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From Egypt to Malet Place: the Wissa Wassef Tapestry in Context

Anna E Garnett13 July 2021

The Petrie Museum curatorial team is delighted to have hosted two UCL students, Naomi Allman and Max Chesnokov, as virtual curatorial volunteers during this academic year. Here, Naomi and Max describe the display project they worked on during their placement and reflect upon the experience and the skills they’ve gained during the process.

Introduction to the Project

Max and Naomi: Sayed Mahmoud’s beautiful tapestry, ‘Dahshur Lake’, was the focal point of our exhibition design project for the Petrie Museum. Woven in 2003 at the Ramses Wissa Wassef Art Centre in Saqqara, Egypt, our task was to design a new display around this important object, placing it firmly in its historical and geographical context.

‘Dahshur Lake’ tapestry by Sayed Mahmoud (UC80605)

A key part of this project was to link the tapestry with other objects from the Petrie Museum collection that reflect the ‘image world’ of the tapestry, particularly the vividly coloured faience objects in the collection from the royal city of Amarna in Middle Egypt. The result of this project is a comprehensive display package, ready for the Petrie Museum to use at a future date when the Wissa Wassef tapestry (currently in temporary storage) is redisplayed.

Sayed Mahmoud at work in 2007 (image: Ivor Pridden)

The two main themes we chose for this future display are ‘Heritage in the Landscape’ and ‘Manufacturing Art’, joined together by the vibrancy of colour in a modern tapestry and in fragments of ancient faience (a glazed artificial ceramic).

The first theme, ‘Heritage in the Landscape’, presents an image of a relatively unchanged landscape from Late Dynasty 18 in pharaoh Akhenaten’s capital of Amarna (around 1350BC) to now. The beautiful floral and faunal motifs, represented in both the tapestry and in the rich faience assemblage from Amarna in the Petrie Museum, represent some of the most important elements of ancient Egyptian art. Faience is known for its vibrant colour, and it is here that we have another link between past and present.

The second theme, ‘Manufacturing Art’, takes a closer look at the production processes behind these objects. Here we explored the development of colour itself, from its mineral origins through to pigment processing and application, as well as the continuity between ancient and modern production. Most striking is the first known representation of a loom (UC9547) and an ancient limestone palette (UC2484) placed alongside a modern plastic watercolour palette and a photograph of loom types still in use today.

Faience collar from Amarna (UC1957)

The object we’ve chosen as a ‘spotlight object’ for the future display is a stunning faience beaded collar from Amarna, made up of 335 beads featuring vibrant floral motifs from grapes to petals and palm-leaves (UC1957). One bead in the collar even preserves the royal cartouche of Tutankhamun! This collar presents a unique link between Amarna faience and Sayed Mahmoud’s tapestry: a chance to bring together themes of colour, motif, and aspects of the Egyptian landscape both ancient and modern.

Reflecting on our Experience

Max: Working with the Petrie Museum’s collections has been incredible. Selecting only a handful of objects from its rich and representative tapestry (pardon the pun!) was a challenging yet rewarding experience as I got to know and understand these objects on a more intimate level. I enjoyed the process of selection based on not only the comparative links that they could evoke with Sayed Mahmoud’s art but also on their actual condition and viability for display. As a conservator-in-training I have a renewed desire to care for archaeological objects such as these as best I can in my future career so that they remain in place for future generations to learn from.

Max and Naomi in the Petrie Museum, June 2021

Naomi: As a child, I always loved seeing how the past is in many ways extraordinarily similar to the present, while still feeling like a whole different world. As an adult, it is my dream to work in museums and heritage, perhaps undertaking a similar role as this project. Working with the Petrie Museum’s collection has been an amazing experience, and one I will never forget. This museum is so unique, and I have loved working with it. I will take from this project a renewed love in Ancient Egypt (though my heart still belongs to Classical Archaeology!) and the joys the Petrie Museum holds.

Digital Digging: Shedding New Light on the Petrie Museum’s Archive

Anna E Garnett20 May 2021

During 2020-2021, when UCL was closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, UCL Culture’s curatorial team worked with students from the Institute of Archaeology’s MA Museum Studies on virtual work placements. These projects, which included archive transcription, documentation and object label writing, continue to provide opportunities for the students to gain practical curatorial skills to prepare them for their future careers while undertaking valuable work towards better understanding the collections.

Since September 2020, Karolina Pekala and Timea Deak worked together on two virtual curatorial projects focusing on aspects of the Petrie Museum’s internationally important archive.

Karolina: Beginning a placement at the Petrie Museum was definitely out of my comfort zone. As someone with a predominantly art history background, approaching Egyptian history and objects seemed intimidating until I began to learn about the collection through the task of transcribing negative lists.

A page from the handwritten list of Petrie Museum negatives, written by volunteer Joan Merritt in the 1990s.

The Petrie Museum archive contains a detailed handwritten list describing the photographic negatives in the collection. The information on this long list, describing hundreds of individual negatives, is vital for our understanding of archaeological photography and the publication process for early excavations. This project is a good opportunity for us to contribute to the documentation, and improve the accessibility, of the Museum’s archive.

The handwritten pages contained many names of objects foreign to me, prompting many Google searches. A particular set of objects I found fascinating are the ostraca: small pieces of limestone or pottery used for writing, drawing, or sketching. I was learning something new page by page, and now that museums are slowly opening, I am excited to visit and put the objects to their names.

Despite this being a remote placement, this experience has been enriching. I was especially interested to learn about Joan Merritt, the Petrie Museum volunteer behind the handwritten pages. Knowing that the digitisation of these lists is contributing to a bigger project and legacy is incredibly rewarding.

William Matthew Flinders Petrie in 1892.

Timea: Attempting to piece together the life of a man long gone can be a challenging endeavour at the best of times! Doing this from the writings of others only adds an extra dimension to the challenge. Yet, this was what we tried to do as we scoured trough the archives for information on Flinders Petrie.

The aim of this project was to find out more about how Petrie, and his excavations, were portrayed in the media. For this project, we drew upon our research skills to collect digital newspaper clippings which mention Flinders Petrie and produce a searchable list of these documents for future study, which will be an important addition to the Museum’s digital archive.

No great scandal was unravelled through this exercise; however, we did stumble upon articles from which we could glean aspects of Petrie’s humanity. A 1938 article in the Washington Post describes a bizarre discussion concerning the size of Petrie’s head. It seemed that the archaeologist indulged this discussion himself, perhaps even finding it humorous. Flinders Petrie revealed that, over the many decades of his life, his head had never seemed to stop growing, and seemingly struggled to find the perfect hat to fit him comfortably! Such gems reveal no great accomplishment or secret side to Petrie, but they remind us that he, too, was human.

Revealing the Characters behind the Petrie Museum Collection

Anna E Garnett28 September 2020

During Spring/Summer 2020, when UCL was closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, UCL Culture’s curatorial team worked with students from the Institute of Archaeology’s MA Museum Studies on our first-ever virtual work placements. These projects, which included archive transcription, documentation and object label writing, provided opportunities for the students to gain practical curatorial skills to prepare them for their future careers while undertaking valuable work towards better understanding the collections.

This blog post was written by Giulia Marinos and Alexandra BakerUCL MA Museum Studies students. 

Margaret Murray when she received her honorary doctorate from UCL in 1927 (Petrie Museum Archive)

The Petrie Museum is named after the Egyptologist Flinders Petrie, but there are many other individuals whose work was also integral to the development of the Museum and its collection. As part of our summer placement project, we have designed object trails for each of these little-known ‘characters’, telling the story of their lives and work through objects that can be found in the Petrie. This project complements the recently redeveloped entrance gallery of the Petrie Museum that highlights several individuals that were involved in the collection and preservation of the museum.

Margaret Murray

 One of our object trails explores the fascinating life and work of the archaeologist, Egyptologist, feminist and centenarian Margaret Murray (1863–1963). One of Petrie’s first Egyptology students, Murray soon played a vital role in the development and running of UCL’s Department of Egyptology. Importantly, Murray took over Petrie’s teaching duties when he was away on excavation (which was for most of the year!). It is Murray who we should thank for training subsequent generations of successful UCL Egyptologists and archaeologists, including Gertrude Caton-Thompson, Veronica Seton-Williams and Robert Faulkner. Murray’s object trail sheds light on her important work, which has often been overshadowed by that of Petrie.

Ali Suefi

Ali Suefi (Petrie Museum Archive)

Another trail focuses on Ali Suefi, an Egyptian fisherman from Lahun who oversaw excavations in Egypt for over 30 years, and who Petrie called his ‘best lad’. The trail includes some of the objects that Ali Suefi is credited to have found. We are lucky to know as much as we do about Ali Suefi from the details documented in the Petrie Museum’s archives, but it is important to consider how many other people were involved and contributed to Petrie’s success and fame that do not get any recognition. This is due in part to the skewed biases of archives: what gets preserved and what is deemed important to record at the time. It is also likely due in part to the unequal power dynamics and systematic disenfranchisement of Egyptians in the fields of archaeology and Egyptology.

 Our research project—to recognize the many diverse voices and individuals involved in the Petrie Museum collection—reflects wider efforts within the fields of archaeology and Egyptology. Such disciplines historically focused on ‘heroic’ white-male figures at the exclusion and expense of the agencies of the many actors involved in the processes of excavation, collecting and museum work.

To learn more about the often-under-recognised individuals in the fields of Egyptology and Archaeology, we recommend Wendy Doyon’s 2017 chapter “The History of Archaeology through the Eyes of the Egyptians” and Alice Stevenson’s Scattered Finds, available as a free download from UCL Press.

Giulia Marinos and Alexandra Baker are MA Museum Studies students at UCL’s Institute of Archaeology. Their summer placement was designed and supported by Dr. Anna Garnett, Curator of the Petrie Museum of Egyptian and Sudanese Archaeology.

Improving object descriptions in UCL’s Object-Based Learning Lab

Anna E Garnett28 September 2020

During Spring/Summer 2020, when UCL was closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, UCL Culture’s curatorial team worked with students from the Institute of Archaeology’s MA Museum Studies on our first-ever virtual work placements. These projects, which included archive transcription, documentation and object label writing, provided opportunities for the students to gain practical curatorial skills to prepare them for their future careers while undertaking valuable work towards better understanding the collections.

This blog post was written by Yanning Zhao and Giulia MarinosUCL MA Museum Studies students. 

UCL’s new Object-Based Learning Lab, located in the Wilkins Building, is a purpose-built space to support and promote object-based teaching in the university. A large permanent exhibition of hundreds of objects from UCL’s collections is now on display in the OBL lab, and many of these objects were in need of updated and improved object descriptions for our museum database and online catalogue. Here, Yanning Zhao and Giulia Marinos describe their work to update some of these object records for objects from the Petrie Museum collection.

What did you do for this project?

Yanning: We divided all the Petrie Museum objects in the OBL displays into two groups, so that we could each focus on updating half of the objects on display. The objects I researched were mainly comprised of Egyptian figurines, vessels and even fragments from statues. As most of the current descriptions for these objects are too short for readers to fully understand them, our responsibility was to review them and highlight key aspects about the objects concisely.

Giulia: In addition to revising the labels to make them more descriptive and accessible to a wider range of readers, we also researched the objects and looked for similar objects in other museum collections.

Did this project present any challenges?

Red breccia lion (UC15199)

Yanning: The biggest challenge for me was to describe the objects in an academic and concise style! I did not have much experience researching Egyptian artefacts, so I had to start from zero to learn how to write proper descriptions. Thankfully, Anna Garnett (Petrie Museum Curator) provided a lot of learning resources, but I still found it challenging to try to identify the features of the objects. We worked on this project remotely, so this might be because we were not able to access the objects to see them more closely in person.

Giulia: Initially, I did not expect it to be challenging to write visually descriptive labels for objects; however, I was surprised by how difficult it was to articulately and accurately describe some objects. This could be due to the complex nature of the objects, the limited views available from the online catalogue or my lack of familiarity with the objects. Although there is so much information available digitally about the objects and the Petrie Museum collection in general, there are limitations to strictly digital or online engagement. Perhaps that also shows how I miss seeing and interacting with collections in person!

Wooden boat model (UC75621)

Tell us some fun facts or interesting findings from the project!

Yanning: I would like to highlight this red breccia rock in the shape of a lion (UC15199, image above). Its current description does not clearly state whether it is a gaming piece or not, but by comparing it with other similar collections from other institutions, it is likely to be gaming piece for senet, a popular ancient Egyptian board game.

Giulia: I was impressed to learn how far and wide ancient Egyptian objects have been dispersed across collections around the world! In my research, I found how similar object types such as Predynastic pottery or wooden boat models can be spread over so many different institutions – from California to Italy for example (if you are interested to learn more on this, I recommend Alice Stevenson’s Scattered Finds, available as a free download from UCL Press).

Yanning Zhao and Giulia Marinos are MA Museum Studies students at UCL’s Institute of Archaeology. Their summer placement was designed and supported by Dr. Anna Garnett, Curator of the Petrie Museum of Egyptian and Sudanese Archaeology.

Stories from the Visitor Book: Petrie Museum Visitors in the mid-Twentieth Century

Anna E Garnett28 September 2020

During Spring/Summer 2020, when UCL was closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, UCL Culture’s curatorial team worked with students from the Institute of Archaeology’s MA Museum Studies on our first-ever virtual work placements. These projects, which included archive transcription, documentation and object label writing, provided opportunities for the students to gain practical curatorial skills to prepare them for their future careers while undertaking valuable work towards better understanding the collections.

This blog post was written by Alexandra Baker and Yanning ZhaoUCL MA Museum Studies students. 

Petrie Museum Visitor Book

When thinking about the Petrie Museum, the first thing that might come to mind is its vast collection: from ancient Egyptian artefacts to Flinders Petrie’s own personal belongings. As visitors, we can always discover interesting facts about those objects. However, did you know that museum visitor books also tell a story about the past? They are more than simply a list of names and addresses.

During summer 2020, our team transcribed 82 pages from the Museum’s visitor book and made fascinating findings about museum visitors between 1937 and 1959.

Three fun facts about our visitors:

Made by Visme

  1. We had more international visitors than you might think!

You might think the Petrie Museum attracts more UCL staff and students than people from other parts of the world, but our findings show that international scholars regularly visited the museum in the last century (the orange sections on the map indicate where visitors came from). Many historical events happened between the 1930s and 1950s, but that did not stop people from all over the world visiting the museum. These international visitors travelled to London from Spain, France, and from even further afield including Chile and Japan.

  1. Most international visitors were from the United States

It seems that the majority of international visitors were from the US. Most of them recorded the cities and regions they came from, including New York, Phoenix and Boston.

  1. English is not the only language used by visitors

We have faced some challenges to translate the language that some visitors use into English. For example, one Japanese scholar used Japanese to record the name of his university. Another visitor from Berlin, surprisingly, used hieroglyphs to record their name as ‘Neferneferuaten Nefertiti’!

Famous Egyptologists also visited the Petrie Museum:

L to R: Hilda Petrie (Petrie Museum Archive); Olga Tufnell (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olga_Tufnell); 
Sidney Smith (https://www.cambridge.org)

The visitor book also shows us that big names in Egyptology visited the Petrie Museum during this time, highlighting how the collection was, and still is, an important resource for the study of Egyptian Archaeology. Our famous visitors included:

A. F. Shore (Who was Who in Egyptology 5, p. 451)

  1. Hilda Petrie: Egyptologist and archaeologist
  2. Olga Tufnell: Archaeologist who worked on the excavation of the ancient city of Lachish in the 1930s
  3. Sidney Smith: Assyriologist who worked at the Iraq Museum, British Museum, UCL and King’s College London
  4. A. F. Shore: Scholar and Brunner Professor of Egyptology at the University of Liverpool

Many of our visitors were students!

The Petrie Museum’s visitor book also shows us how popular the museum was amongst students from UCL and beyond. Students visited the Museum from a range of disciplines, from archaeology to physics, and interestingly art students often visited it. Working closely with students and scholars from around the world is an important part of the museum’s work that continues today.

Alexandra Baker and Yanning Zhao are MA Museum Studies students at UCL’s Institute of Archaeology. Their summer placement was designed and supported by Dr. Anna Garnett, Curator of the Petrie Museum of Egyptian and Sudanese Archaeology.

 

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

Katie Davenport-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 E Garnett18 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)

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Public Engagement with UCL Deafness Cognition and Language Research Centre

Anna E Garnett26 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)

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Object of the Week 357: A Sudanese Tulip in Bloomsbury

Anna E Garnett7 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 E Williams3 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…)