The blog post for this week has been written by Peter Rowland, who recaps his experience of Egyptology during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Peter is an enthusiast Egyptologist who in the early 1970s worked in Egypt, around the Suez area, as an engineer with Exxon International. There followed various organised and private visits during the 1990s and early 2000s, but the feeling was that visits like this are all well and good but sadly they are a bit of a scatter gun approach to a huge subject. Peter retired in 2011 and decided it was time to put some structure to the huge subject of ancient Egypt. By chance, the online Egyptology courses run by Exeter University and taught by Lucia Gahlin were discovered. This proved most fortuitous, and has led to a wonderful learning process since the start of Lucia’s courses. Sadly, Exeter have discontinued all their online presence. During the Exeter period, Lucia introduced him to the Kemet Klub and the Egypt Exploration Society. Peter says, “above all, the Egyptology family I now feel part of have been a godsend during the current pandemic and has made life so much more bearable, especially during the lockdown periods”.
The past twelve months or so have certainly seen dramatic changes in how we are able to live our lives. Pre-March 2020, everything was normal, and we were able to do what we wanted. Personally, in January I spent just over a week in Luxor as part of a small group headed by Professor Aidan Dodson looking at Seti I and Ramesses III (fig. 1). In February, it was a visit to Petra in Jordan, with the only concerns due to the severe storms in the UK and how long we would be delayed getting home. Fortunately, it was only a 24-hour delay. This was just a couple of weeks before the Coronavirus outbreak was upgraded to a Pandemic and all our lives changed with restrictions in movement and the first lockdown. The first unknown was what will happen to our next trip to Egypt with Ancient World Tours planned for May. Fortunately, the decision to move it forward to May 2021 was made fairly quickly, although this has now been delayed further to April 2022.
|Fig. 1: Decoration in the tomb of Seti I|
The big thing though was what to do with our free time? The weather was good, so the daily exercise regime was good, and the garden was there to do the many jobs that gardens demand. There was catching up on the scanning of pre-digital images that have sat there for years just waiting for an opportunity like this. All these options were OK, but it soon became a little bit mind-boggling. Then, bingo, an announcement by the Egypt Exploration Society (EES) that they will be setting up a series of lectures made available via the Zoom platform (fig. 2). Initially the number of attendees was quite small, so you needed to be pretty sharp in booking your place. What a brilliant way of learning the usual, but also the more obscure topics about a subject we love. Very quickly, it was obvious that this means of presentation was proving extremely popular so the EES upped the numbers of attendee places available and even arranged repeats.
|Fig. 2: One of the many EES virtual lectures|
After a few weeks, the Kemet Klub in Bristol announced their intentions to set up their usual study days for the Zoom platform. Again, this proved very popular and well over 100 people were attending the events, many more than the usual thirty-five or so that the study days could allow in Bristol. All of this meant there were a number of events available virtually that would help to fill the void in our spare time.
Next, we hear from the Egypt Centre, Swansea who proposed to make their annual conference a virtual event. A program was released listing sixteen free lectures to be presented via Zoom, starting 30 April through to 10 July. A number of the talks would be presented by people connected with the Egypt Centre, but also a number of prominent Egyptologists who offered their time free of charge. These included Aidan Dodson, Aaron de Souza, Richard Johnson, Martina Minas-Nerpel, and Christian Knoblauch, to name just a few. Many of the talks used material housed in the Egypt Centre. Ken Griffin started the ball rolling giving an Introduction to the Egypt Centre, others included the Paddle Dolls, The Lintel of the Overseer of Craftsmen, Tjenti, The Diaspora of Cypriot Antiquities, A Call to Arms - Wooden funerary figures (fig. 3), and An Overview of the Shabti Collection. As with the Kemet Klub, the numbers attending these talks were over 100, a lot more than would have been able to attend in Swansea, meaning the virtual conference was a huge success.
|Fig. 3: Screenshot of the Egypt Centre Zoom conference|
Following these first free presentations came the first fundraising events. Professor Aidan Dodson gave an excellent presentation entitled History, Histories & Egyptology, which was all about the history of Egyptology and the people that set it all off. Professor Dodson is a well-known international speaker, with almost 200 people in attendance. Other speakers included Dr Ramadan Hussein on the latest discoveries at Saqqara, Dr Donald P. Ryan, on the Valley of the Kings, Reg Clark on Tomb Security, Tom Hardwick on Robert de Rustafjaell (fig. 4), and finally Ken Griffin on the rekhyt-people.
|Fig. 4: Screenshot of the lecture by Tom Hardwick|
Ken Griffin, the Collections Access Manager, has always been a keen educator using the collection he is looking after. He made the decision to offer short courses on various subjects. These have attracted approximately on average 150 attendees. To date, we have completed six of these: The Funerary Artefacts of Ancient Egypt, Religion of Ancient Egypt, The Valley of the Kings, Karnak, Deir el-Medina, and the recently completed Thebes: The City of 100 Gates. These courses run for five weeks, with sessions taking place on Sunday evenings and repeated live on Wednesday mornings. This format means as many people as possible from across the globe can attend. The next course will start this Sunday and will be devoted to the Amarna Period. Unlike regular courses on the Amarna Period, this one will heavily focus on the objects from Amarna in the Egypt Centre collection. It is still possible to book for this course here.
We have also seen a collaboration between the Interdisciplinary Egyptology group and the Egypt Centre. The museum hosted a series of twelve discussion panels, free of charge, during February and March 2021. Again, these sessions were well attended by people from around the world (fig. 5).
|Fig. 5: Overview of the Interdisciplinary Egyptology discussion panels|
In October, the Egypt Centre launched its new online collections catalogue, commonly named Abaset. Although there is still work to be done here, it will eventually become a world class catalogue that will be used by everyone interested in Egyptology. This will include academics as well as enthusiasts. Already, a number of wonderful discoveries have been made, which include linking items in the Swansea collection with objects in other collections.
The Egypt Centre events listed above have proven extremely successful. People who have attended the various talks and courses have been grateful for the efforts made to arrange it all. Ken Griffin has been the driving force to make it all workable, and he was ably assisted by Sam Powell, an Egypt Centre volunteer. Without them, none of the above would have happened, so they must be commended and thanked. Above all, the main beneficiary is the Egypt Centre. The objects in Swansea was always a major collection, but now it is more accessible and widely known by professional Egyptologists and enthusiasts worldwide. Not only have Ken and Sam attracted notable foreign speakers, but their efforts have attracted many attendees from throughout the UK, and importantly from around the world. The worldwide Egyptology family are truly grateful. The situation has been desperate for the Egypt Centre as most sources of revenue have been impacted due to the Pandemic. Therefore, the money raised by the virtual events must be a godsend and hopefully keep it going and moving forward from strength to strength.
This all proves that something good can be born out of the desperate situation we have found ourselves in. Those of us who have been in this Egyptology loop are thankful for all the back-room efforts. I hope that there may be a flicker of light showing a possible end to the Pandemic with the speedy distribution of vaccinations. We look forward to visiting our usual haunts, with the Egypt Centre high up on all of our lists. Hopefully the virtual lectures and course can continue well into the future as well.
Thank you everyone!