The blog post for this week is written by Jeanne Whitehurst, who has completed her Certificate of Egyptology from the University of Manchester. She moved to Egypt over ten years ago, just before the revolution. Initially, she lived in Luxor, overlooking Karnak Temple, but now she lives in Aswan overlooking the First Cataract. She was extremely fortunate to have worked with Ted Brock on the sarcophagus of Merenptah (KV 8) as a volunteer.
Liz Esser and I decided we would like to visit the Swansea Egypt Centre when I came to Britain because of the excellent courses with Dr Ken Griffin, particularly inspired by when he showed us objects from the museum. It whetted our appetites! I emailed him and he kindly invited us to visit the museum on Monday 30 May when it is closed to give us a personal tour. We had great expectations, but nothing lived up to the reality! Turning up at the museum mid-morning, we were warmly greeted by Ken. We started our tour upstairs in “The House of Life” before going downstairs to “The House of Death” (fig. 1). There are many interesting and varied objects, ranging from the miniature to the rare. We could write a whole chapter of a book about the artefacts we loved but we will just choose with difficulty a few!
|Fig. 1: The obligatory selfie in the museum!|
House of life
AB 15 This diminutive glass pendant from the Ptolemaic period is only 19 mm (just under ¾”), and was worn around the neck to ward off evil. The suspension ring is formed by a blue curl of hair above its ears. The eyes are large sunken blobs with chubby cheeks and a nose with a protruding thin chin. The more you look at it the more you find it fascinating and fun (fig. 2)!
|Fig. 1: Glass pendant|
W769 A headless wooden paddle doll, 205 mm long (approx. 8 inches). We loved the small frog on the reverse of the figure (fig. 3). We like to think this is from near Deir el-Bahari on the West Bank of Luxor in the latter part of the Eleventh Dynasty (there have been others found at Beni Hasan). Here, above the temple, we often sat contemplating and admiring the panoramic vista before us.
|Fig. 3: Paddle doll|
W957 The rare limestone offering table base belonging to the reprobate Paneb who lived at Deir el-Medina, the workmen’s village on the West Bank of Luxor in the Nineteenth Dynasty (fig. 4). The base itself is not unusual, with the text on the front dedicated to the King of the Gods, Amun, while on the reverse, Khnum, Satet, and Anuket, the First Cataract triad, who were particularly honoured by the workmen at Deir el-Medina, are mentioned. The names of his father and son are also on the front. The rarity is because it belonged to the chief workman Paneb, who seemed to have committed serious crimes that led him being removed from office and possibly sentenced. Who doesn’t like a rogue?
|Fig. 4: Offering stand|
W9 An appealing beaded collar from the Amarna Period. Nobody could fail to appreciate the beauty of the three collars on display in the Amarna case, but our favourite has a figure of Beset in the centre, the female form of Bes (fig. 5). It is made from faience and carnelian, and if you look carefully, you can see a baboon, cornflowers, and poppies with expert beading woven into it. Our disappointment was that we couldn’t wear it!
|Fig. 5: Beset collar|
EC1246 This Nubian archer’s thumb ring (fig. 6) appealed to me because I know many Nubians and am fortunate to know the Sudanese Consul in Aswan. The Meroe expedition, where this object is from, was led by John Garstang from the Liverpool Institute of Archaeology. Many years ago, I read his expedition notes and was fascinated by them as they showed all the aspects of his expeditions, from building a golf course to paying his workmen.
|Fig. 6: Archer's thumb ring|
W150 Who cannot appreciate Predynastic artefacts? There are plenty in the Egypt Centre, but what caught our eye was another rare object in the collection, a stone cylindrical figure with no indication of arms and legs, and a face that has incised eyes with a sculpted nose (fig. 7). A hole was drilled through the bottom, which was wide enough to be mounted on a pole.
|Fig. 7: Predynastic figure|
House of Death
AB11 The twenty-sixth dynasty faience amulet of Taweret, the household hippopotamus goddess who protected women in childbirth (fig. 8). Only 35 cm high (1.3 inches)., a favourite of ours because it looks as if it could have been well used and may be from Abydos, a special place for both of us.
|Fig. 8: Taweret amulet|
W1283 Who couldn’t resist this vase with the cute face of Bes on it? This wheel-made vase dates to the Ptolemaic era and is made of Marl clay with the finely sculptured Bes face on it (fig. 9). Bes was also a protective deity like Taweret, usually connected with childbirth and children. He was depicted as a dwarf with a lion’s mane, often charmingly with his tongue out. We don’t know the exact use, but Liz hopes it was made to hold wine to drink at festivals!
|Fig. 9: Bes pot|
W164 The very rare reserve head is simplistic yet elegant in its form (fig. 10). These heads date mainly to the Fourth Dynasty of Khufu and Khafre. Usually they come from Giza, but can be found at other Old Kingdom burial sites. It is suggested that they were an alternative home for the ka (spirit) of the deceased. As they are so rare, some people think the one in the Egypt Centre is a fake, but smaller museums do have very rare items! For example, Harrogate Museum has a rare mask of Anubis.
|Fig. 10: Reserve head|
W489 A strange-looking coffin lid from the Graeco-Roman era, commonly referred to as a slipper coffin because of the shape of the base (fig. 11). The face seems to belong to a man as it has a beard, but he seems to have a quizzical expression on his face and large protruding ears.
|Fig. 11: Lid of a slipper coffin|
W588 An unknown Middle Kingdom tomb model of a wooden goose from Arab el-Birk (fig. 12). This small goose, which is 95mm long (about 3¾ inches), has been “renovated” by painting in modern times. It is still attractive and you can still see the original green paint. It is finely made.
|Fig. 12: Wooden goose|
Children are encouraged to visit and take part in workshops, as was the case when we visited. One activity sure to please is a stuffed fabric mummy, which the children can extract intestines etc., from it. There is also a pyramidion-shaped interactive display, which replicates a mummified snake that originally was thought to be just a bundle of rags. Wherever you stand a cobra slowly emerges twisting around until it finally hisses at you. We were both fascinated by it.
Our visit wasn’t over yet. As we had taken so long over our visit on Monday (very easy to do!), Ken invited us to visit the stores on Tuesday. Who could refuse that? With nitrile gloves on, we were allowed to hold many objects (fig. 13). Whatever your interests, Ken knows immediately where artefacts were stored. But there is a must; a fragment of a faience tile depicting a lapwing bird (rekhyt) on a basket (Ken’s obsession and one we are beginning to love!).
|Fig. 13: Our visit to the store!|
Could our visit get better? Yes, because Sam Powell walked in, a postgraduate scholar and enthusiast on wooden tomb models. She vividly showed us the models in stores and the many legs and arms that are hopefully waiting to be attached. She brought the models to life and showed where they had been fixed on with expert skill or if a boatsman was missing from a boat a rogue worker could be implanted. It was a” wow” morning with Ken and Sam!
Even if you visit the museum without the Egyptological encyclopedia which is Ken, who is truly unique and incredible, there is extra literature to tell you more about the objects near the cases and a QR scan in progress. However, the best way is through the volunteers. They are welcoming and if you need help, they are more than happy to assist you. Whatever your age, whatever your experience, whether academic or amateur, you should put the Swansea Egypt Centre at the top of your bucket list. It was for Liz and I, a visit beyond our expectations and will live with us forever, so thank you to everyone at the museum for making us so welcome, you deserve every accolade possible.
Diolch yn fawr iawn