 2012

    The economic crisis has brought into sharp focus the relationship between archaeology and public resources. It was within this context that, as part of the UCL Institute of Archaeology’s 75th Anniversary Series, a debate was convened on 27 February to tackle the issue of Archaeology and Politics.

    A Question Time-style format brought forth the opinions of the panel which consisted of Bridget Fox (former Deputy Leader of Islington Council), Jenny Jones (ex-archaeologist and member of the London Assembly), Neal Ascherson (journalist and leading commentator on public archaeology) and Tim Schadla-Hall (Reader in Public Archaeology and the Institute’s resident politician-botherer). Wrestling control of the issues in the Chair was Mark D’Arcy, a BBC Parliamentary Correspondent.

    The Chair kicked off the debate and hit the main concern head-on when he asked how the panel would campaign for archaeology in an age of austerity.

    In response to this and later questions from the audience, archaeology’s clear contribution in relation to education, international relations and local community engagement was discussed.