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From Gurob to the Getty: The Voyages of an Ancient Egyptian Ship-Cart Model

Anna EGarnett18 June 2019

‘Put simply, if Helen of Troy’s face launched a thousand ships, then at present the Gurob model is the nearest we can approach to that ship type’ (Shelley Wachsmann, 2018)

A new exhibition at the Petrie Museum explores the ancient and modern contexts of a unique object excavated from the site of Gurob in the Faiyum. In this exhibition, a Mycenaean-style painted wooden ship-cart model (UC16044) sits alongside a group of objects from the Petrie Museum collection that illustrate the story of the ancient inhabitants of Gurob. This unusual object has been the subject of much scholarly debate since its excavation.

The ship-cart model (Image courtesy the J. Paul Getty Museum)

Excavation card for Tomb 611

In 1920, Flinders Petrie assigned two of his assistants, Guy Brunton and Reginald Engelbach, to work at Gurob. This work focused on the excavation of tombs at the site, which they believed still held promise in spite of continuing illicit excavations at that time. With their Egyptian workforce, Brunton and Engelbach found a remarkable painted wooden ship model and fragments of a wheeled cart in a tomb (no. 611). This was the only object found in the tomb, described on the tomb card simply as ‘Frags of painted wooden boat on wheels’.

During the New Kingdom (c. 1550-1069 BC), when the ship-cart model was made, an increase in royal military campaigns saw the Egyptian empire extend significantly across the Near East and south into Nubia (modern day Sudan). Merchants travelled to the Egyptian border to trade the products of their lands with Egypt. As a Mycenaean-style vessel deposited in a tomb in Egypt, this model tells an important story about the ancient migration of ideas and objects from the Greek mainland to Egypt during the Late Bronze Age.

The importance of this object lies in its highly unusual form and decoration: it appears to be a model of a ‘galley’ type of ship first used in Mycenaean Greece.  The wheels on the cart show that the model, and the ship it represents, may have been intended to travel overland, possibly during ritual activity. As such, scholars have interpreted this model as a cultic object. However, when interpreting this object it is important to remember that there may have been differences between the model and the ship that remain to be established.

Digital Reconstruction of the ship-cart model by Prof. Shelley Wachsmann (Image courtesy of the Institute for the Visualisation of History)

Prof. Shelley Wachsmann (Texas A&M University) studied the ship-cart model in detail, producing a comprehensive publication of the model in 2013 and an associated online resource with 3D reconstructions. This important publication also includes the results of scientific analysis undertaken on the ship-cart model including pigment analysis, radiocarbon dating and wood identification. Wachsmann’s painstaking work on the digital reconstruction of the original form of the object helps to shed light on the functions of the different sections of the ship-cart, which was invaluable when the time came for the model to be conserved and reconstructed in 2018.

Image courtesy Prof. Shelley Wachsmann/Texas A+M Press

Due to its fragility and difficulties of displaying it, the ship-cart model has remained in storage for much of the time it has been part of the Petrie Museum collection. While well documented and accessible online, visitors were not able to enjoy the model on display. In 2018, it was loaned to the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles for their major exhibition ‘Beyond the Nile: Egypt and the Classical World’. Here the ship-cart model took centre stage as one of the most important objects in the exhibition.

Months of preparation went into making the ship-cart model ready for its journey across the Atlantic, including painstaking conservation by Philip Kevin and three weeks of dedicated work by Getty mountmaker Richard Hards to construct a bespoke mount for the object. Susi Pancaldo coordinated this work and accompanied the ship-cart model, and a group of other objects from the Petrie Museum, to the J. Paul Getty Museum. We are grateful that their skilled work and commitment means that we can now safely display the model at the Petrie Museum for visitors to enjoy.

‘From Gurob to the Getty: The Voyages of an Ancient Egyptian Ship-Cart Model’ is open at the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, UCL, from June 18th – October 26th 2019.

Anna Garnett is the Curator of the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, UCL.

Petrie and Edwards: Gateway to the World of Egyptology

Anna EGarnett16 April 2019

In January 2019, we were delighted to receive a grant of £110,000 from the DCMS/Wolfson Museums and Galleries Improvement Fund for our project proposal: ‘Petrie and Edwards: Gateway to the World of Egyptology’. The aim of this project is to completely redesign the Petrie Museum’s entrance gallery to create a much more welcoming entrance to the Museum. The current entrance is somewhat cramped and cluttered, with much of the space occupied by an office. There is very little room for visitors to dwell and, more importantly, the layout is completely inaccessible to wheelchair users. The scope of this project is to remove the office infrastructure and use the expanded gallery space to make the entrance more accessible. While our access route for visitors will remain available via the DMS Watson Science Library next door to the Petrie Museum, this project will create a much clearer pathway through the Museum for visitors to reach the entrance gallery.

The Petrie Museum’s current entrance gallery

Here, visitors will find a clear introduction to the Petrie Museum’s world-class collection that will celebrate the life and work of the Museum’s founders, Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie and Amelia Blanford Edwards, as well as other lesser-known characters who are integral to the history of the Petrie Museum. These new displays will also promote critical engagement with the collections, and the history of the Museum, through the presentation of new research. Modern, conservation-standard cases will provide opportunities for expanded, fresh interpretation and allow us to develop new object displays.

These displays will integrate images and documents from the Petrie Museum’s internationally important archive and personal items that have never been displayed before, including Petrie’s excavation satchel and tools. The space will continue to incorporate our Audio Described guide to the Museum, made in collaboration with VocalEyes and available for free download, so the new displays will also be accessible for our visually impaired visitors.

Petrie’s satchel

With this project, visitors will have the opportunity to explore a new ‘gateway’ space where they will acquaint themselves with Petrie, Edwards, and other characters from the history of the Museum, before moving into the main galleries to see the stunning results of Petrie’s excavations. We will also enhance visitor orientation as part of this project, including new signage, which we hope will make finding the Museum much more straightforward.

Over the coming year we will present more information on the project in the Museum, which will include new temporary panels in the entrance stairwell to make visitors aware of the upcoming changes to the space. During the period when the major entrance refit will be happening later in 2019, we will be closing the Petrie Museum for a short time to allow this work to happen safely. We will post updates on this closure period in due course, to support visitors planning their visit around this time.

We hope that this project will significantly improve the overall visitor experience by offering an accessible introduction to the collection that explores historical and contemporary issues and facilitates engagement for all. So watch this space!

Anna Garnett is the Curator of the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, UCL

 

Object of the Week 357: A Sudanese Tulip in Bloomsbury

Anna EGarnett7 September 2018

The Petrie Museum Manager, Maria Ragan, is leaving us next week to head to pastures new as the new Director of the St Barbe Museum and Art Gallery. As a small token of our great affection for everything Maria has done for the Petrie Museum over the past (almost) four years she has been in post, I’d like to offer this beautiful vessel for our Object of the Week – her favourite object in the collection (UC13214). (more…)

Object of the Week: A child’s toy pig

Alice EWilliams3 August 2018

UC7205: A child’s toy pig

We have some exciting news about Specimen of the Week! We’re expanding the scope of SOTW to include more UCL Museums and collections. Here’s the first blog from the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, and keep your eyes peeled for blogs about specimens and objects from UCL Art Museum, UCL Pathology Museum and more as well as your favourites from the Grant Museum.

In a display case in the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology stands a little mud figure of a pig. At least it is thought to be a pig. It is so small, no bigger than a thumb nail, that you would be excused for not noticing it among the dense displays of archaeological objects. This figurine was originally thought to be a toy made by a child, but is that really true? (more…)

A new look for Papyrus and Shabtis at the Petrie Museum

Anna EGarnett23 May 2018

If you come down to the Petrie Museum, you will see some new changes in the exhibition space. In April 2018, we formally opened three new display cases in the Pottery Gallery as part of our successful Arts Council England-funded Papyrus for the People project, which has recently ended. These modern cases look somewhat different to the antique wooden cases which you are used to seeing at the Petrie Museum, but importantly they are conservation-grade and offer the opportunity to safely display a range of objects including examples from our world-class papyrus collection.

Of the three new showcases, two are to display different themes which have emerged from new translations of our written material by language specialists during the Papyrus Project. These displays will rotate every 6-8 months, partly so that we are able to offer fresh interpretations of the texts on a more regular basis, but also to preserve the fragile papyrus fragments from being exposed to too much light, as this can be damaging to the papyrus and the inscriptions.

Case 1: Working Women in Ancient Egypt 

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Flies, Cats and Rat Traps: the Ordinary Animals of Ancient Egypt

Anna EGarnett15 November 2017

The Grant Museum’s current exhibition – The Museum of Ordinary Animals: The Boring Beasts that Changed the World ­­- explores the mundane creatures in our everyday lives. Here on the blog, we will be delving into some of the stories featured in the exhibition. This week we investigate some of the Ordinary Animals on loan from the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology.

Ask anyone about ancient Egypt and standard responses generally include pyramids, mummies, Tutankhamun, and sometimes (if you’re lucky) animals. Ancient Egyptians were keen observers of their natural environment and are well-known for representing all manner of flora and fauna in their artistic works. Gods and goddesses were also associated with particular animals and their behaviour: for example, the jackal god Anubis guarded the cemeteries of the dead, just as real jackals roamed the desert edge. What is perhaps less well-known is how ancient Egyptians considered the ‘ordinary animals’ who lived side-by-side with them in the Nile Valley. Egyptians utilised a wide variety of wild animals and some of these were domesticated, some kept as pets, and others were considered as vermin – just as they are today.

UC45976

Mummified cat, currently on show in The Museum of Ordinary Animals exhibition (UC45976)

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There and (eventually) back again: a tale of three papyri

Anna EGarnett19 September 2017

The ‘Gurob Shrine Papyrus’ (UC27934ii)

It’s been a busy month for us at the Petrie Museum, not only gearing up for the start of the autumn term but also preparing object loans for upcoming exhibitions. Our vast collection offers many opportunities to contribute to varied exhibition narratives: our objects illustrate life in the Nile Valley over thousands of years, from Prehistory through the pharaonic period and right through to the Greco-Roman, Coptic and Islamic periods. We also hold a world-renowned collection of papyrus, which is the focus of our ongoing Papyrus for the People project funded by Arts Council England. We have loaned papyri to three very different exhibitions this September, which each tell fascinating stories of life and death in ancient Egypt. (more…)

Curating the Petrie Museum: Three Object Stories

Anna EGarnett26 July 2017

I’ve just come to the end of my first month as Curator of the Petrie Museum. While my feet are getting closer to the ground with every day that passes, I am truly struck by this incredible collection every time I walk into the galleries and I’m sure this will continue to be the case for a long time to come!

For my first blog post as Curator, I wanted to present my ‘favourite object’ from the Petrie Museum collection. However, it’s such a challenge to pinpoint only one object so I’ve chosen three! Each of these objects looks somewhat unassuming amongst the vast collection, but have their own unique stories to tell about how ancient Egyptians and Sudanese people made, used and re-used objects.

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Dead to me!

Pia KEdqvist12 July 2016

Human remains at the Petrie Museum. It’s time to come out of storage!
Death is part of life, and for me, death is very much a part of work since I am currently rehousing the human remains at the museum. In February, I attended a seminar at the Institute of Archaeology (IoA), PASSING ENCOUNTERS: The dead body and the public realm, the purpose of this was to stimulate discussion about death in an open and frank manner. I joined to learn more about how human remains are portrayed in social media and to gather people’s opinions on death. But, I learned much more than that; how a body decays, what different stages of decay smells like (See Fig.1.), and how death and the body have been portrayed throughout history

Image showing presentation slide, do’s and don’ts when ‘smelling death’

Image showing presentation slide, do’s and don’ts when ‘smelling death’

. (more…)

A Honey Pot for Springtime!

SusiPancaldo31 March 2016

As a Conservator, I often think of how privileged I am to be able to handle and examine museum objects, up close and personal. Not all objects move me, but at the moment I am very pleased to be working on this one:

UC65361, Ceramic bowl from the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, UCL. Height 7cm, diameter 10.5cm.

UC65361, Ceramic bowl from the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, UCL. Height 7cm, diameter 10.5cm.

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