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UCL events news and reviews


Unrolling Egypt’s ancient dead

By Katherine 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.


Wandering wombs and wicked water – women’s complaints and their treatment

By news editor, on 12 March 2012

This evening event to mark International Women’s Day was held in the UCL Petrie Museum and was remarkably well-attended.

Dr Carole Reeves from the UCL Centre for the History of Medicine delivered an insightful talk, helpfully leaving plenty of time at the end for some engaging questions from the interested audience.

The Kahun Gynaecological Papyrus is the oldest known medical text, dating from Egypt’s Middle Kingdom (2025-1700 BC) and was used as the basis for the talk.

Dr Reeves used this historical artefact to discuss some of the similarities between complaints in women today and in the ancient world, but also examining the differences in how these problems were perceived and treated.

The Kahun Medical Papyrus was found by Flinders Petrie in 1889, and dates to about 2000 BC. The Papyrus consists of only three pages and is preserved in the Petrie Museum.

Since its discovery, the Papyrus has been translated by multiple people; Dr Reeves clarified that she would be referring specifically to a translation by Professor Stephen Quirke, Curator and Lecturer at the Petrie Museum.


Mummifying Alan: Egypt’s Last Secret; Screening and Q+A by the Petrie Museum

By Katherine Aitchison, on 7 February 2012

I’ll be honest; I was sceptical when I arrived at the screening of Mummifying Alan: Egypt’s Last Secret on 31 January.

The programme detailed the mummification of a modern day man, Alan Billis, using Ancient Egyptian methods. I wasn’t sceptical that they could do it, although I have no real knowledge of the Egyptian embalming process, I thought it was probably quite straightforward – all you need is a lot of bandages right?

No, what I couldn’t get my head round was the purpose of the programme, what could we possibly learn from this experiment that could relate to everyday life today? With so few people leaving their body to medical science, I couldn’t help but see it as a waste of a great gift.

However, several minutes into the programme my first problem was resolved. Alan Billis left his body specifically for this project; it was his wish to leave a legacy that his grandchildren could relate to and could be proud of. A few minutes more and I could barely remember why I’d been so sceptical in the first place – I was fascinated.


Towards a New Egyptology?

By news editor, on 30 January 2012

David Wengrow on Stephen Quirke: ‘Object of Egypt: Outside the Time Frame’, held on 23 January.

In his inaugural lecture as Edwards Professor of Egyptian Archaeology and Philology, Stephen Quirke – who is also Curator of UCL’s Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology – delivered a radical and highly personal vision of the future of Egyptology.

Invoking Walter Benjamin in On the Concept of History, Professor Quirke explained to a full auditorium how the collection, for him, is a problematic legacy of foreign (and often unwelcome) intervention in Egypt’s cultural past: an assemblage of unstable “monads”, overflowing with tensions and “waiting to explode”.

The talk began with the Arab Spring, moving back through the history of Egyptian archaeology, viewed not just from the standpoint of European scholars and explorers, but also through the eyes of Egyptian observers such as Al-Jabarti.