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Monday, 26 July 2021

Abaset: A Prickly Goddess?

The blog post for this week has been written by Sam Powell. Sam is an Egypt Centre volunteer, director at Abaset Collections Ltd, and regular contributor to this blog.

This week was the first of the latest five-week Egypt Centre online course looking at Gods, Goddesses, and Demons of Ancient Egypt. This course has been long anticipated by many regular attendees, as Ken often includes many strange and obscure deities in his classes for us to try and identify, encouraging us to hunt out the various clues such as the iconography, hieroglyphs, and epithets used to identify the deity in question so we can recognise them for ourselves in the future.

The first deity we looked at as part of the introduction to the course was the goddess Abaset, as she is the namesake for Abaset Collections, the software I created to host the Egypt Centre Online Collection (which is also usually referred to as Abaset). The Egypt Centre Online Collection was launched in October 2020, and as well as being the place for attendees to access the recordings of the classes, its main purpose is to host the online catalogue allowing you to search the entire collection of nearly 6,000 objects housed in the Egypt Centre’s galleries and stores (

When looking for a name to refer to the software by, I initially chose “Abaset” as I wanted to pay homage to the little hedgehogs often seen in wildlife scenes trotting along focused on an insect, oblivious to the chaos surrounding them and just getting the job done (something I aspire for the software to also do!). But as I have found out more about this goddess (fig. 1), she certainly does seem to be a good patron for Abaset Collections.

Figure 1: The goddess Abaset (Sherbiny & Bassir. 2014: 183)

The goddess Abaset is known from only two depictions in a single tomb in the Bahariya Oasis, belonging to a Twenty-sixth Dynasty merchant named Bannentiu. The translation of her name ꜥb-ꜣst is unclear, but it may translate to praising or boasting to Isis, as ꜥb can be read as “to boast” or “to praise”. Since the Egypt Centre Online Collection is a way of praising the amazing collection held in Swansea, I think this can be seen as a good match! She is given the fairly standard epithets such as “the great goddess” and “the mistress of heaven” clearly marking her status as a goddess, but it is difficult to identify further information about her role as a deity from such limited sources. There is some discussion of Abaset being a goddess of Libyan origin, but the inclusion of the goddess Isis within the name makes an Egyptian origin more probable. In one of the two scenes the words of Abaset are given in which she instructs Horus and Anubis to “pay attention every day to (?) the tears of Isis...” showing her place amongst the Egyptian pantheon.


The goddess Abaset is shown in human form wearing a red dress. She clearly has some association with hedgehogs as she is depicted with one atop her vulture headdress. I had wanted to name the software after the Egyptian word for hedgehog, but there only seems to be words encompassing all “prickly” creatures (ḥntj or ḥntꜣ), and so the hedgehog goddess Abaset seems a good compromise. There are two species of hedgehog known from ancient Egypt; the long-eared desert hedgehog, and the bigger desert hedgehog, and they appear in wildlife scenes, as the prows of boats, and even being carried in tribute scenes. The Egypt Centre is home to two, or possibly three depictions of hedgehogs, the former two of which are on loan from the British Museum. The first, BM EA 4764, is a hedgehog aryballos, a small globular flask which would have contained oil or perfume. It is made of faience and dates to the Late Period (fig. 2).

Figure 2: BM4764 (image at

The second, BM EA 37826, is a steatite amulet in the form of a hedgehog, and is less than a centimetre tall. The base forms a seal stamp of a seated deity and a mn sign. The final object is an intriguing one. W1155a is a faience ring bezel from Amarna (fig. 3). The image upon it is very difficult to interpret as it shows a creature surrounded by wiggly lines. It was first though to show a centipede surrounded by its many wiggly legs. This was then thought more likely to be a hedgehog with its prickly spikes. However, since being compared to a very similar piece in Liverpool World Museum (56.20.1001), it seems more probable to be a gazelle in front of the fronds of a palm leaf (Graves-Brown 2014, 121–123).


Figure 3: The mysterious creature upon ring bezel W1155a

In class, we discussed the importance of the names of the various deities being spoken to allow them to continue to exist, so I hope the goddess Abaset would be very pleased with the number of times her name is uttered on a daily basis in the Egypt Centre and in Ken’s classes. In Abaset Collections news, I will be co-presenting the launch of a new online collection (further details to follow soon!) in September as part of the Egypt Centre’s conference celebrating fifty years of the Wellcome collection being in Swansea; hopefully Abaset will be smiling down favourably on us!

Figure 4: I’m sure Abaset would approve of the Abaset Collections logo complete with hedgehog


Graves-Brown, Carolyn 2014. A gazelle, a lute player and Bes: three ring bezels from Amarna. In Dodson, A. M., John J. Johnston, and W. Monkhouse (eds), A good scribe and an exceedingly wise man: studies in honour of W. J. Tait, 113–126. London: Golden House.

Shaikh Al Arab, Walid 2019. The hedgehog goddess Abaset. Papyrologica Lupiensia 28, 81–102.

Sherbiny, Hend and Hussein Bassir 2014. The representation of the hedgehog goddess Abaset at Bahariya Oasis. Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt 50, 171–189.

Vandier, Jacques 1964. Iousâas et (Hathor)-Nébet-Hétépet. Revue d’égyptologie 16, 55–146.

Droste zu Hülshoff, Vera von 1980. Der Igel im alten Ägypten. Hildesheimer Ägyptologische Beiträge 11. Hildesheim: Gerstenberg.

Monday, 19 July 2021

Conference Announcement: Fifty Years of the Wellcome Collection at Swansea and Beyond

On the 17th September 1971, ninety-two crates consisting of some 4,500 objects (mainly Egyptian) arrived to Swansea University. This was part of dispersal of the Egyptian material at the Wellcome Collection, which probably amassed somewhere in the region of 20,000 objects. To mark the fiftieth anniversary of this event, the Egypt Centre will be hosting a free three-day Zoom conference (fig. 1). The conference will focus on Wellcome’s Egyptian and Sudanese collections, which were dispersed to numerous institutions following his death in 1936. The event will feature talks and virtual handling sessions by curators, collections managers, and researchers associated with the Wellcome material.

Fig. 1: Fifty year celebration logo

While tickets for this event are free, registration via our Eventbrite page is required. Once registered, you will receive an automated email from Eventbrite containing the Zoom link. If you have not received this within 24 hours of booking, please contact Ken Griffin at

The programme for this event is presented below, with the times listed being BST (UK times). We look forward to having you join us for this event and to celebrate an important milestone in the history of the Egypt Centre!

Day 1: Wednesday 15 September

13.00–13.15: Introductory remarks

13.15–13.45: Ruth Horry (Collections Curator – Exhibitions, Wellcome) - Henry Wellcome’s Historical Medical Museum: an introduction to collecting, display and dispersals

13.45–14.15: Isabelle Vella Gregory (Deputy Director of the Jebel Moya excavations) - Piecing together the archaeological history of Jebel Moya, Sudan

14.15–14:45: Discussion panel with John Baines (Professor Emeritus at Oxford University) & Alan Lloyd (Professor Emeritus at Swansea University)

14:45–15.00: Break

15.00–15.30: Ken Griffin (Collections Access Manager of the Egypt Centre) - The Egyptian Collection of Sir Henry Wellcome

15.30–16.00: Stephanie Boonstra (Collections Manager at the Egypt Exploration Society) - Nefertiti lived there: a look at the 1930–31 EES excavation at Amarna

16.00–16.30: Frances Larson (author of An infinity of things: how Sir Henry Wellcome collected the world) - “A perfect whirl of delight”: Winifred Blackman in Egypt

16.30–17.00: Rachel Barclay (Curator at Oriental Museum, Durham) – “Contained in tea chests with no lists or identification”: the Wellcome Collection of Egyptology at the Oriental Museum, Durham University


Day 2: Thursday 16 September

13.00–13.30: Campbell Price (Curator of Egypt and Sudan, Manchester Museum) & Molly Osborne - Wellcome Material in Manchester

13.30–14.00: Ian Trumble (Curator of Archaeology, Egyptology and World Cultures, Bolton Museum) - The Wellcome Collection at Bolton Museum

14.00–14.30: Manchester Museum handling session/tour

14.30–15.00: Bolton Museum handling session/tour

15.00–15.15: Break

15.15–15.45: Lee Robert McStein (Technical Director at Monument Men) - The curious case of the Deir el-Bahari casts

16.45–16.15: Anna Garnett (Curator of the Petrie Museum), Kyle Jordan and Daniel Bailey - The Wellcome Collection and the Petrie Museum: Past and Present

16.15–16.45: Helen Strudwick (Senior Assistant Keeper – Egyptian Antiquities, The Fitzwilliam Museum) - Wellcome to the Fitzwilliam: the rediscovery of a collection of Egyptian objects in Cambridge

16.45–17.15: Selina Hurley (Curator of Medicine, The Science Museum) - Reviewing the Wellcome Egyptology material held on loan at the Science Museum


Day 3: Friday 17 September

13.00–13.30: Ashley Cooke (Lead Curator of Antiquities, World Museum Liverpool) - Rising from the ashes: how the Wellcome Collection came to the aid of Liverpool’s war-torn museum

13.30–14.00: Carolyn Graves-Brown (Curator of the Egypt Centre) - From Wellcome to Swansea: the history of the Swansea Wellcome collection

14.00–14.30: Swansea Wellcome Museum video recording from 1976

14.30–15.00: The Egypt Centre handling session/tour

15.00–15.15: Break

15.15–15.45: Alexandra Eveleigh (Collections Information Manager, Wellcome) - Transcribe Wellcome: piecing together the Wellcome collections’ diaspora

15.45–16.00: Ersin Hussein (Lecturer in Ancient History – Swansea University) - Launch of the Egypt and its Neighbours display

16.00–16.15: Dulcie Engel (Egypt Centre volunteer)- Kate’s museum: transcribing the daybooks of Käthe Bosse Griffiths

16.15–16.30: Ken Griffin (Collections Access Manager of the Egypt Centre) & Sam Powell (Director at Abaset Collections Ltd) - Launch of a new online catalogue

16.30–17.00: Closing discussion

Monday, 12 July 2021

Short Course on the Gods, Goddesses, and Demons of the Ancient Egyptians

Over the past year, the Egypt Centre has organised seven 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 981 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 made 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: Khabekhnet and Sahte before Ptah, Ptah-Sokar, and Isis (W927)

This coming Sunday (18 July), we will have the first session of a new course entitled Gods, Goddesses, and Demons of Ancient Egypt (fig. 1). The ancient Egyptians are well known for their worship of hundreds of gods, goddesses, and demons over the course of 3,000 years. Some were seen as creator deities, while others could be evoked for their protection. They could be depicted as humans, animals, or a combination of both. This course will present many of the gods, goddesses, and demons of the Egyptian pantheon, including several deified officials. It will include an examination of their iconography, places of worship, and the hieroglyphs used to identify them. While many of the names will be familiar, such as Amun, Osiris, and Horus, others are more obscure, such as Apedemak (fig. 2), Hatmehyt, Shezmu. Throughout the course, the sessions will incorporate objects from the Egypt Centre collection, many of which are not widely known to Egyptologists (fig. 3).

As with previous courses, this one will take place over five weeks:

Week 1 (Sunday 18 July or Wednesday 21 July)

Week 2 (Sunday 25 July or Wednesday 28 July)

Week 3 (Sunday 01 August or Wednesday 04 August)

Week 4 (Sunday 08 August or Wednesday 11 August)

Week 5 (Sunday 15 August or Wednesday 18 August)

Relief of Apedemak (

Each week we will be examining a series of gods, goddesses, and demons, focusing on their iconography and cult centres. Additionally, I will provide the most common hieroglyphs used for each deity, which are the primary means of identification. Those of you who have taken courses with me before will know that I like to include pictures of obscure deities, so this course will provide the perfect opportunity for me to do so!

Fig. 3: Coffin fragment depicting several deities (W1050)

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, 5 July 2021

Reflecting on the Past: The Display of Egyptian Mummies

Just over a year ago Swansea University launched its annual Research as Art competition. At the time I was writing an assignment on the ethical issues relating to the display of ancient Egyptian human remains as part of my MA in Museum Studies at Leicester University. Therefore, I decided to submit an image I took the previous year of my good friend Mohamed Shabib gazing into the face of the mummy of Ramesses I, which is displayed at Luxor Museum. The photo (fig. 1) was submitted under the title Reflecting on the Past: The Display of Egyptian Mummies, with Mohamed listed as a collaborator. Because of the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic, the results of the competition were delayed until this past week. We were both absolutely thrilled to have been announced as the overall winner for the 2021 event and are most grateful to the panel who selected our entry!

Fig. 1: Mohamed Shabib gazing into the face of Ramesses I

The winning photo was taken when Mohamed and I visited Luxor Museum to see the recently displayed temporary exhibition called South Asasif Necropolis: Journey Through Time, a project we have both been involved in for many years (fig. 2). While at the museum we looked around the permanent displays, including the mummy room. For Mohamed, this was his first time seeing the mummies of Ahmose II, Egypt’s great liberator, and Ramesses I, the grandfather of Ramesses the Great. I noticed Mohamed gazing into the face of the latter ruler, his back slightly bent as if showing his humility (a pose well-known from the reign of Seti I, the son of Ramesses I). Additionally, Mohamed’s reflection on the glass case appeared as if the spirit of Ramesses was rising from the corpse to communicate with Mohamed. I quickly took out my mobile phone and captured the image. A split second later and the opportunity would have been lost, for as soon as I snapped the image Mohamed had turned to me smiling. Upon seeing the photo, Mohamed was delighted and bursting with pride. We also discussed how he felt about seeing the mummies of his ancestors displayed in the museum.

Fig. 2: South Asasif exhibition at Luxor Museum

There is no doubt that the display of mummies, human remains, and skeletons is popular with museum visitors.  The naturally mummified body of the Gebelein man, commonly referred to as “Ginger” due to his colour, is one of the most popular attractions in the British Museum.  Schoolchildren in particular have a deep fascination for Egyptian mummies, perhaps emanating from their curiosity. Day (2014, 34) notes that this curiosity is likely the result of mummies being the first dead body that many people see. The display of mummies can create a variety of emotions, including awe and wonder. Human remains can be inspirational and have the ability to shape future career choices. In fact, my own career as an Egyptologist was shaped by regular visits to the Ulster Museum at a young age to see the mummy of Takabuti (fig. 3).

Fig. 3: The mummy of Takabuti in the Ulster Museum

The public unwrapping of Egyptian mummies was a popular pastime amongst the British elite of the nineteenth century. These “performances” attracted large crowds of up to 3,000 people, with each attendee paying an entrance fee. This fee often included attendees receiving a section of the unwrapped bandages as a souvenir (fig. 4). Writing in 1998, Montserrat (1998, 182) noted that the unwrapping of Egyptian mummies still fascinated people despite the practice of public unwrapping no longer being acceptable. This is still the case, as can be seen by the sold-out 2016 enactment of a Victorian unwrapping “party” at Barts Pathology Museum in London, led by the Egyptologist John Johnston. Several years prior, in 2011, Channel 4 aired the award-winning documentary Mummifying Alan, which carried the sub-title Egypt’s Last Secret. The documentary followed Alan Billis, who was diagnosed with terminal cancer, in the last few weeks of his life. Following his death, Alan was mummified using ancient Egyptian techniques, with opinions divided as to whether it was a “genuinely fascinating scientific experiment or a macabre and tasteless example of TV sensationalism.” This fascination with Egyptian mummies and the lives they represent led Montserrat (1998) to term them “erotics of biography.”

Fig. 4: Mummy cloth from an unwrapping party

The Egypt Centre’s policy on human remains is as follows:

10.1. As the Museum holds one item of human remains possibly under 100 years old (EC3445), it is listed on the database of the College of Medicine, Swansea University who has obtained the necessary licence under the Human Tissue Act 2004 and any subordinate legislation from time to time in force.

10.2. As the Museum also holds human remains from any period, it follows the procedures in the “guidance for the care of human remains in museums” issued by DCMS in 2005. Moreover, the Museum does not display any unwrapped human remains.


In total, the Egypt Centre holds twenty-two items that are catalogue as human remains. Point 10.2 of the Museum’s Collection Development Policy notes that the Egypt Centre does not display any unwrapped human remains, but does it really matter if they are wrapped or not? One of the highlights of the collection is the cartonnage mummy of a child (W1013), which is on display in the House of Death gallery (fig. 5). A recent CT-scan revealed that the cartonnage contained a 12–16 week old foetus. This begs the question, is it acceptable to display human remains if they are fully covered or concealed within their wrappings or coffins? Additionally, what is likely to be more upsetting to visitors, an unwrapped adult mummy or fully wrapped or enclosed mummified baby? Moreover, how does the Museum balance the views of its visitors, most of whom have no objections to the display of human remains? What the Egypt Centre strives to do is present appropriate interpretation labels next to objects identified as having the potential to cause distress. Additionally, the new Egypt Centre online catalogue includes a graphic stating “images depicting human remains only available on request” in place of a photograph of the object (fig. 6).

Fig. 5: Cartonnage containing a foetus (W1013)

The Egypt Centre staff frequently arrange tours of the museum store for volunteers, students, and occasionally members of the public. This is a unique opportunity for visitors to see those items in the collection that are not on display. What is most telling is that when given a choice of what to see, the majority of visitors request the mummified remains, both human and animal. Of course, when in groups, visitors are always warned in advance before viewing human remains in case they would rather opt out. This has been repeated during more recent virtual tours of the store via Zoom. Rather than complete mummies, these human remains largely consist of specific body parts, including heads, arms, and feet. Yet the most requested item amongst volunteers and students is a beautifully preserved mummified baby, which still has tufts of its hair. What does this tell us about the visitors? It is possible that the experience of many visitors seeing Egyptian mummies in museums has desensitised or normalised the idea that bodies of an ancient culture “belong” in museums.

Fig. 6: Restricted view of human remains on the Egypt Centre catalogue

If human remains are displayed, whether wrapped or unwrapped, what is the best practice? Antoine (2014, 7) notes that “the display of human remains in museums should, as far as possible, be informed and guided by current opinion as well as conceived with care, respect and dignity.” Unsurprisingly, “respect” is the most commonly used word to describe how human remains should be treated and displayed. Yet how does one determine what does and does not constitute respect? In 2008, Manchester University covered three unwrapped mummies with cloth, citing respect as their primary reason. Interestingly, Day (2014, 30) points out that the decision to cover the mummies was made without canvassing visitors’ views and that the majority of comments made after suggested that the public actually favoured them being uncovered. Marstine (2011, 19) raises an important point when she says that “an ancient Egyptian mummy is equally as deserving of respect as are human remains from the Second World War.” Interestingly, a 2002 survey (Kilminster 2003, 61) found that most people felt it would be disrespectful to display human remains that were less than 100 years old since they were “too close in time to us today” (Kilminster (2003, 61).

The Museums Association advise that museums should consult with the country of origin when displaying human remains. While the practice of displaying human remains in Egyptian museums has changed over time, the current policy is that mummies should be exhibited. This is certainly the case with the mummies of Ahmose II and Ramesses I at Luxor museum, which are displayed in a separate exhibition space. Visitors ascend several steps into a darkened room where labels and interpretation panels are minimal. This display creates a dignified and tranquil setting, which is befitting of these two great rulers (fig. 7). Just a few months ago the bodies of twenty-two kings and queens of Egypt’s New Kingdom (c. 1,550–1,100 BC) were relocated from the Cairo Museum to the newly built National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation (NMEC) in a spectacular “Golden Parade”. These actions show the upmost respect and honour afforded to the former rulers of Egyptian history by the current population. 

Fig. 7: The mummy of Ahmose II displayed at Luxor Museum

In formulating the decision as to whether museums should display human remains, various stakeholders should be consulted. This can include museum staff and officials, religious groups, researchers and students, people from the country of origin, and the general public. However, in the end the decision must be made by the individual museums, using their own judgement as to what best fits their museum. In the case of the Egypt Centre, the decision has been made not display unwrapped human remains since the Museum only has body parts rather than complete mummies. One group who has long been overlooked when discussing Egyptian mummies is the ancient Egyptians themselves. Would they have wanted their bodies to be displayed in museums for everyone to see? While this is somewhat impossible to answer, the following passage by Diodorus Siculus may suggest that the answer was probably yes.

“Many Egyptians keep the bodies of their ancestors in costly chambers and gaze face to face upon those who died many generations before their own birth” (Diodorus Siculus Book I, 91.7)

The Egyptians believed that it was of great importance for them to be remembered after death. The importance of the name to the ancient Egyptians is best illustrated in the Instruction of Papyrus Insinger, dating to the Graeco-Roman Period, which includes the line “the renewal of life for the dead is leaving his name on earth behind him” (Taylor 2001, 23). At the Egypt Centre, an interpretation panel is located in the House of Death, which contains the names of the ancient Egyptians that can be found inscribed on the objects in the collection (fig. 8). Visitors are encouraged to recite the offering formula (an ancient Egyptian prayer), thus ensuring that the named individual receive sustenance in the afterlife.

“To speak the name of the dead is to make him live again” (Desroches-Noblecourt 1963, 27)

Fig. 8: List of named individuals in the Egypt Centre


Antoine, Daniel (2014) ‘Curating human remains in museum collections. Broader considerations and a British Museum perspective.’ In Alexandra Fletcher, Daniel Antoine, & J. D. Hill (eds) Regarding the dead: Human remains in the British Museum, 3–9. British Museum Occasional Publication 197. British Museum Press: London.

Day, Jasmine (2014) ‘“Thinking makes it so”: reflections on the ethics of displaying Egyptian mummies,’ Papers on Anthropology 23 (1), 29–44.

Desroches-Noblecourt, Christiane (1963) Tutankhamen: Life and death of a pharaoh. London: The Connoisseur and Michael Joseph.

Diodorus Siculus (1933) Diodorus of Sicily, book I, Loeb Classical Library. Translated by Charles Henry Oldfather. London: W. Heinemann.

Kilmister Hugh (2003) ‘Visitor perceptions of ancient Egyptian human remains in three United Kingdom museums,’ Papers from the Institute of Archaeology 14: 57–69.

Marstine, Janet (2011) ‘The contingent nature of the new museum ethics.’ In Janet Marstine (ed) The Routledge companion to museum ethics. Redefining ethics for the twenty-first-century museum, 3–25. Routledge: London; New York, NY.

Montserrat, Dominic (1998) ‘Unidentified human remains: mummies and the erotics of biography.’ In Dominic Montserrat (ed) Changing bodies, changing meanings: Studies on the human body in antiquity, 162–197. Routledge: London; New York, NY.

Taylor, John H. (2001) Death and the afterlife in ancient Egypt. British Museum Press: London.