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Monday, 26 August 2019

Missing Pieces: The Nubian Cemeteries at Armant

The blog post for this week is a guest entry by Dr Aaron de Souza, Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow at the Institute for Oriental and European Archaeology, Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna. 

Located just south of Luxor (ancient Thebes), the town of Armant is home to a myriad of sites spanning the breadth of Egyptian history. Perhaps the best-known sites are the catacombs for the sacred Buchis bulls (known as the Bucheum), a temple dedicated to the god Montu, and cemeteries and settlements dating to the Predynastic Period. Among all of these better-known locales is an often overlooked cemetery of the so-called Pan-Grave culture, a nomadic people who moved around the Nile Valley and deserts to the east of the Nile from the late Middle Kingdom until the early Eighteenth Dynasty (de Souza 2019). This small cemetery, Cemetery 1900, remains unpublished, but a draft manuscript prepared by Oliver Humphrys Myers (1903–1966) survives in the Lucy Gura Archive at the EES (fig. 1), and a small collection of ceramics from the site is now held by The Egypt Centre.

Fig. 1: Archive photograph of Pan-Grave pottery from Armant Cemetery 1900. The current location of these objects is unknown., Courtesy of the Egypt Exploration Society

This Pan-Grave pottery (fig. 2) was the main reason for my research trip to Swansea as part of my Marie Skłodowska-Curie Project, InBetween, which reviews our understanding of the so-called Middle Nubian culture groups.* The collection of Pan-Grave objects in the collection, although fragmentary, is essential to my long-term goal of reuniting the finds from Cemetery 1900 and ultimately to more fully understanding the Pan-Grave presence in Egypt. Even in its fragmentary state, the pottery in the Egypt Centre’s collection was enough to tell me a few interesting and important things about the site (fig. 2). The Pan-Grave pottery is all very comparable with material I’ve studied during recent excavations at Hierakonpolis and at sites around Aswan, all of which dates to the late Middle Kingdom. This date is further supported by photographs of Egyptian pottery from Cemetery 1900 as well as descriptions of the graves themselves in Myers’ unpublished manuscript. These characteristics would place the Armant Pan-Graves among the earliest known in the Nile Valley, not long after the people buried in them are first attested in the Nile Valley. It was also somewhat unusual—at least in my opinion!—that the assemblage included a number of sherds that I would classify as coarse, utilitarian wares. Usually called cooking pots, this type of pottery is usually associated with settlement sites and is not typically found in funerary contexts. The same phenomenon occurs at other early Pan-Grave sites, so maybe this is another marker of an early date.

Fig. 2: New monograph on the Pan-grave people

All of this being said, the other finds from Cemetery 1900 need to be (re-)located before I can make any firm observations… and herein lies the challenge! The finds from Armant have been scattered far and wide across the UK, a bit here, a bit there. So far I’ve located some of the faunal remains at the World Museum in Liverpool, including painted skulls and horns from cattle and goats that are as dramatic as they are enigmatic. In relation to those objects, I stumbled upon an envelope addressed to J. Wilfrid Jackson (1880–1978), an archaeologist and the former Keeper of Zoology at Manchester Museum, who excavated at Armant. Jackson is also the man who studied the same painted animal skulls that are now Liverpool (fig. 3), and I was able to identify them in his unpublished report on the remains from Cemetery 1900, which also now resides in the EES archives. The search continues, and there are tantalising clues everywhere, but for now I must work with the photos and notes that survive in the archives like ghosts of objects missing or lost.

Fig. 3: Aaron examining a painted cattle skull from Armant, now located at the World Museum, Liverpool.
(photo by Ashley Cooke)

But, on a happier note, after having looked through all of the material, I can tell you that the collection of finds from Armant held in the collection of The Egypt Centre is both impressive and extensive, and it is crying out for more attention! The scope of the collection is incredible—virtually a continuous sequence of pottery from the Predynastic to Islamic periods (with a few fragments of the eighteenth century European porcelain thrown in for good measure!), stone vessels, flint tools, jewellery, glass, statue fragments… it is a veritable microcosm of Egyptian history from the earliest days up to the recent past (figs. 4–5)! There is so much waiting to be studied anew, and I am extremely grateful to Ken and Carolyn for allowing me to access the material. I hope I’ll be able to come back soon, but in the meantime, I would encourage anyone interested to come to Swansea to study the finds from Armant. There is quite literally something for everyone!

Fig. 4: Aaron drawing an A-Group sherd from the Egypt Centre collection. 

Fig. 5: A-group pottery from Armant cemetery 1600 in the Egypt Centre,

* The InBetween project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 796050.

Aaron’s monograph on the Pan-grave people (fig. 2) has just been published and can be purchased direct from the publisher.

de Souza, A. M. (2017) ‘The Pan-Grave Panned Out! New Digs at HK 47 and HK 21A’. Nekhen News 29: 18–21.
——— (2018) ‘The “End” of an Era: A Review of the Phasing System for the Late C-Group and Pan-Grave Cultures’. In Nubian Archaeology in the XXIst Century: Proceedings of the Thirteenth International Conference for Nubian Studies, Neuchâtel, 1st–6th September 2014, ed. M. Honegger. Publications de la mission archéologique suisse à Kerma 1; Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 273. Leuven: Peeters. 233–244.
——— (2018) ‘Paint it Black: Pan-Grave Black-topped and Egyptian Black-rimmed Pottery of the Late Second Intermediate Period and Early New Kingdom’. Cahiers de la céramique égyptienne 11: 75–90.
——— (2019) New Horizons: The Pan-Grave Ceramic Tradition in Context. Middle Kingdom Studies 9. London: Golden House Publications.
Mond, R. and O. H. Myers (1934) The Bucheum. Memoir of the Egypt Exploration Society 41. London: Egypt Exploration Society.
——— (1937) Cemeteries of Armant I. Memoir of the Egypt Exploration Society 42. London: Egypt Exploration Society.
——— (1940) Temples of Armant: A Preliminary Survey. Memoir of the Egypt Exploration Society 43. London: Egypt Exploration Society. 

Monday, 19 August 2019

The John Foulkes Jones Collection at the Egypt Centre

The blog post for this week is a guest entry by Dulcie Engel, a volunteer at the Egypt Centre who curated the exhibit Objects from a Victorian gentleman’s cabinet of curiosities. This was based on objects the Egypt Centre received in 2013, which belonged to the Welsh minister John Foulkes Jones.

John Foulkes Jones (fig. 1) was born in Machynlleth (Powys, Wales) on the 6th June 1826,  and was educated at the Calvinistic Methodist College in Bala (Gwynedd, Wales) before training for the ministry at Edinburgh University from 1844 to 1848. He worked in Methodist missions in North Wales, Liverpool, and Chester, and was ordained in 1856. Jones travelled to Egypt and Palestine in 1855, and published his book on his travels in 1860. He married Margaret Jones in 1861, and had five children. He became pastor of Maengwyn Church in Machynlleth in 1863, and died there on 14th April 1880. Jones was a highly sought after lecturer and respected preacher, whose volume of sermons (Owen 1884) was, for some time, one of the most widely read books in Welsh. He often gave lectures about his travels, and his book would reach out to an audience eager to hear of Biblical Egypt.

Fig. 1: John Foulkes Jones

The items that Jones collected on his travels remained in the family until a descendant contacted the Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan at the British Museum in 2012. There, assistant keeper John Taylor examined and listed the artefacts, and in January 2013, he wrote to Carolyn Graves-Brown, curator of the Egypt Centre, regarding a home for the collection. The objects arrived at the Egypt Centre in May 2013. The twenty-four items, plus associated wrappings, were catalogued and conserved in suitable containers. They remained in storage until April 2017, when I was lucky enough to curate a selection for display in the House of Life (fig. 2).

Fig. 2: Current display of the Foulkes Jones collection.

In the case we display fourteen items, including original labels. Some of the items are definitely, or probably, fakes. The most blatant example is EC1920, a small metal cone labelled ‘Summit of Cheops’(fig. 3). It is in fact quite surprising to think that anyone would be taken in by this item, given the size and material, if not the very rough shape and condition. EC1924, the papyrus roll with writing on, is almost definitely fake as the ‘roll’ is in fact a bundle of dried plant stems to which tiny fragments of papyrus have been attached. It is possible that the bits of papyrus are ancient, as there are traces of cursive hieroglyphs. EC1923, the mummy hair, also raises questions of authenticity; without testing, it is impossible to date the hair any further back than when it was acquired in 1855.

Fig. 3: The “summit of Cheops” (EC1920)

Jones brought back both human (EC1918, 1919, 1921) and animal remains (EC1922, 1922a & b), which remain in storage. The human skull and mandible are even inscribed: EC1919, the skull, is labelled ‘Tombs of the Pharaohs at Thebes’(fig. 4); and EC1921, the mandible, is labelled by hand in pencil ‘Thebes’. Were these picked up by Jones or bought from a dealer, and then labelled by Jones? We will never know. Was the fact that the human remains belonged to pre-Christian ‘pagans’ an acceptable excuse for collection?

Fig. 4: Fragment of skull from the “tomb of the pharaohs at Thebes” (EC1919)

The items in Jones’ collection are of little monetary or archaeological value; they are however an excellent illustration of changing attitudes towards the legacy of ancient Egypt, and the ethics of collecting and exhibiting ancient artefacts.

Goodridge, W. (2016) ‘What is the oddest job on campus?’. Times Higher Education Supplement (30/09/16).
Graves-Brown, C. (2017) Egypt Centre is proud to announce a new display case curated by its volunteers. Available at:
Jones, J. F. (1860) Egypt in its Biblical relations and moral aspect. London: Smith, Elder and Co.,.
Owen, J. (1884) Cofiant a Llythyrau, nghyda Phregethau y Parch J. Foulkes-Jones. Machynlleth: J. Jones.
Thomas, W. J. (1959) ‘Jones, John Foulkes (1826–1880), Calvinistic Methodist minister’. Dictionary of Welsh Biography. Available at:

Monday, 12 August 2019

An Object-focused History of Egypt via the Egypt Centre

As readers of this blog will be fully aware, the Egypt Centre are very keen on promoting object-based learning. The Egypt Centre works closely with the Department of Classics, Ancient History, and Egyptology in facilitating handling sessions for students at Swansea University. Additionally, the Egypt Centre also organises its own courses, workshops, and “curator’s talks”, which focus on the collection. I am therefore pleased to announce my new course, Ancient Egyptian History through the Egypt Centre, which will commence in October (fig. 1). This course is open to all, from students to staff, volunteers to the public.

Fig. 1: Course flyer

This ten-week course will take a different approach to the study of Egyptian history by drawing on objects in the Egypt Centre collection. Over the ten weeks participants will have the opportunity to handle over fifty objects, including many highlights and others currently kept in storage. Each week we will examine a different period, with PowerPoint lectures supplemented by handling sessions. The breakdown of the course is as follows:

10 Oct
Predynastic Period
17 Oct
Old Kingdom
24 Oct
First Intermediate Period
31 Oct
Middle Kingdom
07 Nov
Second Intermediate Period
14 Nov
New Kingdom
21 Nov
The Amarna Period
28 Nov
Third Intermediate Period
05 Dec
Late Period
12 Dec
Graeco-Roman Period

In the Predynastic week we will examine some D-Ware pottery, a cosmetic palette, a beautifully carved stone vessel, and an unusual Predynastic figure. The next week participants will have the opportunity to handle several bowls and dishes, an alabaster offering table, and our reserve head, all of which date to the Old Kingdom. The provincial art of the First Intermediate Period will be the main focus of week three, with three stelae being made available. Two of these are so-called “soldier stelae” (fig. 2), which were particularly common during this period and no doubt relate to the political instability of the time.

Fig. 2: Soldier Stela (W1366)

In week four we will examine several Middle Kingdom statues, including a cast of the Thirteenth Dynasty chancellor and royal scribe Senebtyfy, the original of which is in the British Museum. A stela, statue, hyksos axe, and some Tell el-Yahudiyeh ware will be available for study during the Second Intermediate Period week. Weeks six and seven cover the New Kingdom, with a relief of Neferure (fig. 3), a statue base of the Nineteenth Dynasty vizier Paser, and an offering stand of the infamous Paneb under discussion in week six. With a large collection of objects originating from the Egypt Exploration Society’s excavations at Amarna, week seven will include a fragment of a household stela, blue-painted ware, several ring bezels, and a broad collar.

Fig. 3: Relief of Neferure (W1376)

In the week dealing with the Third Intermediate Period we will examine some shabtis, a stela, a coffin fragment, and a rare scribal palette containing the only known image of the obscure ruler Djehutiemhat. Some more shabtis, a canopic jar, a bronze statue of Osiris, and a statue of the priest Iba will be available for study. The final week covers the Graeco-Roman Period, which will include a stela from Edfu, a wooden door of a small shrine, and a large granite head depicting an unknown Ptolemaic queen (fig. 4).

Fig. 4: Ptolemaic queen (W194)

Note that these classes, limited to a maximum 15 people per course, will not result in any credits gained and no assessment will be required. For more details or to book a place, please contact me or the Egypt Centre.

Cost: £120, or £60 for (active) volunteers
Length of course: 10 x 2 hour sessions
Venue: Studio Room, Taliesin Create, Singleton Campus
Time: Thursday 16:00–18:00 (starting 10 Oct 2019)
      or Thursday 18:30–20:30 (starting 10 Oct 2019)

Monday, 5 August 2019

New Egypt Centre Store!

During the past week there has been a lot of excitement at the Egypt Centre because of construction work taking place in our new storage facility. While work on this facility has been ongoing intermittently for the last year, work has increased considerably in recent months. This included the addition of the security doors, the building of a new wall, and the removal of the carpet (fig. 1). All this was in preparation for the roller racking shelving, which have now been installed. The facility comes with an air conditioning unit, which controls both the temperature and humidity. This is particularly important in safeguarding the objects.

Fig. 1: New store awaiting shelving (29 July)

Following a very competitive bidding process, we decided to go with Rackline, a company that has delivered museum storage systems for the past quarter of a century with clients including nationally recognised institutions. Our new storage facility now has both static and mobile shelving units (fig. 2), which will be used to accommodate our reserve collection of approximately 4,000 objects. This includes human and animal remains, large quantities of pottery, and a complete coffin from Tarkhan. Work on transferring our objects to the new facility will begin in earnest and is expected to to take many months to complete.

Fig. 2: Store with shelving installed (2 Aug)

Moving the objects to the new facility provides an ideal opportunity check the contents of our boxes. For the past two weeks I have been assisted by Jiayun, a Leicester University Museum Studies placement student, who has been carrying out condition reports on the objects. While checking one box last Thursday we came across a bag labelled “snake bones” (EC532). A closer inspection revealed that the bag contained sand, some bandages, and lots of broken snake skeletons. In total, the bag contained at least nine snake heads (fig. 3), which have now been put on display next to the mummified snake (EC308) in our animals case. This week we were also able to identify a kohl stick as coming from Amarna, two tools belonging to model funerary figures from the Reverend William MacGregor collection, and three kohl pots from the collection of Robert de Rustafjaell.

Fig. 3: Nine snake heads (EC532)

Stay tuned for a blog post by Jiayun, towards the end of her stay next month, on her work with the Egypt Centre!