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…)
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.
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).
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.
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.
The link between the Petrie collection and Egypt is pretty obvious, founded in 1892 the collection incorporates roughly 80,000 Egyptian and Sudanese objects ranging from human remains to socks. The collection is still viewed and used by thousands of visitors a year, but I am intrigued by the Victorian audience, what would they have made of this collection? More precisely I am researching the animals on display in the Petrie collection and how they may have been received and the vibrant history they were thrust into when brought to London. This series of 7 blogs will include material from the Petrie collection and archive, as well as some cross-collection references.
Specimen #1: The Hippopotamus
The name comes from the Greek (ἱπποπόταμος) meaning river horse, personally I see it more as an oversized pig, but hey who am I to argue with the Greeks, these aquatic equestrians are a common feature of children’s media and the Africa vista. Egypt is the northern-most point that the Hippo is found naturally, gallivanting around in the Nile’s cooling waters.
It is hard to believe we will be playing proud host to our group of 9 Fellows in just a few months’ time. Time has flown and our Fellows have been busy developing their Community Engagement projects using the case studies and skills that were showcased during the weeks spent in the UK at UCL and a group of host museums. Following on from our last post I will now profile out Egyptian Fellows: Sayed Ahmed and Mohamed M. Mokhtar, who both work at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization (NMEC) in Cairo.
Upcoming event: Caesar and Cleopatra, February 6th 2013
Britain’s first million-pound film, starring Vivien Leigh and Claude Rains, was Caesar and Cleopatra. Based on George Bernard Shaw’s 1901 play of the same name, with a screenplay written by Shaw, it opened on 12th December 1945 in the Odeon at Marble Arch in London, and was released in the U.S. in September 1946. It is showing at the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology (Malet Place, London WC1E 6BT), hosted by John J. Johnston, on February 6th 2013.
Made during World War II, it was hoped that the investment of over £1,250,000 into the film would help to establish Britain in the American cinematic market. Filmed in Technicolor, it took two years to complete, most of it set within a custom-built studio in Denham, England. Over 500 pieces of jewellery and 2000 costumes were created for the film and 400 tons of sand were imported into the Denham studio. The largest scene included more than 1500 actors. Conceived on an epic scale, it produced an Academy Award Nomination for Best Art Direction for John Bryan. The main stars of the film, Claude Raines, Vivien Leigh and Stuart Granger, were all household names. Vivien Leigh was particularly famous for her role as Scarlett O’Hara, six years earlier, in Gone With The Wind, which was one of the highest-grossing films of all-time.
I am currently in Egypt trying really hard, though probably failing, to see an Egyptian vulture. Why? Look at this, you’ve got to love this face. It’s yellow for starters, and has a mega cool feather hair-do for seconds. Brilliant. I decided of course to write this week’s blog on an Egyptian specimen but it seems we are somewhat sadly lacking in that area so my specimen is a tenuous link at best. In the meantime, this week’s specimen is of a species that was found in Egypt, though is now regionally extinct in northern Africa. It was also found in Europe once upon a time, which may surprise you. This week’s specimen of the week is… (more…)
On Saturday 7 January artist Adele Wagstaff hung her exhibition Luxor: People and Places at the Petrie Museum and, having just returned from Luxor a few days before the hang, I thought I’d write a post with a similar name. It was my first time in Upper Egypt and Luxor, having previously visited Cairo and Alexandria, and I was a tourist on holiday rather than doing work.
Although I did visit many sites that Flinders Petrie worked on 100 years ago, excavating, surveying or taking casts for his Racial Photographs project.
The week my husband and I went to Luxor was meant to be one of the busiest of the European tourist season, though the sites and Luxor itself was fairly quiet due to both a recession in Europe and concerns about continued demonstrations in Cairo. It was great, however, to see so many Egyptian people visiting the sites, particularly in Abydos.
Visiting these places was sorted out for us by Omar Farouk Said and his cousin Alla. Omar is a descendent of one of Petrie’s Qufti workers, who still excavates today! He was currently working with an excavation organised by Memphis University in Dra abu el Naga.
I think Deir el Medina – the town where the artisans lived who worked on the tombs in the Valley of the Kings – was my favourite site in Thebes. Although I also loved the Rammesseum complete with Belzoni’s graffiti on the column.
There is a myth that you go to Egypt today and see the ‘unchanged’ scenes from antiquity in the countryside and driving through the villages of Upper Egypt can seem like that. However, Belzoni’s name along with those of other European travellers dotting the monuments give the lie to this ‘unchanging myth’ and are a reminder of the politics that always surrounds ancient heritage.
On our last day I had a sherry in colonial mansion that is the Winter Palace Hotel; a place that seemed incongruously older than the ancient sites, even down to the picture of Tony and Cherie Blair on the wall of the corridor outside the bar.
It was an exciting time to be in Egypt. In the last few days we were there, elections were taking place in the
provinces. Many of the candidates for Qena, the capital city of the province Luxor belongs to, were staying in our hotel which made for chaotic scenes with TV crews and taxis when we left for Dendera early on 3 January.
There were election posters everywhere. It was a completely different situation and feel to the atmosphere when I visited Egypt in 2008 where restaurants and roadsides had countless pictures of the former President Hosni Mubarak. The political graffitiand stencils were particularly moving. Stencils of ‘Egyptian martyrs’ who died in the cause of freedom dotted the streets of Luxor. From Khaled Said, who died at the hands of the
security forces in 2010 and was one of the first martyrs of the revolution, to this one of Mina Daniel, a young Copt who died when the military opened fire on a protest in October 2011; these images kept the continuing struggle for the election and free speech in public view.
I came home to Britain reflecting on the connections and differences between our own protests and riots over the past year and those that happened and are continuing in Egypt, and felt humbled.
There will be a screening of a documentary about how a cross section of Egyptian people in Upper Egypt were affected by the revolution, followed by a discussion on Wednesday 25 January in the Petrie Museum.