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Out of this world: The Petrie Museum and CASA at LonCon3

By ucyow3c, on 20 August 2014


Written by Dr Debbie Challis

Where can you mingle with a Hawaiian Dalek (image 1), attend events on ‘alien sounds’ and get fit by playing quidditch? The answer is WorldCon, or for its third London venture LonCon3 – the biggest science fiction (SF) convention in the world, which took place over a five-day extravaganza of all things SF at the ExCel Centre between 14 and 18 August.

The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology had a stall in the exhibits hall – among the dealers, SF publishers, academic posters, astronomers and English heritage (among others) – where we promoted the museum and different ways of thinking about ancient Egypt and archaeology.

This year, LonCon3 had over 10,000 attendees (many attend virtually – one man in the USA even sent his own robot!) and made the front page of the Guardian on Saturday 15 August. The scale of it was enormous, with hundreds of events, screenings, signings and an enormous chill out space (image 2).

I didn’t get a chance to see very much but what I did see was impressive in quality, such as the Astronomer Royal Lord Rees on ‘A post human future’ or a fascinating presentation on reworking the Pygmalion myth in film by Paul James (Open University). Annie, one of our volunteers and ‘Friends of the Petrie’, reported back on an excellent talk on bacteria and the increasing uselessness of antibiotics, entitled ‘Revenge of the bugs’, by UCL’s Dr Jenny Rohn (UCL Clinical Physiology).

The Petrie Museum was not the only representation of UCL in the Exhibits’ Hall – The Bartlett’s Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA) brought their interactive Pigeon Sim and every time I passed the stall, people were flapping their arms to virtually fly across London (image 3).

We did get the question as to why a museum of ancient Egyptian and Sudanese material was at a SF convention, but as soon as I said that we were persuaded by the idea that many people into SF were into Egyptology, archaeology and thinking about different worlds, people nodded sagely. In fact, most visitors to our stall did not question as being there but gathered up trails and information and many were extremely well informed about archaeology, even if they had not heard of the Petrie Museum (image 4).

And so, what was most popular with SF fandom? Our ‘Timekeeper in Residence’ report on different ideas about measuring time flew from the stall, as did information on our meteoritic beads and our ‘SciFi Egypt’ trail. Perhaps more surprising was the popularity of our coptic sock knitting (nailbinding) pattern and Egyptian cat trail. The talk I gave on Friday was very well attended and by the end Laura (our faithful volunteer) and I were utterly exhausted from talking to so many people (image 5).

After five days of great conversation and a wonderful inclusive atmosphere, thanks must go to the organisers, vast numbers of volunteers and, in particular, exhibit hall organiser Professor Farah Mendelsohn (Anglia Ruskin University) for inviting us in the first place.

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