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Monday, 27 April 2020

A Brief History of the Egypt Centre

Since starting this blog in January 2019, many people have asked me about the history of the Egypt Centre collection. Therefore, the post for this this week presents a brief introduction to the collection.

The Egypt Centre collection will forever be associated with the pharmaceutical entrepreneur Sir Henry Solomon Wellcome (1853–1936). Wellcome had a passion for collecting medically related artefacts, aiming to create a Museum of Man. He bought for his collection anything related to medicine, including Napoleon’s toothbrush, currently on display at the Wellcome Collection in London. But he also collected non-medical objects, including many from Egypt. He was a keen archaeologist, in particular digging for many years at Jebel Moya, Sudan, during which time he hired 4,000 people to excavate (fig. 1). Wellcome was one of the first investigators to use kite aerial photography on an archaeological site, with surviving images available in the Wellcome Library.

Fig. 1: Sir Henry Wellcome at the Jebel Moya excavations. Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY.

When Wellcome died in 1936, his collection was cared for by trustees, who were eventually based in London. Much of the collection was dispersed to various museums in Britain, but by the early 1970s some of it remained in the basement of the Petrie Museum. Gwyn Griffiths (1911–2004), lecturer in the Classics Department of University College Swansea (now Swansea University), and David Dixon (1930–2005), lecturer in Egyptology at University College London, arranged for a selection of the artefacts to come to Swansea. The condition of the loan being that the objects ‘should be made available to research workers all over the world, and that part of it, at least, should be shown to the public’. In 1971, ninety-two crates of material arrived in South Wales. These were later supplemented by forty-eight pottery vases. Kate Bosse-Griffiths (1910–1998), wife of Gwyn Griffiths and an Egyptologist, carefully unpacked them and rediscovered a wealth of objects, some of which were still wrapped in 1930s newspapers (fig. 2). These included objects from Armant, Tell el-Amarna, Deir el-Medina, Esna, Mostagedda, Qau el-Kebir, etc. Additionally, some of the artefacts can be traced back to the collections of Robert de Rustafjaell (1853–1943), Robert Grenville Gayer-Anderson (1881–1945), Revd Randolph Humphrey Berens (1844–1922), Luigi Palma di Cesnola (1832–1904), Revd William Frankland Hood (1825–1864), and the Revd William MacGregor (1848–1937), amongst others.

Fig. 2: Wedding photo of Kate and Gwyn Griffiths (1939)

As a determined and indomitable woman, Kate succeeded in setting up a small museum which resided in the Chemistry Department for two years (fig. 3). However, under the patronage of John Gould (1927–2001), Chair of Greek, a small room in the Classics Department soon housed a number of unique and exciting pieces, several of which Kate and others later published. Roger Davies, the Arts Faculty photographer, and his wife assisted Kate in the setting up of the exhibition. David Dixon, as a Welsh-speaking Welshman had requested that all labels were bilingual, a policy that is still adhered to.

Fig. 3: Dr. Kate Bosse-Griffiths with the collection housed in the science lab (1972).

The collection, which became known as the Wellcome Museum, formally opened to the public in March 1976 (fig. 4) for two afternoons in each week of term (Thursdays and Fridays 2.30–4.30). Some artefacts were also displayed at the Royal Institution of South Wales (now Swansea Museum). Within the University, while some cases were available, many artefacts were displayed unprotected and so in 1978–1979 additional display cases were purchased from the University reserve fund. In 1978 the collection was added to by items from the surplus of items from the Egypt Exploration Society excavations, including many from Amarna, which were distributed by the British Museum. Additionally, in 1982 the Twenty-first Dynasty coffin of the Chantress of Amun, Iwesemhesetmut, was transferred from the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter (fig. 5).

Fig. 4: Official opening of the Wellcome Museum in 1976. Left to right: Prof. Gwyn Griffiths, Prof. Robert Steel (University Principal), Dr. Kate Bosse-Griffiths, Mayoress and Mayor of Swansea, Harry James.

In 1993 the title ‘Honorary Curator’ was passed to David Gill, lecturer in the Department of Classics and Ancient History. David had formerly been a research assistant in Greek and Roman antiquities at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (1988–1992). Kate continued as ‘Honorary Adviser’. The collection remained under-used, possibly because of resource limitations in terms of staff, money, and space, but also perhaps because of the then unfashionable nature of object-centred learning in universities. In January 1995, Sybil Crouch, manager of the Taliesin Arts Centre, produced a report to the University Image and Marketing Sub Committee suggesting the setting up of a new museum for the Egyptology exhibition. After the suggestion to improve access to the collection, Heritage Lottery Funding and European Regional Development Funding was sought. This, together with a sum from the University, allowed the building of a purpose-built museum as a wing of the Taliesin Arts Centre. A working party, chaired by Prof. Alan Lloyd, an Egyptologist and Head of the Department of Classics and Ancient History, worked on ideas for display. During this time members of the group had included: Sybil Crouch; David Gill; Anthony Donohue (1944–2016), an Egyptologist who had studied the collection over a number of years; Fiona Nixon, a Swansea University architect; and Gerald Gabb, from Swansea Museum Service.

Fig. 5: Dr. Kate Bosse-Griffiths with the recently acquired coffin of Chantress of Amun, Iwesenhesetmut (1982).

During the interim period, David Gill, together with Alison Lloyd of the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea, organised an exhibition in the Glynn Vivian called ‘The Face of Egypt’ to show selected items from the Wellcome Museum, as well as items loaned from other Welsh museums, as a foretaste of the new museum. This exhibition proved to be a great success. In 1997, 130 objects were transferred to Swansea from the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, where they had been part of a general teaching collection. In the same year the first professional curator, Carolyn Graves-Brown, was employed, and in September 1998 the Museum was officially opened to the public by the Viscount St. Davids (1939–2009) (fig. 6). The following year the Friends of the Egypt Centre was formed and continues to this day. The museum originally had one curator, partly funded by the Council of Museums in Wales. We now have five full-time members of staff, four part-time, and over one hundred volunteers. Each year, around 20,000 visitors come to see the collection of almost 6,000 artefacts, many of which are housed in the two galleries: The House of Death and the House of Life. Since opening its doors, the Egypt Centre has had several donations and loans of artefacts. In 2005, forty-two objects were loaned by the British Museum, while in 2012 a collection of fifty-eight artefacts arrived from Woking College.

Fig. 6: Official opening of the Egypt Centre in 1998. Left to right: Sybil Crouch, Fiona Nixon, Dr. Carolyn Graves-Brown, Prof. Robin Williams (former Vice Chancellor), Prof. David Gill, Prof. Alan Lloyd, Lord St. Davids, Mayor and Mayoress of Swansea.

In the twenty-two years since the Egypt Centre was formed, several special exhibitions have taken place. The first was Reflections of Women in Ancient Egypt: Women, museums and Egyptologists, which was launched in 2001. In 2005, the Egypt Centre was fortunate to have the temporary loan of the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus from the British Museum, which accompanied the exhibition Pharaoh’s Formula: Maths in ancient Egypt (fig. 7). The most recent was Through the Lens: Images of Egypt 1917–2009, launched in 2010, which showcased photos taken by L.Sgt Johnston of Carmarthen during the First World War.

Fig. 7: Prof. Richard Parkinson unveiling the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus (2005)

The Egypt Centre has organised and hosted a number of international conferences over the past two decades. For example, in December 2005 the museum organised Sex and Gender in Ancient Egypt: ‘Don your wig for a joyful hour’, the proceedings of which were published in 2008. This was followed in 2006 by The Exploited and Adored: Animals in ancient Egypt. In 2010 there was the successful conference Egyptology in the Present: Experiential and experimental methods in archaeology (fig. 8), which was accompanied by a small display exhibit in the House of Life, with the proceedings following in 2015. Demon Things: Ancient Egyptian manifestations of liminal entities was co-organised by the Egypt Centre and the Ancient Egyptian Demonology Project. In 2018, the Egypt Centre hosted the annual CIPEG (Comité international pour l’égyptologie) conference, under the theme of Beating Barriers! Overcoming obstacles to achievement. Most recently, in 2019 the Egypt Centre organised the conference Wonderful Things: The Material Culture of the Egypt Centre. Because of its success, we have decided to make this an annual event. However, due to the current situation, the conference planned for May this year will instead take place via a series of free Zoom lectures, the initial programme of which can be found here. In 2021, we will celebrate fifty years of the collection arriving in Swansea!

Fig. 8: Participants of the Egyptology in the Present conference (2010).

Bibliography:
Gill, D. (2005) ‘From Wellcome Museum to Egypt Centre: Displaying Egyptology in Swansea’. Göttinger Miszellen: Beiträge zur ägyptologischen Diskussion 205: 47–54.
Graves-Brown, C. (2004) ‘The birth of the Egypt Centre’. Discussions in Egyptology 59: 23–30.
Griffiths, J. G. (2000) ‘Museum efforts before Wellcome’. Inscriptions: The newsletter of the Friends of the Egypt Centre, Swansea 5: 6.
Griffin, K. (2019) ‘Egypt in Swansea’. Ancient Egypt 20, 2: 42–48.
Larson, F. (2009) An infinity of things: How Sir Henry Wellcome collected the world. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Rhodes James, R. (1994) Henry Wellcome. Hodder & Stoughton, 1994.

Sunday, 19 April 2020

Keeping Busy during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Over the past month, our world has been turned upside-down by the COVID-19 pandemic, which is affecting all of us. While the Egypt Centre is currently closed, our work continues from the safety of our homes. In fact, some of us are probably busier than ever! The blog post for this week presents a brief report of some of our activities.

Due to the current lockdown, the Egypt Centre conference planned for May has, unsurprisingly, been cancelled. However, some of the speakers have kindly agreed to give their presentations via Zoom. Additionally, these will be supplemented by several presentations that were delivered at last year’s conference and others that were not scheduled to take place at all. Rather than have them over one weekend, we have decided to host two per week. These lectures are free, although registration for each talk is required. The initial schedule is below, with subsequent presentations being added in a few weeks. All of the talks relate to the Egypt Centre artefacts (fig. 1), so why not join us in exploring the collection from the safety of your homes!

TitleIntroduction to the Egypt Centre: History and Highlights
By: Ken Griffin (The Egypt Centre)
When: Apr 30, 2020 07:00 PM London

TitleThe Life Cycle of an Object: The Lintel of the Overseer of Craftsmen, Tjenti
By: Ken Griffin (The Egypt Centre)
When: May 5, 2020 07:00 PM London

TitleAll the Words Unspoken: A Faience Flute and the Materiality of Music
By: John Rogers (Swansea University)
When: May 8, 2020 07:00 PM London

TitlePaddle Dolls in Ancient Egypt: Gaudy or Godly?
By: Megan Clark (University of Liverpool)
When: May 12, 2020 07:00 PM London

TitleAncient Egypt and Swansea Royal Institution: A Tale of a Riot; Smuggling and Egyptology
By: Carolyn Graves-Brown (The Egypt Centre)
When: May 15, 2020 07:00 PM London

TitleA Call to Arms: Discovering the Secrets of the Egypt Centre’s Figures from Funerary Models
By: Sam Powell (Swansea University)
When: May 19, 2020 07:00 PM London

TitleThe Posthumous Destiny of Amenhotep-son-of-Hapu
By: Aidan Dodson (University of Bristol)
When: May 22, 2020 07:00 PM London

To book for any of these presentations, please complete the appropriate registration via the following link. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting. Please make sure to check your junk email. Do keep in mind that for many of the speakers this technology is new, so we apologise for any glitches encountered!

Fig. 1: Sarcophagus fragment of Amenhotep son of Hapu (W1367b)

Because of the pandemic more people are turning to online resources, which may well become a permanent feature. Therefore, we are working hard to make the Egypt Centre more accessible online. Aside from the Zoom lectures mentioned above, we are working with our volunteer Sam Powell on revamping our online database, which we hope to launch in 2021. This will include more detailed information on the objects, such as acquisition history, previous owners, a bibliography, and higher resolution images (fig. 2). Eventually, we plan to have multiple images for each object, integrate virtual trails and the ability to save your favourite objects, and other features.

Fig. 2: Screenshot of an object in our new online database

Some of our volunteers have been kept busy over the past month transcribing old auction catalogues, a project that I started about a year ago. To date, 15,000 lots have been transcribed. The catalogues mainly date between 1900–1936, during which time Sir Henry Wellcome purchased tens of thousands of objects. Since the majority of our objects originate from the Wellcome collection, these catalogues are often invaluable for tracing their histories. This is particularly the case for those objects that had no accompanying documentation when they arrived in Swansea (i.e., a Wellcome object slip). Yet sometimes our objects contain auction stickers, which can help identify them in the transcribed catalogues. Other volunteers have been transcribing the old “day books” kept by Kate Bosse Griffiths, the first curator of the collection. These are particularly challenging since Kate’s writing is very difficult to decipher, which isn’t helped by the fact that she switches, often mid sentence, between English, Welsh, German, and other languages! These day books are particularly interesting and useful as they provide details about the early history of the collection and records of her correspondence with various scholars (fig. 3).

Fig. 3: Day book entry dated 17 July 1972. Letter from Kate to Dieter Mueller

Our Learning Officer, Hannah Sweetapple, has been hard at work creating a number of resources for those teaching at home, which are free to download and print. This includes a mummification comic strip, a mummification experiment, colouring sheets, and a monthly “come and create” session (click on the video below). If you have bored kids at home and are looking for something to keep them busy, why not check out the resources available here.  



The Egypt Centre has recently teamed up with Aura Museum Genius in order to offer audio guides of the collection. While only ten highlights from each gallery are currently available, we hope to be able to offer additional objects in the future (fig. 4). These audio guides can be used while visiting the Museum (when we eventually reopen!) or from the comfort of your own home. Each highlight is narrated by Luke Keenan, our Senior Education Leader. A Welsh version of these objects is currently in production and will be available shortly. This app is free, and while it is currently only available for iPhone uses, an Android version is now in development.  



Fig. 4: Screenshot of the Aura app

The highlights included in the Aura app are based on the thirty objects chosen last year by our award-winning volunteers and members of the public. Over the past week, I have been turning these objects into jigsaw puzzles and posting them on Facebook to keep people occupied. Since these puzzles have proved to be quite popular as a way of highlighting the Egypt Centre collection, I’ll continue posting them during the lockdown; some people have been getting very competitive! If you would like to have a go, please click on the following link. A booklet containing the thirty highlights is due to be completed this week (fig. 5). This is the first of several illustrated guides planned to highlight the diverse collection of the Egypt Centre. To receive a pdf copy, just make a contribution of £5 or more to our new crowdfunding page (details below)!

Fig. 5: Cover of our Thirty Highlights booklet

The Egypt Centre relies heavily on educational visits, shop sales, events, and donations as our main source of income. However, with the Museum closed for the foreseeable future due to the lockdown, our income has been greatly affected. We are reaching out to you! Please help us to continue to offer educational resources, to increase our digital presence, to conserve our unique and precious collection, and to support our volunteers.
  • If you are an Egyptophile, please donate! 
  • If you appreciate art, museums, and the preservation of antiquities, please donate!
  • If you have been inspired by our collection, either through visiting the Museum or virtually, please donate!
  • If you value the role of volunteers, please donate!
  • If you are attending one of our free Zoom lectures, please donate!
Please share this appeal as widely as possible with friends, on social media, or other means. Every donation or share makes a difference! https://wave.swansea.ac.uk/p/egyptcentre/


Most importantly, stay home and stay safe!

Monday, 13 April 2020

A Tale of Five Geese

One of the most beloved objects in the Egypt Centre collection is a small wooden goose, currently on display in the Animals case in the House of Death. W588 is a pale bluey-green goose, with black eyes and a dark red beak. The top of the tail appears to be a light reddish-orange colour, with two blue stripes running through it. The belly of the goose is white. It stands on a wooden plinth with white gesso covered legs and black painted toes (three on each foot). The top and bottom of the base remain unpainted while the sides are painted black (figs. 1 & 6). The possible remains of a dowel appear on top of the goose, which suggests that it was originally held by a servant figure.

Fig. 1: W588

Several Egyptologists who have visited the Egypt Centre in the past have suggested that W588 is a fake, mainly because of the modern-looking base. The object can be traced back to the collection of the Reverend William MacGregor, which was sold at auction in 1922. W588 was sold as part of lot 576, which was purchased for £5/15 by Harry Stow, Sir Henry Wellcome’s chief agent (Hardwick 2012, 28). The object is described in the catalogue as “a painted carved wood figure of a goose, 3½ in. high by 7½ in. long, found at Arab-el-Birk, Middle Empire [Pl. XXXII]”. The fact that it was illustrated in the plates (fig. 2) shows that the goose was regarded as one of the most important objects of MacGregor’s vast collection of approximately 9,000 pieces (Hardwick 2011, 180). A small sticker on one of the long sides of the base has the printed number 535 in red. This is a well-known sticker type, which relates to MacGregor’s own numbering system.

Fig. 2: W588, as shown in the MacGregor auction catalogue

The most important piece of information from the catalogue is that the object was found at “Arab-el-Birk”. When catalogued at the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum in 1923 (number A15379), the provenance had morphed into “Arab al Berkh” (fig. 3). So where exactly is this site? I spent a considerable amount of time over the past few years trying to find it, as had the Egypt Centre curator. This included searching alternative spellings and asking Egyptian colleagues, all without success; it was turning into a wild goose chase! Several months ago, I searched the MacGregor catalogue and found that lot 819 contained an object “found at Arab-el-Birk, opposite Aboutig”. This led me to Abu Tig (أبو تيج), the third largest city in the Asyut governorate. With the site of Aysut being well-known for its Middle Kingdom tombs, this certainly made sense based on the dating of the goose (Regulski & Golia).    


Fig. 3: Wellcome flimsy slip for W588

Several days ago, I was browsing through the auction catalogue of Henry Oppenheimer (1859–1932), a famous London collector, which was sold by Christie’s between 10–14 July 1936 (Bierbrier 2019, 347). Lot 20 immediately caught my eye: “A wood model of a goose. 3 in. high (80 mm.); 9¼ in. long (235 mm.). VIth Dynasty. The body painted a pale green, the eyes, mouth and feet black. Found at Assiout in a VIth-Dynasty tomb with four others by Professor Maspero in 1884, and presented by him to Dr. W. L. Nash. Two of the others went to the Gizeh Museum, one was bought by Professor Flinders Petrie and the fourth was given away by Professor Maspero.” An annotation in the margins of the catalogue notes that the lot was purchased for £22, which was a considerable sum for the day. Unfortunately, it doesn’t state who purchased this lot. Upon searching the Petrie Museum online catalogue, I found several wooden geese, one (UC45821) of which shares many details with W588 (fig. 4).

Fig. 4: UC45821

UC45821 is a wooden model of a goose with red feathers, green beak, black eyes, and white belly. Like W588, it is attached to a rectangular wooden base, which is painted black on the sides only. The legs, including the rendering of the toes, appear to be the same as the Swansea goose (fig. 5). Unfortunately, the Petrie Museum catalogue provides no details on its provenance or acquisition.

Fig. 5: Comparison of W588 and UC45821

MacGregor is known to have visited Egypt in 1885, perhaps just a few months after the geese had been discovered by Gaston Maspero (1846–1816). In fact, in 1886 Maspero invited MacGregor onto his boat (the Tunisah) where Maspero was negotiating the acquisition of a mummy for MacGregor’s collection (info via Bev Rogers). Maspero, Petrie, and MacGregor served together on the committee of the Burlington Fine Arts Club (BFAC) for many years (Pierson 2017, 111). Additionally, Walter Llewellyn Nash (1841–1920), who was mentioned receiving one of the geese in the Oppenheimer catalogue, was also a member of the BFAC, contributing objects to an exhibition on Egyptian art in 1895 (Bierbrier 2019, 338). Thus, it is clear that Maspero, Petrie, MacGregor, and Nash were all acquaintances and so it is certainly possible that Maspero passed on the geese to them. Questions remain, however. Are W588 and UC45821 two of the five geese found by Maspero in 1884? Where is the goose that was sold in 1936 as part of the Oppenheimer collection? Did Maspero add the bases to the figures before presenting them to friends? Moreover, whose tomb did Maspero discover the geese in? If any readers can shed some light on these questions, I would love to hear!

Fig. 6: W588

Bibliography:
Bierbrier, M. L. (2019) Who was who in Egyptology. London: The Egypt Exploration Society. 5th edition.
Burlington Fine Arts Club (1895) Exhibition of the art of ancient Egypt. London: Burlington Fine Arts Club.
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.
Hardwick, T. (2012) ‘The obsidian king’s origins: Further light on purchasers and prices at the MacGregor sale, 1922’. Discussions in Egyptology 65: 7–52.
Houlihan, P. F. and S. M. Goodman (1986) The birds of ancient Egypt. Natural history of Egypt 1. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press.
Pierson, S. J. (2017) Private collecting, exhibitions, and the shaping of art history in London. The Burlington Fine Arts Club. Oxford: Routledge.
Regulski, I. and M. Golia eds. [n.d.] Asyut: Guardian city. London: The British Museum.
Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge (1922) Catalogue of the MacGregor collection of Egyptian antiquities. London: Davy.

Monday, 6 April 2020

Heritage Placements at the Egypt Centre

The blog post for this week is written by two Swansea University students, Elle Kerridge and Bethany Saunders, on their volunteer placements at the Egypt Centre. Both placements were designed to provide the students with key heritage skills, including education, preventative conservation, and digitisation of archives.

During the 2019–20 academic year, I (Beth) have been a part of the WoW (Week of Work) placement at the Egypt Centre whereby I participated in scanning a donation of 25,000 slides and negatives of sites in the ancient Mediterranean, including Egypt, Asia Minor, North Africa, Morocco, Syria, Israel, Greece, Italy, and Cyprus. These photos had not been previously digitised and contained a wide range of places that have been destroyed or severely damaged in recent times (particularly Syria). Therefore, it is important to preserve the rare photos we have, so we can preserve their history even if the structures no longer stand today (fig. 1). This allowed me to develop my archival and documentation skills, whilst also observing moments in time from different perspectives that had not been seen before; this made it possible to not only view the sites from an academic point of view, but also to witness the enjoyment of the donor and those around, to show what impact ancient cultures have on modern understanding and their historical appreciation. As a third year Egyptology student, I was particularly fascinated with the photos of the pyramids (fig. 2), Cairo Museum, and Tutankhamun’s death mask, but other photos of Palmyra at sunset and the coastal regions of Greece and Italy were particularly stunning.

Fig. 1: Slide of Palmyra (c. 1980s)

Fig. 2: Pyramid of Khafre (c. 1980s)

Through the efforts of all the volunteers, we scanned the slides and negatives much faster than anticipated, so we began scanning photos of the Egypt Centre objects and public related activities that were in need of better-quality digitisation. This allowed me to view objects that I have never seen before, but also observe older photos of ones that I have studied, including beautifully decorated cartonnage cases and fragments from the Book of the Dead. Though there were many great aspects of this placement, a personal highlight for me was discovering that I actually had an object in the photos living in my current student house (fig. 3). Bearing in mind that these photos of the Egypt Centre are many years old, I recently scanned a photo which made me question, why does this object look so similar to something I have sitting in my living room? I have been living in my current accommodation in Swansea for two academic years now and for as long as I can remember, this object had been in my house. I remember it even being in my current room when I did the house viewing! I made the comparison and showed Syd Howells from the Egypt Centre where we were both in agreement that it is in fact the same object, which was likely used as an educational tool! I can only wonder how it ended up in my house, but since the previous residents left it behind, I gave it to the Egypt Centre. The object, of course, is not ancient, but a modern tourist piece probably brought back from Egypt (fig. 4)!


Fig. 3: Egypt Centre workshop (c. 2002)

I am very grateful to Ken Griffin for this amazing opportunity to gain more experience in museum work, to view and preserve photos of ancient sites, to uncover mysterious disappearances of objects, and to look at the way the Egypt Centre has evolved in its public sector.


Fig. 4: Object from the previous photo

I (Elle) started volunteering for the Egypt Centre at the beginning of February 2020 for my module Heritage Work Placement, which was one of six modules that I would complete for my History Masters 2019–2020. I chose this module because it would give me a chance to do something completely different outside of the usual essays and seminar readings that I did throughout my undergraduate. As a side note, I knew nothing about Egyptology before coming to volunteer here! I was meant to complete 100 hours of volunteering before the end of term in June. I completed around half of that before the current COVID-19 pandemic caused everything to crash down around students and faculty alike and my cultivation of Egyptological knowledge was cut short. The idea behind this blog post was thought up by Syd Howells, the volunteer manager at the Egypt Centre, and myself to show the experiences of a student volunteer.


Fig. 5: Mummification at the Egypt Centre

The first few sessions of volunteering consisted of my induction, which included being gifted my gallery assistant notebook that would guide me along the different courses I would need to take part in and the details I would need to learn about each gallery. The courses included a Customer Care workshop, a Gallery Tour, and, my favourite, the Preventative Conservation Training. This was my favourite as it included a trip to the recently refurbished archives and store and I had the chance to see some of the artefacts that had not made it to display, including the human and animal remains! Before the untimely temporary closure of the Egypt Centre, I was about to start my assessment of the public activities consisting of Mummification (fig. 5), Materials (fig. 6) and Senet (an Egyptian board game). This would allow me to independently educate the public on these activities and help out with the educational aspects if necessary.


Fig. 6: Handling session with a royal couple!

Throughout the entire length of my volunteering experience, I was welcomed by everyone; full-time staff and other volunteers of all ages. As a result of my studying and working alongside my volunteering, I came into the Egypt Centre different days and a variety of times so as to meet an array of volunteers who all helped me in different ways and were always there to talk to, whether it be Egypt related or not! Every volunteering session was different and whilst it was a challenge being in a gallery where I was unfamiliar with the content, it pushed me to really concentrate on the displays and ask questions that I might not have thought of prior to this experience. Overall, the past couple of months at the Egypt Centre have been challenging but mostly fun and educational. This opportunity to meet new people and expand my historical knowledge has enhanced my university experience and I would definitely recommend it to anyone, student or not, given the chance.