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Monday, 27 January 2020

Provisions for the Dead in Ancient Egypt: An AIM and Pilgrim Trust Funded Conservation Project

This past week has been quite a busy one as we prepared objects to be sent to Cardiff University for conservation. In November of 2019, the Egypt Centre was informed of our successful application for an AIM (Association of Independent Museums) Conservation grant, supported by the Pilgrim Trust. Our application focused on the theme of “Provisions for the Dead in Ancient Egypt”, with objects from our “Provisions” case in the House of Life selected. This included a large group of wooden funerary figures, which have recently been reunited with their missing limbs (fig. 1). However, before the objects could be sent to Cardiff, each of them had to undergo a condition check before being carefully packed ready for delivery!

Fig. 1: W688 recently reunited with his missing leg and base

On Wednesday, the Egypt Centre was pleased to welcome Phil Parkes (Reader in Conservation at Cardiff University) and Ashley Lingle Meeklah (lead conservator on the project), who brought twenty students from Cardiff University for a handling session. After a tour of the stores, the students were divided into groups in order to adequately examine some of our objects. I decided to select objects in need of conservation treatment in order to challenge the students (fig. 2). This worked really well and it was great to hear their proposals for treating the objects. In the evening, Phil delivered an excellent lecture to the Friends of the Egypt Centre group, highlighting several of the museum’s objects that have previously been worked on at Cardiff. The following day, thirteen boxes were transported to Cardiff University for Ashley to start work on the project (fig. 3).

Fig. 2: Students examining some cartonnage

Fig. 3: Ashley with the recently delivered boxes of objects

Aside from the wooden funerary figures mentioned above and in the blog post from last week, six other objects from the Provisions case were selected. This includes two painted reliefs, both from the collection of Robert de Rustafjaell sold in 1906. W1377 depicts an unidentified male figure sniffing a closed lotus blossom while seated before a large table of offerings. Red gridlines are also visible on the relief, which was set into a matrix of plaster of Paris sometime prior to its sale in 1906. Over the years, this plaster has started to deteriorate and become loose, with small flakes now trapped between the relief and the glass frame (fig. 4). The planned conservation work will consolidate the plaster, in addition to removing any specks of modern plaster located on the surface of the painted relief.

Fig. 4: Painted relief (W1377)

Two painted wooden stelae from Edfu, both dating to the Ptolemaic Period, have also been sent for conservation. W1041, which was purchased in 1922 from the collection of the Reverend William MacGregor (lot 1588), belongs to a priest of Edfu named Pasherienimhotep. The stela is decorated on two sides, with the front divided into four registers (fig. 5). The top register (lunette) on the front face depicts two recumbent jackals flanking a djed-pillar, with the winged disc of Behdet above. The second register shows the deceased on a lion bier with Anubis—flanked by Isis, Nephthys, and the Four Sons of Horus—performing the mummification. Additionally, Pasherienimhotep is shown on the far right dressed as a Sem-priest. The third register contains a long inscription requesting that the gods grant the ka of the deceased various food provisions in the afterlife. Part of this inscription is currently concealed by a layer of mud (upper left side), which will be mechanically removed as part of the conservation project. On the bottom register, two recumbent jackals flank a djed-pillar (Osiris). The back of the stela is divided into three registers: a winged disc at the top, Isis and Nephthys adoring Osiris in the centre, and tyet-symbols flanking a djed-pillar at the bottom.

Fig. 5: Stela of Pasherienimhotep (W1041)

The Egypt Centre has had strong links with the conservation department of Cardiff University, which date back to at least 1978. Over 150 objects have previously been treated at Cardiff, with a large batch transferred late last year. We are extremely grateful to the Association of Independent Museums and the Pilgrim Trust for awarding us the grant. The display case is one of our most popular exhibits, with our “food and provisions” and “survival in the afterlife” activity featuring heavily in our educational programme. Our volunteers are already looking forward to the objects returning to the Egypt Centre following the completion of the conservation work in April!

Sotheby, Wilkinson, & Hodge (1906) Catalogue of the collection of Egyptian antiquities, formed in Egypt by R. De Rustafjaell, which will be sold by auction by Messrs. Sotheby, Wilkinson and Hodge...19th December, 1906 and two following days... London: Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge.
——— (1922) Catalogue of the MacGregor collection of Egyptian antiquities. London: Davy.

Monday, 20 January 2020

Turns out you can have your goose and eat it, but only if you can cook it first!

The blog post for this week is written by Sam Powell, a Masters student of Egyptology at Swansea University and Egypt Centre volunteer.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, then you may have seen my post back in July 2019 about a figure from a funerary model (W687) with a likely provenance of Beni Hasan (who I’m pleased to report has since regained his missing arm!). In the last six months, my research into the figures from funerary models has continued with lots of exciting developments (fig. 1).

Fig. 1: ‘Re-arming’ the funerary models

My MA thesis focuses on the Egypt Centre’s collection of figures from funerary models, and, with the Egypt Centre’s help, I have been trying to gather as much information about the figures as possible in order to try and figure out where and when they were made. We have made good efforts in reuniting several missing limbs with figures (fifteen arms, two feet, and one leg to be exact!). Thanks to a grant from AIM, the figures in question will be receiving conservation treatment at Cardiff University over the next few months, which will include reattaching missing limbs. Clues such as information on the Wellcome slips, old photographs in the object files, and examination in-person were all vital in this process.
Fig. 2: The squatting scribes

I have grouped together a series of five figures (fig. 2), which have thus far been referred to as the “squatting scribes”—a nickname I had given them due to their closely cropped hair and the left hand with a hole for holding what I assumed was a reed pen. Last week, as I was scrolling through images online, I spotted an image of a funerary model of a man roasting a goose on a brazier (fig. 3). I remembered seeing a “weird oar” (W699) in the box in the Egypt Centre stores containing arms and oars (and other “accessories”) from tomb models (fig. 4). Could the oar actually be a goose on a spit? Sure enough, the scale and type of wood seem to match our “squatting scribe” figures; who now may need to be renamed!!! We still can’t quite figure out why there’s a hole through the goose—any suggestions gratefully received. Ken used this object for “guess the object” on his Twitter feed.

Fig. 3: Figure now in Cairo Museum (CCG 245)

Fig. 4: “Weird oar” (W699), now thought to be a roasting goose.

Their Wellcome slips number from 114173 through to 114176. Whilst moving paperwork to the new archive room, Ken found a list of objects in case 6772 (fig. 5), which was likely made by David Dixon during his reorganisation of the Egyptian material in the Wellcome Institute during the early 1960s. This list also shows that 114172 was checked off as having arrived in our collection, thus meaning we now had five slips describing “figure of artisan”, all coming from the 1928 Sotheby’s sale of the Tabor Collection. These slips had been highlighted in my notes as not seeming to match the figures, in particular, the dimensions seemed out. Ken and I concluded that perhaps these sizes may have included bases on which the figures sat.

Fig. 5: List of figures in Case 6772 (126), Egypt Centre archive

Identifying bases for these figures can be really tricky; they’re often made of scrap wood, or reused material such as coffins, but we have several likely candidates in the stores that seem to fit the bill. With help from a measuring tape, we’ve managed to rejig the slips to correlate with the figures. Through the process of elimination, the elusive 114172 flimsy slip in all likelihood belongs to W446.

Fig. 6: Matching bases to figures with the help of the flimsy slips

Slip 114172 has a slightly different description than the other figures, being described as a “figure squatting before ? a milling stone”, which puzzled us slightly—was the millstone still there when the object was acquired? Does that mean the figure had a base to attach the millstone to? As we went through the “accessories” box, I noticed W697 and once again an image from trawling complete examples of funerary models popped into my head—this time of a figure in front of a brazier. The object was the right size and shape to be a brazier, and the texture of gesso on the top to represent the coals. It also has a peg in the bottom to secure it to a base—could the Wellcome cataloguer have mistaken a millstone for a brazier if the goose wasn’t in situ? Ken kindly, with his photography wizardry, managed to capture the reassembled scene (fig. 6)—figure (W446), an arm previously assigned to another figure (but which fits much better with this one), the goose (W699), and brazier (W697). We measured the scene as approximately matching the sizes stated on the flimsy slip (9" x 9 ½" x 4").

Fig. 7: The composite image of W446 roasting a goose

Although we can’t say for definite that these items go together (I need to continue researching to find more parallels), they do make a very sweet scene. I just hope we find the base!

Borchardt, L. (1911) Statuen und Statuetten von Königen und Privatleuten I. Catalogue général des antiquités égyptiennes du Musée du Caire. Berlin: Reichsdruckerei.
Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge (1922) Catalogue of the MacGregor Collection of Egyptian Antiquities. London: Davy.
——— (1928) Catalogue of antiquities, etc., comprising the collection of Prehistoric implements, the property of Miss Carey, Egyptian, Greek and Roman antiquities, etc., comprising the collection of the late C.J. Tabor, the property of Princess Ghika, the property of Mrs O. Gregory, the property of Mrs A. Belcher, the property of Mrs de Burley Wood, the property of W. Kennett, and other properties, including Indian and South American objects; which will be sold by auction by Sotheby and Co. ... on Monday, the 12th of November, 1928, and following day. London: Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge.
Tooley, A. M. J., 1989. Middle Kingdom burial customs. a study of wooden models and related materials. Unpublished thesis (PhD), University of Liverpool.

Monday, 13 January 2020

A Brief Review of 2019

This week marks the first anniversary of the Egypt Centre collection blog, and so it seems appropriate to present a brief review of 2019. During this time, there have been many highlights, with just a few singled out here. It was on the 7th January last year that I officially started my position of Collections Manager at the Egypt Centre. Having the opportunity to rummage through the stores is a dream for any Egyptologist. Additionally, discovering more about the history of the collection, including individual objects, is rewarding. Even photographing and editing images, while time consuming and monotonous, is immensely satisfying (fig. 1).

Fig. 1: Selection of “Classical” objects recently photographed

Upon starting my job at the Egypt Centre, I decided to create this blog in order to present the collection to a wider audience. Fifty-two entries have been posted, many of which have been written by guests. The blog has proved very popular, with 22,248 views as of midday today! In particular, the weekly posts by students on the History of Egypt through the Egypt Centre were well received. I am grateful to all those who have contributed over the course of the year. The most popular entry was News from Luxor, which presented the reconstruction of a Middle Kingdom stela (fig. 2). Not surprisingly, those on Akhenaten and the Amarna Period were also popular. Twitter users can now follow me under the handle @DrKenGriffin, where I’ll be posting daily tweets on the Egypt Centre collection. Thanks to all those who have followed this blog, including leaving comments, and I hope you will continue to enjoy it!

Fig. 2: Reconstructed Middle Kingdom stela (EC1848)

In May, the Egypt Centre organised a successful conference, which saw sixteen speakers present research on objects in the collection. Some of the objects presented have featured in blog posts over the year, including the Old Kingdom lintel of Tjenti (W491), an unusual whistle (W247), and a model scribal palette (EC2018) of Djehutiemhat (fig. 3). The conference was held as part of the twentieth anniversary celebrations of the Egypt Centre, although we have now decided to make this an annual event. The second conference will take place over the weekend of the 23–24 May, with details to follow shortly!

Palette depicting Djehutiemhat (EC2018)

At the beginning of August, work on our new store was finally completed. Over the past five months we have moved almost 4,000 objects, finding a few surprises along the way. These two Soter shrouds (fig. 4) were found between old display panels after we had cleared one of our stores. The one on the right (EC4971) is illustrated on plate XXI of the 1906 Robert de Rustafjaell sale catalogue. Neither object appears to have been registered previously, although it is possible that we will come across some documentation in our archives. Speaking of, one of our old stores will now become our archive and research room. Work on organising both the store and archive room will continue throughout 2020. 

Fig. 4: Two new Soter shrouds (not to scale) 

Unfortunately, some very sad news reached us last Monday when were heard that Sybil Crouch had passed away. Sybil was a Labour councillor for the Castle ward, was head of cultural services where she managed the Taliesin Arts Centre, and was also a former chairwoman of the Arts Council for Wales. Sybil had been instrumental in setting up the Egypt Centre, helping to secure Heritage Lottery Funding and European Regional Development Funding. Following her retirement last year, we were invited to Mansion House to celebrate with her (fig. 5), which included staff from the Taliesin and Egypt Centre putting on a “Spectacular” performance of the can-can! We are all very grateful for the support Sybil offered over the years and our heartfelt condolences go out to all her family and friends.

Fig. 5: Celebrating Sybil’s retirement at Mansion House (© Swansea Life Magazine)

Monday, 6 January 2020

The Mystery of the “Faience Flute”: A (so-far) Unique Musical Instrument in the Egypt Centre

The blog post for this week is written by John Rogers, a PhD student of Egyptology at Swansea University.

Last May, I was invited to present my research into the musicological collection in the Egypt Centre as part of the first Wonderful Things conference. I focussed on two exciting objects within the collection, a faience “Bes-bell” (WK44) and a mysterious item that has been described as a “faience whistle” (W247).

The Bes-bell, which came to the Egypt Centre from Woking College in 2012, is unusual in that it is made from faience rather than the usual bronze (fig. 1). There are only a few examples of these faience bells surviving today, making the Swansea example, on display in the Games and Music case in the House of Life, a rare and precious example of the musical past. These bells are incredibly small; our one is just 4cm tall. The fact that this bell was made of faience rather than bronze would indicate that it was some form of votive item (Elwart & Emerit 2019, 319–22). Acoustically its shape, even with the lip of the bell, which is now missing, would limit the loudness and sustain of the sound rung out. This would support the idea that this specific example was not for “musical” use, but rather as a protective sound—perhaps similar to bikers’ “gremlin bells”.

Fig. 1: Faience Bes-bell (WK44)

The second object, the “whistle” (fig. 2), is, to my knowledge, rather unique.

Fig. 2: A mysterious “whistle” (W247)

W247 was part of the William MacGregor collection, sold by Sotheby’s in 1922 as pottery (lot 1798), and bought by “Cousins” on behalf of Sir Henry Wellcome for four pounds, fifteen shillings (Hardwick 2011). It was part of a miscellaneous lot, which was summarily described in the sale catalogue as “a quantity of fragments in silver, pottery, wood, stone, and earthenware”. Not too promising! In fact, the lot was dominated by faience beads. However, after buying the lot, it was identified in the Wellcome archives (fig. 3) as “one (?) whistle, made up of alternate white and blue pottery rings on tube. 3¾" long (in two pieces).

Fig. 3: Wellcome slip for W247

The whistle then came to Swansea in 1971, receiving its current accession number W247, and is today a favourite of visitors, where until recently it was on display. A few months ago, the fragile state of this unique object led to the decision to have it sent to Cardiff for conservation, which is currently ongoing.

Fig. 4: “mouthpiece” (W247)

While there are typologies of musical instruments in ancient Egypt, W247 does not fit in any of them (Anderson 1976; Hickmann 1949). In fact, while there are many different forms of wind-based musical instrument in ancient Egypt, our mysterious “whistle” doesn’t bear a resemblance to any of them. W247 is, in fact, a complicated object. It comprises a copper-based tube, with decorative rings in alternating colour, which seem to be attached to the tube with some form of gesso. At one end is a “mouthpiece” (fig. 4) that would not be simple to play (if any wind instrument players are reading this, please get in touch with your thoughts!). Interestingly, this mouthpiece seems to have a piece of wooden material gummed inside—the purpose of this is unknown at the moment (fig. 5).

Fig. 5: View inside “mouthpiece” showing wooden material (W247)

Throughout its modern history, the decorative rings have been variously described as pottery, faience, and glass. However, it was only when scrutinising the object, earlier this year, that Ken and I realised two things. The first was that the white rings are made of bone or ivory. The second was that the blue rings are not faience but lapis lazuli (Aston, Harrell & Shaw 2000, 39–40), a material unattested on any musical instrument in ancient Egypt (fig. 6). Furthermore, searches for convincing parallels in the ancient Near East are so far rather fruitless (I would love to hear if a reader knows of any similar examples!). It may be the case that W247 isn’t Egyptian, but perhaps Mesopotamian—an avenue of ongoing research.

Fig. 6: Lapis lazuli ring (W247)

Musicology and the broader study of sound (its forms, contexts, and meanings) in ancient Egypt is a growing subject of study (Elwart & Emerit 2019; Köpp-Junk 2018; von Lieven 2016). While the theory of this discipline is a hot topic of discussion, there is still a need to make more of the source data, the objects themselves, available for research. Therefore, the opportunity to study objects such as W247 (fig. 7), and the mysteries around them, makes working on the musical material in the Egypt Centre so exciting. As part of this work, W247, along with the rest of the musicological collection at Swansea, will be fully published in the near future, including information gleaned from the conservation work being carried out at Cardiff University. This conservation provides an opportunity to take a closer look at the materials in this object. What is the small piece of wood in the mouthpiece (remains of a reed? stopper? detritus?)? Can the binding agent between the tube and the decorative rings tell us more about how this object was made? Why is it decorated with lapis lazuli, and can we find the origin of the material? But more importantly, this work will make the future of this unimposing, but invaluable, object secure for years to come.

Fig. 7: Views of W247

I am grateful to Ken for allowing me to work on the collection and to present at the Wonderful Things conference earlier this year. The dates for the second Egypt Centre conference have been announced: 23–24 May 2020. This conference is sure to build on the strengths of the first, and bring more material currently held in the Egypt Centre to light both for research and the enjoyment of all!

Anderson, R. D. (1976) Catalogue of Egyptian antiquities in the British Museum III: musical instruments. London: Trustees of the British Museum.
Aston, B. G., J. A. Harrell, and I. Shaw (2000) ‘Stone’. In Ancient Egyptian materials and technology, ed. P. T. Nicholson and G. J. Shaw. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 5–77.
Elwart, D. and S. Emerit (2019) ‘Sound studies and visual studies applied to ancient Egyptian sources’. In Sounding sensory profiles in the ancient Near East, ed. A. Schellenberg and T. Krüger. Ancient Near East Monographs 25. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature. 315–334.
Hardwick, T. (2011) ‘Five Months before Tut: Purchasers and Prices at the MacGregor Sale, 1922’. Journal of the History of Collections 23, 1: 1–14.
Hickmann, H. (1949) Instruments de musique. Catalogue général des antiquités égyptiennes du Musée du Caire. Cairo: Imprimerie de l’Institut français d’archéologie orientale.
Köpp-Junk, H. (2018) ‘Sound of Silence? Neueste Ergebnisse aus der Musikarchäologie’. In Pérégrinations avec Erhart Graefe: Festschrift zu seinem 75. Geburtstag, ed. A. I. Blöbaum, M. Eaton-Krauss and A. Wüthrich. Ägypten und Altes Testament 87. Münster: Zaphon. 267–283.
Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge (1922) Catalogue of the MacGregor Collection of Egyptian Antiquities. London: Davy.
von Lieven, A. (2016) ‘Sounds of power: the concept of sound in ancient Egyptian religion’. In Religion für die Sinne / Religion for the senses, ed. P. Reichling and M. Strothmann. Artificium 58. Oberhausen: Athena. 25–35.