The ever popular and ever sold out (although some tickets left for the 13th December screening) Petrie Film club chronicles the application of Egypt in just some of the many cinematic and TV masterpieces that have turned to pyramids, mummies and anthropomorphic deities for their stimuli. Moving pictures are all very well, but I am a bookish type and prefer the idea of lounging by a fire with some sort of paged item, reading away. Terry Pratchett’s Pyramids certainly struck a chord with me, considering it in relation to the Petrie Collection and the concept of Ancient Egyptian religion and the changes it underwent.
Behind each dig and archaeological display is a dilemma. Just how do we translate a distant and unattainable past into a recognizable product for present consumption? When somebody sees an object, their first reaction is usually ‘what is it, and what is it for?’ It’s our job to try and answer those kinds of questions.
Giving something a name is easy enough; its the second part that provides the challenge. To be perfectly honest, we don’t really know why figurines of fat naked women were all the rage in prehistoric Europe. Is there any real reason to argue for their use as ancient fertility symbols over pornographic aides, other than the desire to seem professional rather than voyeuristic?
Museum storerooms are by their very nature elusive creatures; the demands of finding space for the sixty-plus thousand objects in the Institute of Archaeology collections means that objects often lie cheek to jowl with one another fighting for both room and attention. For the curator, exploring a busy storeroom means that every now and again you will encounter the unfamiliar, the exciting, and sometimes the downright bizarre. Like this recently rediscovered object, known officially as 46.10/22.
I first met 46.10/22 in an overcrowded drawer, mixed in with pottery from former excavations at the site of Jericho, from the modern-day Palestinian Autonomous Authority. Jericho itself is the stuff of legend – notorious for its trumpet-sensitive walls in the Book of Joshua (Joshua 5 – 6), from which account we derive the desire to ‘wish someone to Jericho’. But it has taken on other resonances in modern culture: as a tourist destination, the theme of a song by legendary 70s band Stray, or reinvented for television as a spy thriller and now an American town at the centre of a post-apocalyptic drama. Its also been the home of a few archaeological ‘discussions’, including a rather entertaining debate in 1990 between Manchester Museum’s Piotr Bienkowski and biblical archaeologist Bryant G. Wood (“Jericho was Destroyed in the Middle Bronze Age, not the Late Bronze Age”, Biblical Archaeology Review 16.5, 45-6, and “Dating Jericho’s Destruction: Bienkowski is Wrong on all Counts”, Biblical Archaeology Review 16.5, 45-9). (more…)