Shortly after blogging my response to the ‘legends’ around the head of archaeologist Flinders Petrie, artist Michal BarOr has used these legends, the head itself and Petrie’s ideas about measuring heads , skulls and faces for race ategorising in a work for the display New Sensations. New Sensations is part of Frieze Art Week and on display in Victoria House on Bloomsbury Square until tomorrow. (more…)
In a recent article for the journal Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, Sara Perry and I explored the myths around the fact that the head of archaeologist William Matthew Flinders Petrie (1853-1942) is a specimen in the collections of the Royal College of Surgeons. We tried to understand the context in which Petrie donated his head to science – his eugenic ideas, his focus on the face, his pedagogical collecting and curation practices – and along the way confronted many of the legends that have grown up around Petrie’s head. One of the most famous, that Hilda Petrie brought back her husband’s head in a hat box from Jerusalem after World War Two, was repeated in the recent BBC4 television documentary The Man Who Discovered Egypt. In fact, letters in the Petrie Museum archive illustrate that that ‘romantic’ legend is just not true (romantic arguably as it has some parallels with wives such as Mary Shelley retaining their loved one’s body parts).
Second only to the legends about how it got to England are the stories about who has seen Petrie’s head, many of which are true, some of which we chronicled in the article. Petrie’s head became a talking point for archaeologists in ‘the know’ until the publication of Margaret Drower’s 1985 biography which explicitly states where Petrie’s head is. I have not seen Petrie’s head and have no desire to do so while it is locked away in its current state (fully fleshed) in a cupboard. Personally I feel that to gain access just for the sake of seeing the head and saying that I have seen it would be merely titillating and serve no real educational or research purpose for myself or anyone else. (more…)
Written by Alice Stevenson
Flinders Petrie was good with numbers. He liked nothing better than to measure, calculate and plan. These were the skills that allowed Petrie in 1899 to create the first detailed timeline for the period just before the First Dynasty of Egypt.
He did this by comparing assemblages of hundreds of Predynastic pottery vessels unearthed by his teams in prehistoric cemeteries of Upper Egypt. Many of these beautiful pots are on display in the Petrie Museum. The Petrie Museum also holds in its archives his Sequence Dating slips, each of which records the different types of pottery that were found in individual tombs. (more…)
Flinders Petrie began his autobiography by warning that “The affairs of a private person are seldom pertinent to the interests of others” . Fortunately for both us and his publisher this proved no impediment, and Petrie went on to write about himself, his thoughts and his life’s work at great length.
Petrie was a prolific writer, both in the public and private arena, and we are not short of material to help us learn about his life. But not everything he wrote was wordy. I’d like to introduce you today to a more unexpected side of his penmanship: his personal appointment diaries. (more…)
I’m quite partial to memorabilia, and I have a passionate interest in the life and work of Flinders Petrie, not just because he’s a an impressively beardy archaeologist and legend, but also because for some years now I’ve been responsible for looking after his collection of Palestinian antiquities at the UCL Institute of Archaeology Collections. So I was quite chuffed when I did a search on Ebay a few years ago, and came across this inspiring item. (more…)
guest blogger: Monika Zgoda
Although undoubtedly the most famous and well known wonders of the Ancient Egypt are the pyramids, the immaculate engineering skills of this incredible civilization translated into smaller, in no way less impressive, objects of everyday life. Petrie was fascinated by the lives of the ordinary people collected objects of daily use, creating bridges between the Ancient Egypt and the Western civilizations of the 19th and the 20th centuries. It seems that when it comes to the mantra of ‘working hard, playing hard’ the ancient Egyptians were not too dissimilar to us (no matter what age), and long before every little girl’s best friend was Barbie, the Egyptians amused their daughters with a more demure precursor of the long legged blond bombshell.
Tunnelling into museums (not literally!)
When it comes to job hunting I am intensely jealous of people like Flinders Petrie, who was pretty much handed the Chair of Egyptian Archaeology at the bequest of Amelia Edwards in 1892 . Whilst some of this does still happen in the Museum world, indeed any employment pool, it can be as difficult finding a vacancy in a museum at it is finding an andron in a Greek house.
There are some useful website for sourcing heritage and museum jobs. Naturally one can go direct to an institution (such as the BM or Tate), but bear in mind museums that are part of institutions, eg. the Petrie, employ via the same HR routes as their host (UCL). In other words, if one wants to apply for a job at the Petrie, the application will be on the UCL job website. However, for in-house volunteering schemes (as blogged in #2) you generally apply directly to the museum as they are more bespoke.
There are some websites which collate museum jobs in general, the standard Guardian Jobs is very useful as there is a ‘Arts and heritage’ group within which there is a ‘Museums’ sectioning. Slightly annoyingly though, this is separate from the Heritage and Library posts which are often also of interest, just make sure you tick both when searching.
Collection Correspondent: Monika Zgoda
Please note this post contains images of human remains.
The allure of the Ancient Egypt, scented with the air of mystery has been enchanting generations, and while more and more of its secrets are now being discovered, it seems some of its riddles are still waiting to be solved. One of such is right here at Petrie, and although sadly it is not the Sphinx (we wish!), its beauty and whimsical charm are of equal quality.
While the use of make up and cosmetics in the Ancient Egypt has been widely covered, and we are now familiar with the various aspects of it – from the religious and spiritual connotations to its more practical uses – there is still some mystery regarding the cosmetic equipment used.
Guest blogger: Kholood Al-Fahad
How can Ancient art be brought to life by contemporary art? Is there a connection between ancient and new?
Tomb Raiders is the place were such questions should have an answer.
Guest Blogger: Chris Webb
The 18th April saw another fascinating event in the Petrie Museum’s popular timekeeper series, hosted by our own timekeeper in residence, Cathy Haynes. We were asked; how easy do you find it to remember the details and order of past events? Many people through history have pondered on this… Indeed, when Mark Twain wanted to teach his children history he invented a new kind of 3-D timeline by plotting out historical events in his garden and walking them through it, oddly, this was based on the monarchs of England!