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UCL Culture Blog


News and musings from the UCL Culture team


Petrie Pottery Project Guest Blog: Reinventing the (Potter’s) Wheel

By Alice Stevenson, on 10 June 2014

Guest blog by Sarah Doherty

In the seventh in our series of thoughts about the Petrie pottery collction, Dr. Sarah K. Doherty, Ceramicist & Archaeologist for the Gurob Harem Palace Project, Fayoum and Gebel el Silsila Epigraphic Project, near Kom Ombo, Egypt, discusses some dinky little pots dating to the time of the earliest true Egyptian pyramids.

After you step through the doorway from the UCL’s Science Library into the Petrie Museum you would be forgiven for missing the little pots that I am going to tell you about in this blog. However, bear with me, pots UC17625, 17630, 17632, and 17631 in pottery case P16 may not look like much, but they hold the secret for a new technological revolution that was going on during Egypt’s Old Kingdom (c.2600 B.C.). Each of these miniature vessels is made of Nile Silt, they date to the 4th dynasty (2600-2450 B.C.) and come from the Old Kingdom pyramid site of Meydum (c. 100km south of Cairo). In fact, some of these vessels were part of the foundation deposit of the pyramid temple of Sneferu at Meydum; others are from similar deposits in the mastabas of his courtiers.

Left to right: UC17630, UC17625, UC17631. Photos: S. Doherty © Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology

Left to right: UC17630, UC17625, UC17631. Photos: S. Doherty © Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology


Pottery Project Guest Blog: Trade in Opium from Cyprus to Egypt

By Alice Stevenson, on 30 May 2014

Guest Blog by Valentina Gasperini

In our sixth in the series of different perspectives on Egyptian potteryValentina Gasperini, a post-doctoral reseracher at the Department of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology University of Liverpool, looks at a Cypriote pottery vessel found in Egypt.

As a ceramicist interested in trade and exchange, particularly at the site of Gurob (located at the entrance to the Fayum region), I would like to present a Cypriot juglet found there during Dynasty 18 (c. 1550–1292 BC) and currently located in the Petrie Museum. This vessel can be studied from a variety of viewpoints and it provides important clues about chronology, social needs and changes in fashion.

UC13441 was found at Gurob, most probably during the Brunton and Engelbach archaeological campaign of 1920. When dealing with these early excavations the job of a ceramicist often becomes like that of a detective. By cross-examining the excavation reports and a series of clues, I have been able to trace the original context of discovery of this item: Gurob tomb 603.

A well-travelled pottery vessel currently in the Petrie Museum, London, excavated in Egypt, but made in Cyprus more than 3000 years ago.

A well-travelled pottery vessel currently in the Petrie Museum, London, excavated in Egypt, but made in Cyprus more than 3000 years ago.


Pottery Project Guest Blog: Ceramic Inheritance

By Alice Stevenson, on 6 April 2014

Guest Blog by Sisse Lee Jørgenser.

In our fourth in the series on different perspectives on Egyptian pottery Sisse Lee Jørgensen, a student studying ceramics at The Danish Royal Academy of Fine Arts, School of Design Bornholm, Denmark, reveals how Petrie’s Sequence Dating inspired her recent installation.

I was introduced to Petrie’s pots for the first time by the BBC4 program: “The Man Who Discovered Egypt”,  and it was through this documentary that I learnt about sequence dating.
As a craftsperson today I found this  chronological ordering of ceramic vessels especially interesting, particularly the very striking development of form and design over time. Petrie’s findings illuminated crafting, culture and history, not just in the past but also  prompted me to reflect upon ceramic traditions today and the way in which old crafts are transformed and passed on, yet retain elements of the old ways.

Flinders Petrie's classification of pottery. Frontispiece of Diospolis Parva (1901). Courtesy of the Egypt Exploration Society.

Flinders Petrie’s classification of Predynastic pottery. Frontispiece of Diospolis Parva (1901). Courtesy of the Egypt Exploration Society.


Pottery Project Guest Blog: The Enigmatic Fish Dishes of the Petrie Museum

By Alice Stevenson, on 21 March 2014

Guest blog by Mary Ownby  and Bettina Bader

In the third in our series of different perspectives on Egyptian pottery Mary Ownby, Petrographic Researcher at Desert Archaeology Inc,  and Bettina Bader, Institut für Ägyptologie der Universität Wien, investigate the purpose of vessels that Egyptologists find puzzling.

Analysis of Egyptian pottery provides great insight into how the Egyptians worked, ate, carried out religious activities, and related to the larger social and economic system. For most vessels, their shape can inform on their use, i.e. a jar is probably for storage, a large pot with a narrow opening for cooking, and bowls and plates for serving food. The location where ancient pottery has been found can also inform on how it was used, for example in an oven, or as ritual implements in the burial. In Egypt, depictions on tomb and temple walls as well as some texts also tell us about the variety of purposes ceramic vessels were used for. Thus, most ancient Egyptian pottery has a fairly clear use in the past.

Pots being put to good use. Bread making scene from the Old Kingdom Tomb of Ti at Saqqara.


















A Piece of a Giant Jigsaw: a newly re-discovered pot from Naqada

By Alice Stevenson, on 11 March 2014

A garage in Cornwall, UK, seems an unlikely place for a piece of prehistoric Egyptian culture to turn up. But a few months ago it did.

I was recently contacted by a couple, Guy Funnell and Amanda Hawkins, who had just watched the BBC documentary The Man Who Discovered Egypt which profiled the career of Flinders Petrie. The name rang a bell and reminded them of a little broken pot they had tucked away in storage. Associated with it was a yellow, curling label bearing the title ‘Libyan Pottery’


Message in a bottle: label found with a Predynastic pot in Cornwall. A clue!


Pottery Project Guest Blog: Pondering Petrie’s Broken Pots

By Alice Stevenson, on 7 March 2014

Guest Blog by Grazia di Pietro

In the second in our series of different perspectives on Egyptian pottery Dr Grazia di Pietro, UCL Marie Curie Research Fellow, looks at what we can learn from incomplete fragments of prehistoric pottery.

For museum curators finding room in a gallery for exhibiting nice whole pots can be as challenging as trying to answer questions like: What was their function, context of use, symbolic meaning?. Answering these questions is also one of the objectives of pottery specialists researching in field projects or in ceramic analysis laboratories. However – needless to say – the pottery they have to deal with is often very different from what can be observed in a museum case.

Let’s go back for a moment to the initial issue: finding space for our pots! Well, they would occupy less room if broken in small pieces and (obviously) even less space if some of these potsherds were discarded or piled in a corner, irrespective of their previous location and sorting… We would eventually have created something similar to that which archaeologists frequently face in an excavation: tons of broken vessels (but still with great informative potential!).

Pottery piece: Rim sherd with red polished surface and white painted decoration (Petrie’s "Cross-Lined ware" C-Ware)

Pottery piece: Rim sherd with red polished surface and white painted decoration (Petrie’s “Cross-Lined ware” C-Ware)


Pottery Project Guest Blog: Biography of an Egyptian Pilgrim Flask

By Alice Stevenson, on 28 February 2014

Guest Blog by Loretta Kilroe

In the first of our series of different perspectives on Egyptian pottery, graduate student Loretta Kilroe looks at pots she is hoping to devote 3 years of doctoral study to.

I’m currently researching pilgrim flasks – vessels with a lentoid body, narrow neck, and two handles for suspension. These striking pots first appear in New Kingdom Egypt (c.1550–1069BC). They were originally traded from the Levant, but soon enthusiastically adopted into the traditional repertoire and made by Egyptian potters themselves. One beautifully-preserved flask in the Petrie Museum particularly caught my eye, UC66492.

Ancient Egyptian pilgrim flask

A object of intrigue: an ancient Egyptian pilgrim flask


Pondering Petrie’s Pots

By Alice Stevenson, on 4 February 2014

When you think about ancient Egypt what comes to mind? Plenty of things beginning with the letter ‘P’ no doubt: Pyramids! Pharaohs! Papyrus! Maybe even Petrie. But Pottery?…

Grumpy pots in the Petrie

Grumpy po[u]ts in the Petrie


Festival of Pots

By Edmund Connolly, on 24 January 2014

by guest blogger: Helen Pike

 The Festival of Pots has kicked off with some Ace pots being made by a year 6 school group from Chris Hatton based in Camden –

These and many other examples of work by a range of community based groups attached to Holborn Community Association have been produced in the last few weeks as part of a 6 month Festival of Pots here at The Petrie.

One of our school-made pots

One of our school-made pots

Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie an English Egyptologist and a pioneer of systematic methodology in archaeology and preservation of artefacts is a character in history who himself needs excavating.