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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.

     

    The hidden gems of studying a degree in Archaeology

    By Jo Harris, on 21 June 2017

    Written by UCL Archaeology Graduate, John Bilton

    As I relaxed in my scratch-built sauna in the middle of the West Sussex countryside, I decided there were worse things in life than studying archaeology. It was a week into my first year and I was at ‘Primtech’, a four-day retreat every new undergrad at UCL’s Institute of Archaeology (IoA) goes on to get a hands-on introduction to early technologies (flint knapping, pottery making, bronze casting, etc.), and to get to know the people they will spend the next three years studying with. I had made the sauna that afternoon with another first-year and a couple of second-years, who came to Primtech as supervisors, out of some sticks, tarpaulin and burnt flint. It was a nice way to wind down after a morning of landscape walking.

    70 days of fieldwork

    IoA students need to get used to being outside, because the undergrad course requires them to complete 70 days of fieldwork. What this actually involves varies hugely: I spent six weeks in Greece and Macedonia, examining various museums and archaeological sites; a friend of mine spent a month excavating in Israel. Another spent two weeks in Uganda. The IoA is Britain’s largest and most well-regarded archaeological department: its archaeologists conduct fieldwork all over the globe, on some of the most famous archaeological sites on Earth.

    Easter Island

    A good example of the IoA’s global reach is its work in Rapa Nui, known more colloquially as Easter Island, home to the colossal stone ‘moai’ sculptures. The ‘Rapa Nui Landscapes of Construction Project’, led by Professor Sue Hamilton (Director of the IoA), works with Rapa Nui elders and students to provide resources and training to help them present Rapa Nui’s past, and extended a bursary to bring Rapa Nui archaeology students to the UK to join in the IoA’s field training course.

    As well as engagement, the Project seeks to develop a new understanding of how the moai fit into the wider landscape of the island. The Project is carrying out an excavation of the Puna Pau quarry, the source of many of the pukao (‘hats’) that some of the moai wear – large, squat cylinders made of a coarse, dark red lava. It is also looking to unify strands of investigation that have thus far remained isolated, such as the ‘ahu’, stone ceremonial platforms upon which the moai once stood, and transport roads. The Project’s central theme is the way construction of the moai unified the island, with the resources, locations and construction elements that went into making the moai linking the different areas of Rapa Nui, from the quarries where they were constructed to the roads that they were transported on and their final destinations.

    The Terracotta Army in the Museum of Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Mausoleum  Source: Wikimedia Commons Terracotta Army

    Another example of UCL’s global focus is its work with the Terracotta Army. The IoA is undertaking a research project in collaboration with the Museum of Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Mausoleum to research the Terracotta Army, a group of 2,000 warrior statues crafted over 2,000 years ago as a part of the tomb of Qin Shihuang, the first Emperor of China. The Terracotta Warriors were an undeniable symbol of the unimaginable wealth, military power and artistic achievement of the Qin Empire. Each of the individually crafted warriors was equipped with state-of-the-art bronze weapons, some so well preserved that they would still be lethal today. The assemblage includes over 40,000 bronze arrowheads, as well as swords, lances, crossbow triggers and more.

    Since 2006, the IoA has been collaborating with the Museum to transfer students and specialists between Britain and China, and to investigate the logistics of technology and labour organisation behind the construction of the Terracotta Army. They have analysed the distribution of the Warriors and their weapons, and have learned a great deal about the way the Qin military was organised. For example, they have discovered a great deal about Qin battle formations: lower-status robed warriors stood on the front lines, followed by armoured soldiers and a smaller number of officers or generals towards the rear. Crossbowmen were placed primarily along the front and flanks of the army, and chariots were placed at the core.

    The IoA also works closer to home. Undergraduate students can take part in the Thames Discovery Programme, a community archaeology project run by UCL. The Thames Discovery Programme involves IoA archaeologists and students engaging the public about the fascinating archaeology of the River Thames, home to the debris of London’s almost 2,000 year history, from Roman pottery to Tudor jewellery and the remnants of Victorian warships. People are led on surveying walks along the banks of the river. Public lectures are held in local archaeological societies, in community centres and at academic conferences and museums. The project has been featured on television several times, including on a special episode of Time Team.

    University Archaeology Day

    So, if travel, community engagement, the opportunity to be trained in advanced scientific and analytical methods and the chance to build your own sauna in the middle of the English countryside appeal to you, come and check out the IoA’s ‘University Archaeology Day’ on June 22. It’s an event for prospective students, parents and teachers to learn about the many archaeology programmes available in the UK, to hear about some of the latest cutting-edge archaeological research, and to discover the huge range of career opportunities a degree in archaeology can lead to. We’ll have representatives from most of the UK’s top archaeology departments, as well as a range of organisations that work with and employ archaeologists.

    Find out more about University Archaeology Day, including details on how to register:

    Want to know more about how you can turn an archaeology degree into a career? Read this article from UCL News.

    UCL Festival of Culture: Urban Well-being

    By James L Russell, on 31 May 2016

    urban-wellbeingAs part of the UCL Festival of Culture, Dr Gustav Milne – Honorary senior lecturer in the UCL Institute of Archaeology –  gave a talk on Tuesday 24th May, entitled ‘Urban well-being: How to live paleolithically-correct lives in a 21st Century City’.

    The idea that we as humans are not necessarily designed for the urban environments that many of us now dwell in is not necessarily a new one, but the extent to which this affects our health and life expectancy is more strikingly marked than might be expected.

    Gustav began by outlining how our biology evolved thousands of years ago to support the hunter-gatherer lifestyle, and explained that while the environments we live in have changed, our basic physiology hasn’t. We were told that our biological legacy dates back 6 million years – our physiology and lung system have not really developed since then.

    Gustav mentioned the Grand Challenges project that UCL Archaeology has partnered in with Transport for London and Arsenal football club, along with several other organisations, which examined the health profiles of different social groups and populations within Greater London.

    The research carried out for this project discovered a noticeable difference in life-expectancy between residents in boroughs with large areas of green space, from those who live which are densely built-up and populated. Contrary to what we often hear, the figures obtained during this research indicate that it’s not about social class or income but where you live.

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    Petrie Film Club: Lucifer Rising

    By Irrum Ali, on 11 November 2014

    Petrie Museum of Egyptian ArchaeologySet among many enchanting and unusual artefacts, a timely post-Halloween showing of Kenneth Anger’s Lucifer Rising felt perfectly at home at UCL’s Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology. Preceding this, PhD archaeology student Ethan Doyle White gave an insight into the film’s occult themes.

    The talk explored Kenneth Anger’s background, a California-born filmmaker whose short, experimental films would prove to be of great influence over such ‘big name’ directors like Martin Scorsese and David Lynch, and who is also cited as an inspiration for the development of the music video.

    Although well-known among experimental film buffs, Anger is hardly a household name, largely because his films revolve around two themes that were not exactly respectable in twentieth-century American culture: male homoeroticism and occultism.

    Anger was a practitioner of an occult religion known as Thelema, which had been founded by the English occultist Aleister Crowley (notoriously dubbed the “wickedest man in the world” by the tabloid press of his own day) while on honeymoon in Egypt in 1904.

    Allegedly inspired by a sacred text that Crowley claimed had been given to him by a supernatural entity, Thelema proclaimed that the twentieth-century marked the start of a new “Aeon of Horus”.

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