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Revealing the Characters behind the Petrie Museum Collection

Anna E Garnett28 September 2020

During Spring/Summer 2020, when UCL was closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, UCL Culture’s curatorial team worked with students from the Institute of Archaeology’s MA Museum Studies on our first-ever virtual work placements. These projects, which included archive transcription, documentation and object label writing, provided opportunities for the students to gain practical curatorial skills to prepare them for their future careers while undertaking valuable work towards better understanding the collections.

This blog post was written by Giulia Marinos and Alexandra BakerUCL MA Museum Studies students. 

Margaret Murray when she received her honorary doctorate from UCL in 1927 (Petrie Museum Archive)

The Petrie Museum is named after the Egyptologist Flinders Petrie, but there are many other individuals whose work was also integral to the development of the Museum and its collection. As part of our summer placement project, we have designed object trails for each of these little-known ‘characters’, telling the story of their lives and work through objects that can be found in the Petrie. This project complements the recently redeveloped entrance gallery of the Petrie Museum that highlights several individuals that were involved in the collection and preservation of the museum.

Margaret Murray

 One of our object trails explores the fascinating life and work of the archaeologist, Egyptologist, feminist and centenarian Margaret Murray (1863–1963). One of Petrie’s first Egyptology students, Murray soon played a vital role in the development and running of UCL’s Department of Egyptology. Importantly, Murray took over Petrie’s teaching duties when he was away on excavation (which was for most of the year!). It is Murray who we should thank for training subsequent generations of successful UCL Egyptologists and archaeologists, including Gertrude Caton-Thompson, Veronica Seton-Williams and Robert Faulkner. Murray’s object trail sheds light on her important work, which has often been overshadowed by that of Petrie.

Ali Suefi

Ali Suefi (Petrie Museum Archive)

Another trail focuses on Ali Suefi, an Egyptian fisherman from Lahun who oversaw excavations in Egypt for over 30 years, and who Petrie called his ‘best lad’. The trail includes some of the objects that Ali Suefi is credited to have found. We are lucky to know as much as we do about Ali Suefi from the details documented in the Petrie Museum’s archives, but it is important to consider how many other people were involved and contributed to Petrie’s success and fame that do not get any recognition. This is due in part to the skewed biases of archives: what gets preserved and what is deemed important to record at the time. It is also likely due in part to the unequal power dynamics and systematic disenfranchisement of Egyptians in the fields of archaeology and Egyptology.

 Our research project—to recognize the many diverse voices and individuals involved in the Petrie Museum collection—reflects wider efforts within the fields of archaeology and Egyptology. Such disciplines historically focused on ‘heroic’ white-male figures at the exclusion and expense of the agencies of the many actors involved in the processes of excavation, collecting and museum work.

To learn more about the often-under-recognised individuals in the fields of Egyptology and Archaeology, we recommend Wendy Doyon’s 2017 chapter “The History of Archaeology through the Eyes of the Egyptians” and Alice Stevenson’s Scattered Finds, available as a free download from UCL Press.

Giulia Marinos and Alexandra Baker are MA Museum Studies students at UCL’s Institute of Archaeology. Their summer placement was designed and supported by Dr. Anna Garnett, Curator of the Petrie Museum of Egyptian and Sudanese Archaeology.

Improving object descriptions in UCL’s Object-Based Learning Lab

Anna E Garnett28 September 2020

During Spring/Summer 2020, when UCL was closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, UCL Culture’s curatorial team worked with students from the Institute of Archaeology’s MA Museum Studies on our first-ever virtual work placements. These projects, which included archive transcription, documentation and object label writing, provided opportunities for the students to gain practical curatorial skills to prepare them for their future careers while undertaking valuable work towards better understanding the collections.

This blog post was written by Yanning Zhao and Giulia MarinosUCL MA Museum Studies students. 

UCL’s new Object-Based Learning Lab, located in the Wilkins Building, is a purpose-built space to support and promote object-based teaching in the university. A large permanent exhibition of hundreds of objects from UCL’s collections is now on display in the OBL lab, and many of these objects were in need of updated and improved object descriptions for our museum database and online catalogue. Here, Yanning Zhao and Giulia Marinos describe their work to update some of these object records for objects from the Petrie Museum collection.

What did you do for this project?

Yanning: We divided all the Petrie Museum objects in the OBL displays into two groups, so that we could each focus on updating half of the objects on display. The objects I researched were mainly comprised of Egyptian figurines, vessels and even fragments from statues. As most of the current descriptions for these objects are too short for readers to fully understand them, our responsibility was to review them and highlight key aspects about the objects concisely.

Giulia: In addition to revising the labels to make them more descriptive and accessible to a wider range of readers, we also researched the objects and looked for similar objects in other museum collections.

Did this project present any challenges?

Red breccia lion (UC15199)

Yanning: The biggest challenge for me was to describe the objects in an academic and concise style! I did not have much experience researching Egyptian artefacts, so I had to start from zero to learn how to write proper descriptions. Thankfully, Anna Garnett (Petrie Museum Curator) provided a lot of learning resources, but I still found it challenging to try to identify the features of the objects. We worked on this project remotely, so this might be because we were not able to access the objects to see them more closely in person.

Giulia: Initially, I did not expect it to be challenging to write visually descriptive labels for objects; however, I was surprised by how difficult it was to articulately and accurately describe some objects. This could be due to the complex nature of the objects, the limited views available from the online catalogue or my lack of familiarity with the objects. Although there is so much information available digitally about the objects and the Petrie Museum collection in general, there are limitations to strictly digital or online engagement. Perhaps that also shows how I miss seeing and interacting with collections in person!

Wooden boat model (UC75621)

Tell us some fun facts or interesting findings from the project!

Yanning: I would like to highlight this red breccia rock in the shape of a lion (UC15199, image above). Its current description does not clearly state whether it is a gaming piece or not, but by comparing it with other similar collections from other institutions, it is likely to be gaming piece for senet, a popular ancient Egyptian board game.

Giulia: I was impressed to learn how far and wide ancient Egyptian objects have been dispersed across collections around the world! In my research, I found how similar object types such as Predynastic pottery or wooden boat models can be spread over so many different institutions – from California to Italy for example (if you are interested to learn more on this, I recommend Alice Stevenson’s Scattered Finds, available as a free download from UCL Press).

Yanning Zhao and Giulia Marinos are MA Museum Studies students at UCL’s Institute of Archaeology. Their summer placement was designed and supported by Dr. Anna Garnett, Curator of the Petrie Museum of Egyptian and Sudanese Archaeology.

Stories from the Visitor Book: Petrie Museum Visitors in the mid-Twentieth Century

Anna E Garnett28 September 2020

During Spring/Summer 2020, when UCL was closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, UCL Culture’s curatorial team worked with students from the Institute of Archaeology’s MA Museum Studies on our first-ever virtual work placements. These projects, which included archive transcription, documentation and object label writing, provided opportunities for the students to gain practical curatorial skills to prepare them for their future careers while undertaking valuable work towards better understanding the collections.

This blog post was written by Alexandra Baker and Yanning ZhaoUCL MA Museum Studies students. 

Petrie Museum Visitor Book

When thinking about the Petrie Museum, the first thing that might come to mind is its vast collection: from ancient Egyptian artefacts to Flinders Petrie’s own personal belongings. As visitors, we can always discover interesting facts about those objects. However, did you know that museum visitor books also tell a story about the past? They are more than simply a list of names and addresses.

During summer 2020, our team transcribed 82 pages from the Museum’s visitor book and made fascinating findings about museum visitors between 1937 and 1959.

Three fun facts about our visitors:

Made by Visme

  1. We had more international visitors than you might think!

You might think the Petrie Museum attracts more UCL staff and students than people from other parts of the world, but our findings show that international scholars regularly visited the museum in the last century (the orange sections on the map indicate where visitors came from). Many historical events happened between the 1930s and 1950s, but that did not stop people from all over the world visiting the museum. These international visitors travelled to London from Spain, France, and from even further afield including Chile and Japan.

  1. Most international visitors were from the United States

It seems that the majority of international visitors were from the US. Most of them recorded the cities and regions they came from, including New York, Phoenix and Boston.

  1. English is not the only language used by visitors

We have faced some challenges to translate the language that some visitors use into English. For example, one Japanese scholar used Japanese to record the name of his university. Another visitor from Berlin, surprisingly, used hieroglyphs to record their name as ‘Neferneferuaten Nefertiti’!

Famous Egyptologists also visited the Petrie Museum:

L to R: Hilda Petrie (Petrie Museum Archive); Olga Tufnell (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olga_Tufnell); 
Sidney Smith (https://www.cambridge.org)

The visitor book also shows us that big names in Egyptology visited the Petrie Museum during this time, highlighting how the collection was, and still is, an important resource for the study of Egyptian Archaeology. Our famous visitors included:

A. F. Shore (Who was Who in Egyptology 5, p. 451)

  1. Hilda Petrie: Egyptologist and archaeologist
  2. Olga Tufnell: Archaeologist who worked on the excavation of the ancient city of Lachish in the 1930s
  3. Sidney Smith: Assyriologist who worked at the Iraq Museum, British Museum, UCL and King’s College London
  4. A. F. Shore: Scholar and Brunner Professor of Egyptology at the University of Liverpool

Many of our visitors were students!

The Petrie Museum’s visitor book also shows us how popular the museum was amongst students from UCL and beyond. Students visited the Museum from a range of disciplines, from archaeology to physics, and interestingly art students often visited it. Working closely with students and scholars from around the world is an important part of the museum’s work that continues today.

Alexandra Baker and Yanning Zhao are MA Museum Studies students at UCL’s Institute of Archaeology. Their summer placement was designed and supported by Dr. Anna Garnett, Curator of the Petrie Museum of Egyptian and Sudanese Archaeology.

 

Teaching in the Grant Museum

Tannis Davidson15 October 2018

Grant Museum of Zoology, UCL

Grant Museum of Zoology, UCL

At UCL, Term 1 is now fully underway – ID cards have been issued, classrooms have been located and routines have been established. Object-based teaching has also begun at the Grant Museum where students from UCL and throughout the London area will have the opportunity to use museum specimens in their practicals.

During a typical academic year, around 2500 university students use the Grant Museum collection as part of their formal coursework on a wide range of courses including zoology, palaeontology, the history of art, geography, museum studies, communication and even dance. The Museum and its collection is also used by students for project work and postgraduate research or as a testing ground for museum engagement, new technologies and visitor research.

The Grant Museum invites use of its collection for teaching to any faculty at UCL. We’re pretty good at what we do (if we do say so ourselves), because we’ve had 190 years of practice… (more…)

Ordinary Animals in the Classroom

Tannis Davidson6 December 2017

The Grant Museum’s current exhibition – The Museum of Ordinary Animals: The Boring Beasts that Changed the World ­­- explores the mundane creatures in our everyday lives. Here on the blog, we will be delving into some of the stories featured in the exhibition with the UCL researchers who helped put it together.

Guest post by Dr Brendan Clarke (UCL Science and Technology Studies)

Some biological principles are hard to understand from words and images alone, because life exists in three dimensions. This is where museum specimens come in.

However, some features are too small to observe in real life. Alongside microscope slides, wax models of enlarged embryos were widely used to teach biology between 1850 and about 1950. Most of the wax models in the Grant Museum collection represent exotic material – hard to obtain or to handle – like this series of human embryos produced by the Ziegler studio in Germany c1880:

LDUCZ-Z430 Ziegler Studio wax model series showing the development of the external form of human embryos

LDUCZ-Z430 Ziegler Studio wax model series showing the development of the external form of human embryos

(more…)

Dead to me!

Pia K Edqvist12 July 2016

Human remains at the Petrie Museum. It’s time to come out of storage!
Death is part of life, and for me, death is very much a part of work since I am currently rehousing the human remains at the museum. In February, I attended a seminar at the Institute of Archaeology (IoA), PASSING ENCOUNTERS: The dead body and the public realm, the purpose of this was to stimulate discussion about death in an open and frank manner. I joined to learn more about how human remains are portrayed in social media and to gather people’s opinions on death. But, I learned much more than that; how a body decays, what different stages of decay smells like (See Fig.1.), and how death and the body have been portrayed throughout history

Image showing presentation slide, do’s and don’ts when ‘smelling death’

Image showing presentation slide, do’s and don’ts when ‘smelling death’

. (more…)

Specimen of Week 214: Fossil Vertebrae

Tannis Davidson16 November 2015

LDUCZ-X1111 Dimetrodon vertebrae

LDUCZ-X1111 Dimetrodon sp.vertebrae

In the spotlight this week is a specimen that is currently experiencing it’s ‘busy season’. The Grant Museum collection is widely used in teaching at UCL and the Museum is home to many specimen-based practicals. For example, during term 1 in 2014, there were 34 practicals using over 600 specimens by 1400 students.

Amidst this flurry of activity, certain specimens catch the eye. Is it that they are finally freed from the safe-keeping of their fossil drawers and have their moment to shine? Could it be that they are used over and over and over again to illustrate a turning point in evolution so critical that repeat viewings are essential? Or is it that the specimen is quite simply, an attractive object in itself, perhaps a worthy contestant in a specimen beauty contest?

This week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)

Crimes against curators

Rachael Sparks13 February 2012

It’s a Monday, which is always a tough day, as the emails have had all weekend to pile up and all the things you didn’t manage to do last week now need to be done even more urgently this week. So maybe this is a good day to share some of my personal candidates for a museums’ version of Room 101. (more…)

Listening to what objects say

Rachael Sparks31 October 2011

The university term is now in full swing and lecturers are starting to prowl around the Institute of Archaeology Collections looking for a few nice objects to keep their students awake once winter sets in. So it’s been a busy couple of weeks down in the artefact store, getting material ready for handling classes.

Cuneiform tabletsI like to teach with objects. No, let me correct that – I absolutely love it. Even the most hardened student shows a spark of interest when faced with some small but significant piece of the past. That’s ancient dirt, right there. The ghost of another era. You know you want to touch it, go on, have a go …

So here’s some of the object handling classes that have been going on behind closed doors of late: (more…)