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UCL events news and reviews


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).


Archaeological ghost stories: M.R. James at the Petrie Museum

By Katherine Aitchison, on 30 July 2012

Petrie Museum events are fast becoming a firm fixture in my diary, not least because of the ghostly subject matter that they tend to cover. I’ve been to talks about psychics and curses, but for the latest event (on 19 July) we turned to some archaeological ghost stories.

The action centred on one man: M.R. James and the stories he was inspired to write during his career as an academic at Cambridge and Eton.

James is famous for bringing ghost stories out of their customary Gothic setting and into more contemporary, everyday locations and for being one of the first authors to use antiquarians as the main protagonists.

Dr Gabriel Moshenska of the UCL Institute of Archaeology took us on a journey through his research into the inspiration behind James’ stories and showed how elements of James’ extraordinary life were reflected in many of his works.

As the son of a rector, James spent much of his childhood in or around churches in Suffolk, which served as the settings for many of his stories.


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.


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

By Katherine 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.