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Monday, 29 March 2021

What’s in a name? An introduction to Thebes: the city of one hundred gates

The blog post for this week is written by Sam Powell, an Egypt Centre volunteer who moderates the chat of these short courses.

Last week we started the new five week course of the history and sites of Thebes. The first week was the introduction, with Ken covering the geography and background of this fascinating area. This course has proven the most popular to date with over 180 delegates attending over the Sunday and Wednesday sessions. As the moderator for the course, this was a little daunting, but fortunately everything worked out perfectly! 

The Egypt Centre has over 100 objects known to originate from the region, and possibly many more that cannot be conclusively defined as Theban (fig. 1). This includes additional objects that can be attributed to the Theban region on stylistic grounds, although their provenance has regrettably been lost (such as funerary figure W434).

Fig. 1: Tomb relief from Thebes

After an introduction to the Egypt Centre for those new to these courses, Ken started by discussing the correct terminology for the area covered by this course, which was a lot more complicated than I’d previously considered. The area I would describe as Luxor or Thebes is known by a variety of names, all of which describe slightly different areas. The area is located within the nome of Waset. Nomes are territorial divisions used in ancient Egypt, with Waset being the capital of the fourth Upper Egyptian nome. The ancient Egyptian name for the site (at least during the New Kingdom) was ni͗wt, ‘the city’, or ni͗wt-rst, ‘the Southern city’, as opposed to the Northern city of Memphis. This also lead to the name I͗wnw-šmꜣ ‘Southern Heliopolis’, in reference to the great religious site in the north. In Demotic times, the site was referred to as tꜣ i͗pt ‘the temple’, due to the size and scale of Karnak Temple. The term ‘Thebes’ comes from the Greek name for the site, although the Greeks also referred to the site as Diospolis Magna (‘the Great Diospolis’) because of the association of the god Amun with Zeus (fig. 2). The modern term for the site is Luxor, but even this is not without confusion. Modern inhabitants of Luxor will typically only refer to the East Bank, and in particular, downtown, as Luxor rather than including the West Bank or Karnak. In light of this, Ken chose to stick with the term Thebes whilst acknowledging all these other names.

Fig. 2: A city of many names!

After discussion on the name of the area, Ken treated us to a chronological run through of the main developments, noting evidence of human occupation on both sides of the river from Palaeolithic times. The population were largely hunter gatherers, attested by the quantity of lithics surviving. The Egypt Centre has a number of Palaeolithic flints, which will be the subject of a future blog post by the Egypt Centre curator, Carolyn Graves-Brown (fig. 3). Ken also covered the beginning of settlements at el-Tarif in the Neolithic period, the Predynastic pottery and stone vessels found on the West Bank providing evidence of settlements.

Fig. 3: Early flints from Thebes 

By the Old Kingdom, there are signs of activity at Karnak, and two brick built mastabas appear at el-Tarif, as well as several rock cut tombs at the el Khokha necropolis. Ken also discussed the First Intermediate Period, and the increase in power of provincial rulers such as Intef, and the subsequent reunification of Egypt by Montuhotep II marking the beginning of the Middle Kingdom (fig. 4). By the Second Intermediate Period, the latter kings of the Thirteenth Dynasty are possibly based in Thebes, as they dedicate many statues at Karnak. The Seventeenth Dynasty rulers are also Theban. The New Kingdom is definitely the ‘golden age’ of the site with a wide range of temples and tombs being constructed, many of which will be discussed in more detail in subsequent weeks.

Fig. 4: Memorial Temple of Montuhotep II

The Third Intermediate Period marks a decline from the glories of the New Kingdom, with the High Priests of Amun becoming the virtual rulers of Thebes during the Twenty-first Dynasty. By the Twenty-fifth Dynasty, under Kushite rule, the worship of Amun increases resulting in huge building projects at Karnak (fig. 5). In 663 BC, the Sack of Thebes by Ashurbanipal of the Neo-Assyrian Empire occurs. Obviously this is not recorded in the Egyptian texts, which always conveniently ‘forgets’ the bad news, but Assyrian sources identify that the destruction was significant and long remembered. The Ptolemaic Period involves some sporadic building projects at Karnak, as well as the temple at Deir el Medina, but the region was largely known as a centre of dissent, and by the Roman Period, Strabo describes Thebes as ‘a mere village’. The Coptic Period and the advent of Christianity leads to the reuse of some tombs being inhabited by Christian monks, and the building of several monasteries in the region. By the Islamic Period, many of the monasteries close, and the mosque of Abu el Haggag is built at Luxor Temple.

Fig. 5: Kiosk of Taharqa at Karnak

This is only a very brief run through of some of the key points covered in the first week of this course, and despite attending both the Sunday and Wednesday sessions, it was impossible to cover everything.
We also looked at some of the key deities of the site, such as the state god Amun (fig. 6) and the Theban Triad (Amun, Mut, and Khonsu), and Montu, as well as some of the ‘local’ gods such as Meretseger and Ahmose Nefertari.

Fig. 6: Statue of Amun

As always, Ken somehow manages to make these courses appealing and accessible to both the novice and those with a more extensive background knowledge, and his encyclopaedic knowledge is invaluable when dealing with such a broad topic. I’m really looking forward to returning to the site in the future with a much deeper understanding of the area.

In subsequent weeks, we will be looking at the temples of the East Bank (Karnak and Luxor), the royal necropoleis, memorial temples, and the tombs of the nobles.


Arnold, Dieter 1976. Gräber des Alten und Mittleren Reiches in El-Tarif. Archäologische Veröffentlichungen, Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, Abteilung Kairo 17. Mainz: Zabern. Mit einem Beitrag von Wolfgang Schenkel und Zeichnungen von Wolf-Günther Legde. Plan der Nekropole von Joseph Dorner. 

Nims, Charles F. 1965. Thebes of the pharaohs: pattern for every city. Photographs by Wim Swaan. London; Toronto: Elek; Ryerson.

Saleh, Mohamed 1977. Three Old-Kingdom tombs at Thebes: 1. the tomb of Unas-Ankh no. 413. 2. the tomb of Khenty no. 405. 3. the tomb of Ihy no. 186. Archäologische Veröffentlichungen, Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, Abteilung Kairo 14. Mainz: Zabern.

Soliman, Rasha 2009. Old and Middle Kingdom Theban tombs. Egyptian site series. London: Golden House.

Strudwick, Nigel and John H. Taylor (eds) 2003. The Theban necropolis: past, present and future. London: British Museum Press.

Strudwick, Nigel and Helen Strudwick 1999. Thebes in Egypt: a guide to the tombs and temples of ancient Luxor. London: The British Museum Press.

Monday, 22 March 2021

It’s a dog’s life in ancient Egypt – animal trails and puppy dog tails in the Egypt Centre

This blog post has been written by Sam Powell, with a contribution by Hannah Sweetapple on our Awesome Animals workshop.

Those of you that are regular readers of Ken’s blog will be aware of the Egypt Centre Online Collection, a project I’ve been working on with the Egypt Centre and which had a soft launch last October. Since then, we have worked hard to continue to update the descriptions for each of the nearly six thousand objects, adding new images, videos, and new information, such as lost Wellcome numbers and auction details on almost a daily basis. In addition, several trails have been added to the site, allowing an exploration of some of the objects based around differing themes. These can be viewed either within the gallery on a mobile device, or from the comfort of your own home. There is also the option to read the trail comment, or listen to an audio version of the text, depending on your preference.

Fig. 1: The Animal trail aimed at our younger audiences

When developing the trails, I was very keen to tailor some specifically for “junior Egyptologists” to engage our younger audiences. The first trail I worked on was centred around some of the highlights of the Animals case in the House of Life (fig. 1). I chose thirteen different animals, including a mummified crocodile (W985), a statue of an ibis (W1048), and a stone dish in the shape of a fish (W1020). The accompanying descriptions for the trail were designed with lots of fun facts and open-ended questions encouraging the audience to form their own ideas about the objects. In addition to the written text, I also decided to ask my young friends Noah and Matilda Barton to record the accompanying audios for the trail to make them more engaging for children (Matilda was studying ancient Egypt at school at the time, and submitted her recordings as her half term homework, and both have previously attended Egypt Centre workshops). The trail has been very well received and has been viewed nearly three hundred times!

Fig. 2: Don’t forget to book for the Awesome Animals Family Workshop

We were so pleased with this format of distilling information and how much people enjoyed this trail that we decided to use this as the trial for adding information in both Welsh and Egyptian. Over the Easter Holidays (running 27th March until 11th April), the Egypt Centre will be running a brand-new online workshop for families focusing on animals of ancient Egypt (fig. 2). The Awesome Animals workshop will look at the animals that lived in ancient Egypt, their links to ancient Egyptian religion, and the most dangerous animals. The workshop consists of a whole host of drop-in activities including crafts, stories, a live introduction, and much more. For more information and to book, visit:  

Today is quite a monumental day for the Egypt Centre as we are please to announce that our An Introduction to Ancient Egyptian Animals for Junior Egyptologists trail is now available in both Welsh (fig. 3) and Arabic (fig. 4). These versions, Cyflwyniad i Anifeiliaid yr Hen Aifft ar Gyfer Eifftolegwyr Ifanc and مقدمة عن الحيوانات في مصر القديمه لطلبة علم المصريات can all be viewed under the Junior Trails tab in the Online Collection. Funding permitting, the hope is to eventually present the entire Egypt Centre Online Collection in a trilingual format to increase accessibility. We are very grateful to Abby Richards-Williams (one of the Egypt Centre’s young volunteers) for the Welsh translation and audio recordings, and to Aida Gadallah and Sam Sanmarkos for the translation into Egyptian. Thanks also to Iris Meijer for arranging the latter.

Fig. 3: Welsh version of the Animals trail

At the Egypt Centre last week, we were also lucky to have a Curator’s Chat from Dr Carolyn Graves-Brown, which examined the topic of dogs in ancient Egypt (ably assisted by her beautiful greyhounds). This talk proved very popular with several guest appearances from dogs in the audience (and a few cats as well!). Carolyn started with a chronological overview of the evidence of canines from the earliest evidence of dog sacrifices, the iconography of dogs under chairs, and dog mummies as votive offerings. She also discussed whether we really can apply our modern Western perception of pets to the past. I would like to think the evidence suggests that we can; many examples of dogs with names suggest affection, and tender burials that to me can only be interpreted as devotion to a beloved companion.

Fig. 4: Arabic version of our Animals trail

As someone with three dogs myself, I particularly liked the quote from a Middle Kingdom official who describes himself as “an iwiw dog who sleeps under the canopy, a dog of the bed whom his mistress loves.” Carolyn then finished up with a look at some of the canine depictions within the Egypt Centre (fig. 5).

Fig. 5: Some of the Egypt Centre objects depicting canines from Carolyn’s Curator’s Chat 

In summary, there’s been a lot of animal activity going on at the Egypt Centre recently for a wide range of audiences. I’d like to pass on my thanks to all of our contributors to the trails, the fantastic team behind the family workshops, and to Carolyn. In light of the one-year anniversary of the UK’s first lockdown beginning, I’d also like to say a big thank you to all of our pets who’ve been extremely patient with having their humans stuck at home with them all day (fig. 6)!

Fig. 6: My eldest dog Noodle Zoomed out after yet another day of Egyptology

Monday, 15 March 2021

New Short Course on the Sites of Thebes

Over the past year, the Egypt Centre has organised five successful short courses via Zoom. The COVID lockdown has provided this new platform and allowed us to attract a larger and more international audience. These courses have been attended by 631 participants, which is much more than what would have been possible had they taken place at Swansea. Sessions take place on Sunday evenings and are repeated live on Wednesday mornings. Additionally, recordings of the sessions are make available to students via our online catalogue. Thus, the courses are accessible to participants wherever they are in the world, regardless of time differences or other commitments!

Fig. 1: Course poster

This coming Sunday (21 March), we will have the first session of a new course entitled Thebes: The City of 100 Gates (fig. 1). The city of Thebes (modern Luxor) is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world. This UNESCO World Heritage site is home to some of the most well-known monuments from ancient Egypt, making it the largest open-air museum in the world (fig. 2). Thebes was the domain of the god Amun, whose expansive temples of Karnak and Luxor were constructed and expanded upon on the East Bank of the Nile. The West Bank was the city of the dead, containing the tombs of rulers such as Ramesses the Great, the “boy-king” Tutankhamun, and the female pharaoh Hatshepsut (fig. 3). Additionally, the Valley of the Queens houses the majestic tomb of Nefertari, often referred to as the Sistine Chapel of ancient Egypt because of its fine paintings. This course will examine the history, development, and sites of ancient Thebes. Throughout the course, objects in the Egypt Centre will be integrated into the sessions when possible.

Fig. 2: Medinet Habu

As with previous courses, this one will take place over five weeks, with the proposed schedule as follows:

Week 1 (Sunday 21 March or Wednesday 24 March): Introduction; the geography and history of the site

Week 2 (Sunday 28 March or Wednesday 31 March): The East Bank Temples (Karnak and Luxor Temple)

Week 3 (Sunday 04 April or Wednesday 07 April): The Royal Necropoleis (Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens, el-Tarif, Dra Abu el-Naga)

Week 4 (Sunday 11 April or Wednesday 14 April): The Temples of Millions of Years (Deir el-Bahari, the Ramesseum, Medinet Habu)

Week 5 (Sunday 18 April or Wednesday 21 April): “Houses of Eternity”: The Tombs of the Nobles (Deir el-Medina, Sheikh abd-el Qurna, Asasif, South Asasif)


Fig. 3: Deir el-Bahari

This course costs £40, with fees going directly to supporting the Egypt Centre as we continue to remain closed to visitors. Your place on the course can be booked via the following link. We are grateful to everyone who has supported us, and continue to do so, over the past year!

Monday, 8 March 2021

Remembering Dr Käthe (Kate) Bosse-Griffiths (1910–1998)

As highlighted in a blog post several weeks ago, this year the Egypt Centre celebrates fifty years of the Wellcome collection arriving in Swansea and forming the nucleus of the current museum. With today being International Women’s Day, it seems rather appropriate to honour our first curator of the collection, Dr Käthe (Kate) Bosse-Griffiths (1910–1998).

Born in Wittenberg (Lutherstadt) in 1910, a daughter of Dr Paul Bosse, a gynaecologist, Kate attended the Melanchthon Gymnasium there and later the Universities of Munich, Bonn, and Berlin, studying Classics, Arabic, and Egyptology (fig. 1). She was awarded a doctorate in Munich under Alexander Scharff in 1935, with her dissertation the following year under the title Die menschliche Figur in der Rundplastik der Ägyptischen Spätzeit, von der XXII, bis zur XXX, Dynastie (Glückstadt, 1936, reprinted 1978). After this, she assisted in the Egyptian section of the Berlin State Museums. She was dismissed from this post because of her mother’s Jewish origins; later her mother died in the Ravensbrück Concentration Camp.

Fig. 1: Kate Bosse-Griffiths (image credit)

After leaving Germany Kate received academic help in the UK, especially from the Society for the Protection of Science and Leaning, and this enabled her to work as an assistant in the Department of Egyptology at University College London under Stephen Glanville; here she was mainly conceded with the Petrie Museum. Later she assisted in the Egyptian section of the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford and was a senior member of Somerville College. lt was in Oxford that she met her future husband, J. Gwyn Griffiths, who was then an Advanced Student at The Queen’s College, also interested in Classics and Egyptology. They were married in 1939 in the Rhondda Valley in Wales, and in 1946 made their home in Swansea. Here Kate was made Honorary Curator of Archaeology at Swansea Museum and in 1971 was given a similar post at the University’s Wellcome Museum (now the Egypt Centre), following the reception of a large collection of Egyptian antiquities from the Wellcome Trustees, an arrangement furthered by Dr David Dixon (fig. 2).

Fig. 2: Kate during the unpacking of the collection in the early 1970s

Between 1971–1995, Kate was responsible for unpacking the collection of antiquities that had just arrived in Swansea. The Wellcome Museum was officially opened in 1976 by her good friend Harry James, formerly Keeper of Egyptian Antiquities at the British Museum (fig. 3). During this time she was able to build on the collection by arranging loans and gifts from various institutions and individuals. This included the inner coffin of the Chantress of Amun, Iwesenhesetmut (W1982), which was transferred from the Royal Albert Museum Exeter to Swansea in 1982 (fig. 4). During these twenty-five years she researched the collection and publishing extensively in journals, Festschriften, and conference proceedings. Many of these articles were collected together after her death and republished under the title Amarna Studies and Other Selected Papers (2001).

Fig. 3: The opening of the museum in 1976

Bosse-Griffiths was also a published author writing in Welsh on German pacifist movements in Mudiadau Heddwch yn yr Almaen (1942). Kate’s literary output of short stories and novels included Anesmwyth Hoen (1941), Fy Chwaer Efa a Storïau Eraill (1944), Mae’r Galon wrth y Llyw (1957; reprinted with a new introduction in 2016 by Honno Welsh Women's Classics), and Cariadau (1995), and two travel books, Trem ar Rwsia a Berlin (1962), and Tywysennau o’r Aifft (1970).

Fig. 4: Kate with the coffin of Iwesenhesetmut

Sadly Kate died just a few months before the official opening of the Egypt Centre in September 1998. A plaque above the entrance to the House of Life gallery at the museum was unveiled on the 30 November 1999 recording her work as “the First Honorary Curator of the Wellcome Museum, University of Wales, Swansea, 1971–1995”.

Monday, 1 March 2021

The Archaeology of Museums: Virtually Reuniting Dispersed Objects

As many readers of this blog will be aware, I’m always looking to virtually reunite objects in the Egypt Centre collection with those in other museums. Due to the way in which objects from Sir Henry Wellcome’s Egyptian collection was dispersed, mainly between 1969–1971, it was common for object groups to be sent to different institutions. A good example of this are the shabtis of Ptahhotep, which were purchased by Wellcome in 1924 from the collection of the Reverend Frankland Hood (1825–1964). The auction catalogue (lots 157–8) describes two shabti boxes, each containing ten shabtis. Yet while the twenty shabtis (two overseers and eighteen workers) arrived to Swansea in 1971, their two associated shabti boxes were sent to Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery two years prior (fig. 1). Thus, I spend much of my time searching the online catalogues of other museums who received Egyptian material from the Wellcome. In fact, this time last year I was making virtual joins with stone fragments from Meroe, which are now housed in the Egypt Centre and the Petrie Museum.

Shabti box and shabtis of Ptahhotep in Swansea and Birmingham

Over the past year, I’ve been successful in reuniting two objects in the Egypt Centre with two in the Liverpool World Museum. Firstly, while reviewing fragments of the inner granodiorite coffin of Amenhotep son of Hapu ahead of a lecture on the topic by Aidan Dodson, I realised that a small fragment in Liverpool (1973.2.319) joins with one of two fragments in Swansea (W1367b). This join lines up perfectly with the fragment in Swansea to complete the end of the name of Amenhotep (fig. 2). While the fragment in Liverpool is recorded as coming from the Wellcome collection, no previous owner is recorded. This is in contrast to those in Swansea, which were purchased by Wellcome in 1906 (lot 99) from the collection of Robert de Rustafjaell. It is therefore possible that 1973.2.319 was also part of this lot, although any auction stickers associated with it are no longer present. 

Fig. 2: Amenhotep son of Hapu coffin joins

Just a few weeks ago, I was searching through Liverpool’s online catalogue, which had recently been relaunched with lots of additional images, when a sandstone “wall relief” (1973.4.217) instantly caught my attention. The fragment itself does not look particularly interesting. However, it immediately made me think of W349 in the Egypt Centre collection, a sandstone block with similar texts. It was clear when putting photos of the images side-by-side and comparing their measurements that the fragments belonged together. Note the slightly sloping angle of the upper edge of the fragments and the perfect lining up of the breaks (fig. 3). The Egypt Centre records note that our fragment was purchased by Wellcome in 1928 from the collection of Charles James Tabor (1849–1928) as part of lot 235. What’s more, the online catalogue for Liverpool notes that their fragment was also purchased by Wellcome as part of lot 235 of the Tabor collection! Liverpool even records the Wellcome accession number as A169469, something we didn’t previously have at Swansea. Now that these fragments have been reunited, the hunt is on for their possible provenance. If any readers have suggestions, please let me know!

Fig. 3: Fragment in Liverpool on the left and in the Egypt Centre on the right

The day after the aforementioned join, I was at it again! This discovery was more by chance rather than anything. I had searched “Swansea” on the Online Egyptological Bibliography (OEB) to see if there were any new references to add to our own online collections catalogue. While doing so, I noticed an article by Jónatan Ortiz-García and Ann-Katrin Gill, which was published in 2018. The associated abstract noted that the article deals with “two fragments of a Roman painted shroud … kept in the Centre de Documentació i Museu Tèxtil (CDMT) in Terrassa, Spain, and pertain to the same fabric, fragments of which are housed at the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Swansea, United Kingdom.” What was this fabric in Swansea I thought before asking a friend if she had a copy of the article. Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait long as the pdf arrived shortly after my request. I was very excited to see that the fabric in question was the shroud of a lady called Tashay, with the article publishing two previously unknown fragments housed in Spain. Tashay is well known at the Egypt Centre, with eight fragments (W649–W656) of her shroud on display in the House of Death gallery. These eight sections had been previously published by Gwyn Griffiths in 1982, who dated them to the second century CE. With the Egypt Centre closed to the public in the week before the lockdown last March, I was able to take these off display in order to produce high resolution photography of them. While doing so, I joined two of the fragments (W655 & W656) from the upper part of the shroud (fig. 4).

Fig. 4: Connecting fragments of Tashay‘s shroud (W655 & W656)

It didn’t take long to realise that inventory number 6325 in the CDMT also joined with the two fragments previously united. The angle of the cut of the textile matched exactly and the vignette was almost a mirror image of W655. In connecting these three sections, this completes the upper part of the shroud (fig. 5)! We have always hoped at the Egypt Centre that more pieces of Tashay’s shroud would emerge in other collections, so this was particularly exciting. The shroud likely would have had a large central figure of Osiris, with smaller vignettes flanking him. Unfortunately, at some point in the objects lifetime, the shroud was cut into sections and seemingly dispersed to multiple collections. The eight sections in Swansea were all purchased by Wellcome as part of lot 314 of J. C. Stevens Auction and Sale Rooms (13 Jan 1931), while those in the CDMT were donated by a private collector. It is clear that many of the sections remain missing, including the central element, so work continues to track down others.

Fig. 5: Tashay’s shroud (W655 on the left; W656 in the centre; CDMT 6325 on the right)

So, with museums still closed to the public, I urge you to explore the many museum catalogues online. Who knows, perhaps you’ll be able to make some virtual joins or identify additional sections of Tashay’s shroud!


Griffiths, J. Gwyn 1982. Eight funerary paintings with judgement scenes in the Swansea Wellcome Museum. Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 68, 228–252.

Ortiz-García, Jónatan and Ann-Katrin Gill 2018. Newly identified fragments of a Roman painted shroud from the Centre de Documentació i Museu Tèxtil of Terrassa, Spain. In Busana, Maria Stella, Margarita Gleba, Francesco Meo, and Anna Rosa Tricomi (eds), Textiles and dyes in the Mediterranean economy and society: proceedings of the VIth international symposium on textiles and dyes in the ancient Mediterranean world (Padova - Este - Altino, Italy, 17–20 October 2016), 491–495. Zaragoza: Libros Pórtico.

Riggs, Christina 2005. The beautiful burial in Roman Egypt: art, identity, and funerary religion. Oxford studies in Ancient Culture and Representation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.