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  • Object of the Week 365: A Model Boat

    By Anna E Garnett, on 2 November 2018

    Over the last year, Olivia Foster (MA student in the Institute of Archaeology, UCL) worked as a valued member of the Petrie Museum team as collections volunteer. During this time, Olivia has undertaken a range of work on collections care, documentation and object loans, and in this blog she discusses one of her favourite objects in the Petrie Museum collection.

    This small and unassuming model boat in the Petrie Museum collection (UC10805) was recovered from a tomb in Abadiyeh during Flinders Petrie’s excavations in the late 1890s. The decorated pottery object has been dated to the Naqada I period and the original function of the item is unclear.

    UC10805

    Objects such as this are important when it comes to understanding Predynastic Egypt, as they represent technology that has not survived in the archaeological record. Despite the important economic and symbolic role that boats are thought to have played in the Predynastic, no complete vessels have been found and archaeologists must instead rely on the art of the period to learn about their construction, size and function. This object and others like it also played a pivotal role in the heated debates between Petrie and his contemporaries as they discussed what exactly was being depicted in the decorated pottery of the era.

    The model is striking in its similarity to the shape of modern-day boats and the simple painted line decorations may hold clues as to how the boat was constructed. The narrow vertical lines on the sides of the object may be interpreted as lashing, with bundles of reeds or perhaps even wood forming longitudinal ribs to form a small canoe-type vessel. In addition to functional canoe vessels which may have been used for fishing or transport along the Nile, large watercraft with rows of oars are believed to have played an important symbolic and religious role in Predynastic Egypt.

    Vessel decorated with a boat motif (British Museum EA30920)

    Boats are a common motif on decorated pottery, however these illustrations are abstract in nature and in the 1890s there was some dispute over what exactly they represented. It was Flinders Petrie who first interpreted the decoration on Predynastic Egyptian ceramics as a ‘galley’ in the mid-1890s, Cecil Torr however proposed that the illustrations represented enclosures with two towers at the entrance. Model boats such as this example were used to dismiss these claims, as Petrie remained absolute in his interpretation of the motif as a boat and his assertion that vessels played an important symbolic role in early Egypt.

    The exact purpose of the model boat remains unclear and it may have had a decorative, functional or symbolic purpose or perhaps may even have been a child’s toy. The model boat clearly depicts a very different type of vessel from those commonly depicted and associated with Predynastic Egypt and offers a unique insight into more functional boats used by ancient people.

    Olivia was an MA student in the Institute of Archaeology, UCL from 2017-2018

    Further Reading

    Petrie, W. M. F. 1920. Prehistoric Egypt. London: Bernard Quaritch.

    Petrie, W. M. F. Corpus of Prehistoric Pottery and Palettes. pl. XXXVII, D 81D. London: Bernard Quaritch.

    Uildrinks, M. 2018. Building a Predynastic: The Construction of Predynastic Galleys. Journal of Ancient Egyptian Interconnections. Vol. 17. Pp. 156-172.

     

    Object of the Week 357: A Sudanese Tulip in Bloomsbury

    By Anna E Garnett, on 7 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…)

    A new look for Papyrus and Shabtis at the Petrie Museum

    By Anna E Garnett, on 23 May 2018

    If you come down to the Petrie Museum, you will see some new changes in the exhibition space. In April 2018, we formally opened three new display cases in the Pottery Gallery as part of our successful Arts Council England-funded Papyrus for the People project, which has recently ended. These modern cases look somewhat different to the antique wooden cases which you are used to seeing at the Petrie Museum, but importantly they are conservation-grade and offer the opportunity to safely display a range of objects including examples from our world-class papyrus collection.

    Of the three new showcases, two are to display different themes which have emerged from new translations of our written material by language specialists during the Papyrus Project. These displays will rotate every 6-8 months, partly so that we are able to offer fresh interpretations of the texts on a more regular basis, but also to preserve the fragile papyrus fragments from being exposed to too much light, as this can be damaging to the papyrus and the inscriptions.

    Case 1: Working Women in Ancient Egypt 

    (more…)

    Getting the ‘Researcher Experience’ at the Petrie Museum

    By Anna E Garnett, on 21 May 2018

    Over the last six months, the Petrie Museum has hosted Amanda Ford Spora, an MA Student in Egyptian Archaeology from the Institute of Archaeology, UCL, who has been using the collection for her Masters’ research. In this guest blog, Amanda discusses her project and some of the outcomes so far.

    Archaeologists and museum professionals develop a depth of experience working with objects, right from the trowel edge to the handling desk. It is this experience that is being explored with visitors at the Petrie Museum. One Saturday and two Wednesdays a month, visitors including: families (7 years+), tourists, undergraduate students, ancient Egyptian enthusiasts and the odd archaeologist and professor or two, have the chance to experience a fifteen minute ‘object-based, research-style’ visit at the museum, complete with all the ‘trimmings’, such as gloves, lamp-light, trays, padding and object-supports, in a cordoned-off section of the pottery gallery. (more…)

    The Museum of Ordinary Animals opens at the Grant Museum

    By Jack Ashby, on 21 September 2017

    Throughout my career in museum zoology I have detected (and contributed to) a certain snobbery when it comes to some species of animal. It seems that as far as museum displays are concerned, not all animal specimens were created equally. Our new exhibition – opening today – seeks to address this.

    The Museum of Ordinary Animals tells the story of the boring beasts that have changed the world: the mundane creatures in our daily lives, including dogs, pigeons, cats, cows, chickens and mice. These animals are rarely represented in natural history museum displays. They are not special enough. Do we even need to go to a museum to see animals that we can find on our plates, on our laps and on our streets? People would rather see dinosaurs, dodos and giant whales.

    Domestic dog skulls. Humans’ first domestication was that of dogs from wolves. Today humans have forced the descendants of wolves to become the most anatomically variable of all species.

    Domestic dog skulls. LDUCZ-Z1046 and LDUCZ-Z1338b
    Humans’ first domestication was that of dogs from wolves. Today humans have forced the descendants of wolves to become the most anatomically variable of all species.

    Nevertheless, this exhibition puts these everyday species front and centre. It investigates some of the profound impacts they have had on humanity and the natural world, how they were created, and the extraordinary things we have learned from them. (more…)

    A Honey Pot for Springtime!

    By Susi Pancaldo, on 31 March 2016

    As a Conservator, I often think of how privileged I am to be able to handle and examine museum objects, up close and personal. Not all objects move me, but at the moment I am very pleased to be working on this one:

    UC65361, Ceramic bowl from the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, UCL. Height 7cm, diameter 10.5cm.

    UC65361, Ceramic bowl from the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, UCL. Height 7cm, diameter 10.5cm.

    (more…)

    Conservation of Public Art in the UCL Wilkins Building

    By Susi Pancaldo, on 11 March 2016

    Have you ever noticed – as you hurry off to class, the library or an event – that UCL’s campus is filled with works of art?

    The Wilkins Building, at the heart of the UCL Bloomsbury campus’ main quad, is particularly rich in sculpture. Outside the building, of course, are the iconic lead athletes on the steps below the dome.

    Lead statues of the Capitoline Antinous and the Discophorus, Wilkings Building

    Lead statues: Capitoline Antinous and Discophorus, Wilkins Building

    These figures have a fascinating history and I will write more about them another time.

    Inside the Wilkins Building, there is an abundance of works on permanent display too. Adjacent to the Jeremy Bentham auto-icon are two large, ancient Egyptian limestone lions in excavated by Sir Wm.M.F. Petrie. There are a number of 19th and early 20th century sculptures on either side of the Octagon Gallery; wall paintings in the Whistler Room (soon to be opened to the public); and upstairs, within the library, a myriad of sculpture in and around the 1st floor Flaxman Gallery. (more…)

    New Year, New Resolutions: Museum Conservation Conversations on the UCL PACE Museums and Collections Blog!

    By Susi Pancaldo, on 12 January 2016

    The PACE Conservation Laboratory on UCL’s Bloomsbury Campus serves the needs of UCL’s diverse collections. The objects we have examined and treated in 2015 have ranged from fragile inorganic and organic archaeological materials, small sculpture and other works of art, dry- and fluid-preserved zoological specimens, all manner of scientific teaching models, an array of mechanical and electrical scientific instruments, and much, much more!!

    UC40989 faience shabti, during treatment: Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology Museum; UCLAM10026 bronze medal of Prosper Sainton: UCL Art Museum; Z2978 mammoth tusk: Grant Museum of Zoology; Mathematical model: UCL Maths.

    Faience ‘shabti,’ during treatment: Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology (UC20989); Bronze medal: UCL Art Museum (10026); Mammoth tusk: Grant Museum of Zoology (Z2978); Mathematical model: UCL Maths.

    These objects have come to our Conservation Lab from UCL’s collections for a variety of reasons. Some need to be cleaned or repaired ahead of use in teaching, research, loan or display. Some present mysteries which close examination and scientific analysis may help unravel. Others have been selected for treatment as part of ongoing programmes to improve the condition of collections currently in storage.

    Each object has a story to tell, and with the start of this New Year, we have made a resolution to share the work we do with our blog audiences. (more…)

    Petrie Museum Ceramics – Conservation Needs Survey

    By Nicholas J Booth, on 10 December 2015

    This is a guest blog written by our Senior Conservator Susi Pancaldo. 

    The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology houses one of the largest and most important collections of Egyptian materials in the UK. About 12,000 of the 80,000 objects are made of ceramic and, of these, roughly 3,400 are on display in the Pottery Gallery!

    Pottery inspection at the Petrie Museum.

    Pottery inspection at the Petrie Museum.

    (more…)

    Glass Delusions opens today

    By Jack Ashby, on 1 October 2015

    Photogram #2 by Eleanor Morgan

    A photogram created by exposing photo-sensitive paper with the Grant Museum’s glass sponge specimens sat directly on it. (C) Eleanor Morgan

    Glass Delusions is a new exhibition at the Grant Museum featuring works by the Museum’s Artist in Residence, Eleanor Morgan. Using prints, drawings, videos and objects Eleanor explores the slippery boundary between living and non-living materials.

    Over the past year, Eleanor has been drawing inspiration from our collection of glass sponges. These are intricately formed deep-sea animals that naturally build themselves out of glass – the are 90% silica, which they draw out of the sand in their environment.

    (more…)