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Specimen of the Week 387: Trader, Raider, Warship: The Gurob Model Boat

KatieDavenport-Mackey2 August 2019

This blog was written by Edwin Wood, Museum Visitor Services Assistant at UCL Culture.

The Gurob model boat is thought to represent a Mycenaean Galley, a type of vessel used in the Eastern Mediterranean during the Mycenaean Bronze Age, c.1500-1100 BC. This form of ship would have been used primarily in coastal waters, keeping within sight of land and mooring at night. The ship served as a trading vessel, for carrying goods to and from the Hellenic states and their neighbours such as the Hittites and of course, the Egyptian kingdom. It also would have served well as a warship, able to carry warriors for raiding and also equipped with a prow mounted ram for ship to ship engagements.

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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.

Public Engagement with UCL Deafness Cognition and Language Research Centre

Anna EGarnett26 September 2018

Rebecca Lambert is a long-time volunteer of the Petrie Museum, and in this guest blog Rebecca reports on a recent engagement session which she led with UCL Deafness Cognition and Language Research Centre. 

As a volunteer at the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology I am very keen to engage with people from all walks of life and to help make the museum collection accessible to all. Earlier this summer I was asked to assist with the preparation and delivery of offsite activity for the UCL Deafness Cognition and Language Research Centre as part of the UCL Discover Summer School for potential UCL undergraduates.

Pyramid Text fragment of Pepy I (UC14540)

The brief was to create an Ancient Egyptian based activity which would be suitable for young adults with an age range of approximately 16-18 years of age. There were to be twelve participants who each had differing levels of hearing loss. Some of the students communicated solely through British Sign Language (BSL), whilst others would use a combination of sign language and lip reading. Some of the students could communicate verbally, whilst some could not. To create an activity which would be accessible, challenging, but most of all, fun, I had to decide on a format which would enable the students to explore Ancient Egypt. I decided that the session should primarily focus on the visual and not rely on convoluted descriptive narratives which can appear wearisome, especially to teenagers. This being the case, I opted to download three different empty cartouche designs. I also brought copies of images of particularly striking inscribed objects in the Petrie Museum collection, which are illustrated here.

Calcite vessel with the names of Tutankhamun and his wife Ankhesenamun (UC16021)

After a brief introduction to Egyptian hieroglyphs, which was translated by BSL interpreters, I asked the students to create their own cartouches using either hieroglyphs from the ancient Egyptian period or by creating their own individual hieroglyphs. The key element was that the students had to create a visual representation of themselves which would be accessible to others. The brief suggested that the simpler the images, the easier it would be for others to understand the message being conveyed. However, it was ultimately up to the students to decide how simply, or elaborately, they wished to depict themselves.

The end results were fantastic. Some of the cartouches were very elaborate and highly detailed, whilst others were produced along simpler lines. All, however, showed real thought and a good understanding of the activity brief. I was particularly struck by the use of very similar images being used by different students to convey their perception of themselves in the larger world. The subject of hearing loss was addressed by several the participants. For myself, seeing how young people wish to present themselves to, not only their peers, but the larger world was really refreshing and exciting.

Limestone stela of the sistrum-player Khereduankh (UC14357)

The session lasted for ninety minutes and I enjoyed every moment of it. The students were really engaging and seem to really enjoy the activity. They were very keen to learn more about so many aspects of the ancient past and did not only restrict their questions to the subject of Egypt. Being able to effectively communicate with the students, through the assistance of the BSL interpreters, really opened up the session for everyone involved, myself included. Previously I have undertaken training with VocalEyes to enable me to assist visitors with sight loss. After taking part in this session for UCL Discover I am aiming to begin BSL interpretation training this autumn to help further widen collection accessibility for future visitors to the museum.

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…)

Getting the ‘Researcher Experience’ at the Petrie Museum

Anna EGarnett21 May 2018

Over the last six months, the Petrie Museum has hosted Amanda Ford Spora, an MA Student in Egyptian Archaeology from the Institute of Archaeology, UCL, who has been using the collection for her Masters’ research. In this guest blog, Amanda discusses her project and some of the outcomes so far.

Archaeologists and museum professionals develop a depth of experience working with objects, right from the trowel edge to the handling desk. It is this experience that is being explored with visitors at the Petrie Museum. One Saturday and two Wednesdays a month, visitors including: families (7 years+), tourists, undergraduate students, ancient Egyptian enthusiasts and the odd archaeologist and professor or two, have the chance to experience a fifteen minute ‘object-based, research-style’ visit at the museum, complete with all the ‘trimmings’, such as gloves, lamp-light, trays, padding and object-supports, in a cordoned-off section of the pottery gallery. (more…)

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…)

Coptic Christmas: and a Myriad of Calendars (advent or otherwise)

EdmundConnolly29 November 2013

Many of us may be looking forward to Christmas in a few weeks’ time, but for many of our Egyptian (and other Coptic readers) Christmas will not be until January 7th 2014.

UC75907, Coptic embroidery from the Petrie Museum
UC75907, Coptic embroidery from the Petrie Museum

History

Coptic is a bit of a hydra of a term, with a few meanings that can be used synonymously or separately. The word Coptic derives from the Greek ‘aigyptos’ referring to the people of Egypt, originally this term had nothing to do with religious order or identity. Whilst ‘Egypt’ comes from more of an Ancient Egyptian pronunciation, Copt most probably held an Arabic influence, with the initial ‘ai’ being dropped to produce the plosive ‘K’ sound (Gregorious 1982, Downer).

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‘African Hair Combs’ – a Conservator’s comment

EdmundConnolly28 October 2013

Guest Blogger: Pia Edqvist

Has anyone seen the exhibition ’Origins of the Afro Comb, 6,000 years of Culture, Politics and Identity’ currently on display at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge? If so, what did you think?

If not, you must go and see it; the display will be closing on the 3rd November and you do not want to miss this exhibition.

 

Origins of the Afro Comb

Origins of the Afro Comb

On display is the iconic Black fist comb which was the symbol of the Black Civil Rights and Power Movement during the 1970’s in the USA. Earlier, the Afro comb was not very visible and for this reason it has been assumed that the afro comb was developed during this time. But this exhibition shows that the afro comb dates back to Ancient Egypt. The oldest comb is an Ancient Egyptian comb 5,500 years old which is displayed side by side with the black fist comb. The parallels between these combs are what inspired this exhibition. The connections made between the past and the present make this exhibition extra fascinating. This is also seen in the presentations of oral histories and testimonies within the exhibition which document attitudes towards hair and grooming in the present day. These contributions will also create an archive for the future.

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