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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.

Curating the Petrie Museum: Three Object Stories

Anna EGarnett26 July 2017

I’ve just come to the end of my first month as Curator of the Petrie Museum. While my feet are getting closer to the ground with every day that passes, I am truly struck by this incredible collection every time I walk into the galleries and I’m sure this will continue to be the case for a long time to come!

For my first blog post as Curator, I wanted to present my ‘favourite object’ from the Petrie Museum collection. However, it’s such a challenge to pinpoint only one object so I’ve chosen three! Each of these objects looks somewhat unassuming amongst the vast collection, but have their own unique stories to tell about how ancient Egyptians and Sudanese people made, used and re-used objects.

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Not So Lost Cities

Debbie JChallis31 May 2011

Statellite Map of Tanis

The use of ‘space archaeology’, a pioneering approach using satellite technology and infra-red surveying, in finding previously undiscovered monuments and towns from the ancient past in Egypt was illustrated on BBC1 last night (Egypt’s Lost Cities, BBC1, 30 May 2011). And very exciting it all was too as the group dashed from site to site, came up against problems with permits to dig, then got support from the supreme authority, dashed around some more sites, got other archaeologists to dig for them (with varying results) and then were embroiled in a democratic revolution.
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