To support the Egypt Centre, please click the button below

Monday, 25 April 2022

A Semester Abroad: Perspectives of a Université de Lille Student at Swansea University

The blog post for this week has been written by Hugo Rault-Marical, who arrived to Swansea University in January on a six-month exchange programme. Hugo is a Master’s student specialising in Egyptology at the Université de Lille, under the supervision of Dr Ghislaine Widmer and Dr Didier Devauchelle. His dissertation focusses on the syncretism of the Great Sphinx that occurred during the New Kingdom, particularly with the deities Hauron and Horemakhet. He was fortunate to have visited Egypt in 2020, shortly before the COVID-19 lockdown was implemented.

The collaboration between Swansea University and the University of Lille offered me the chance—beyond the COVID-19 Pandemic and Brexit—to come and study in Swansea this semester as an exchange student. Coming from an Egyptology background and wishing to take the French exam to become a curator, Swansea University proved to be an obvious choice, even more than I had initially hoped. This post will briefly outline some of the excellent opportunities I have had over the past few months.

Dr Christian Knoblauch’s module on Ancient Egypt Art and Architecture, which included object handling sessions with Dr Ken Griffin at the Egypt Centre, brought me closer than ever to ancient Egypt. This was my first experience handling Egyptian antiquities and I discovered a completely new way of learning and understanding Egyptian history (fig. 1). Indeed, it is a real bonus for Swansea University students to have this university museum, something that does not exist at the University of Lille; although we are lucky to have the Jacques Vandier library, which specialised in Egyptology.

Fig. 1: Hugo examining the Egypt Centre's soldier stela (W1366)

The module called Reaching the Public: Museums and Object Handling was a very good introduction to museum issues in the UK, which are slightly different from those in France. We discussed with the professionals at the Egypt Centre (Dr Ken Griffin, Dr Carolyn Graves-Brown, and Wendy Goodridge) some important aspects of the management of a collection. This included ethics, object-based learning (OBL), education in museums, preventive conservation, and museum interpretation and communication. It was also an opportunity for me to handle more Egyptian antiquities, which was particularly welcome (fig. 2).

Fig. 2: Practicing object condition reports


The Swansea University Pottery Project (SUPP), organised by Ken Griffin and Christian Knoblauch as a joint Egypt Centre and OLCAP (Object and Landscape Centred Approaches to the Past) collaboration, was an additional experience in handling objects. Each week, a group of eleven students received training in the documentation of Egyptian pottery, which included updating Egypt Centre’s online catalogue entries (fig. 3). Over the nine weeks, I studied eighteen objects, which can be viewed as a trail via the following link. I learned a lot from this experience and I recommend it to any student interested in the ancient world to be part of it.

Fig. 3: Discussing a vessel from Esna with Christian

Finally, Ken Griffin invited us to Cardiff University to see the work being undertaken on the Egypt Centre’s objects by Phil Parkes and the Conservation Department. This included the impressive plaster cast of Djedhor (fig. 4). We used this opportunity to discuss key skills for curatorial roles, which was particularly interesting for many of us.

Fig. 4: Listening to Phil and Ken discuss the conservation of an ancient textile


In brief, this semester at Swansea University offered me a way to improve my language skills and experience different methods of teaching under the supervision of professors like Ken Griffin and Christian Knoblauch. I thank them again for their warm welcome and their advice throughout this semester. Moreover, it was a big step forward in the museum world and the curatorial profession. I hope that in the future, the relationship between French universities and Swansea University can be maintained so that other students can benefit from similar enriching experiences.

Monday, 18 April 2022

New Course: The Ancient Egyptian Books of the Afterlife

It’s now almost two years since the Egypt Centre hosted its first online course during the COVID-19 Pandemic. During this time, eleven courses have taken place, attracting a combined audience of over 1,500 people. The income generated has been immensely helped in offsetting the losses encountered by the closure of the museum from March 2020 to September 2021. Although the museum is now open again, the demand for these courses among our supporters, particularly internationally, means that they will continue. Income generated from courses this year will be used to purchase a new display case for our writing and maths exhibit, which we hope to have installed this summer. We are grateful to all those who have attended these courses and supported the Egypt Centre over the past two years.

In just under two weeks, I’ll be starting the latest Egypt Centre course, which was chosen by participants at the end of the last one. The ancient Egyptians held a rich and complex vision of the afterlife and codified their beliefs in “books” that were to be discovered more than several millennia later in tombs. The contents of the texts range from the collection of spells in the Book of the Dead (fig. 1), which was intended to offer practical assistance on the journey to the afterlife, to the detailed accounts of the hereafter provided in the so-called Books of the Netherworld. This course looks closely at these works, including the Pyramid Texts, Coffin Texts, Book of the Dead, Amduat, Book of Gates, Book of Caverns, Book of the Earth, and several others.

Fig. 1: Book of the Dead papyrus of Hapiankh

In order to be as accessible as possible, this 5-week course will be run twice, with sessions taking place via Zoom:

- Sunday evenings 6–8pm (UK time) - Starting Sunday 01 May

- Wednesday mornings 10am–noon (UK time) - Starting Wednesday 04 May

A week before the course starts, you will be emailed the Zoom link, which can be used for both sessions. Therefore, participants will have the option of attending either day, or both!


Week 1: (Sunday 01 May or Wednesday 04 May): The Pyramid Texts and the Coffin Texts

Week 2: (Sunday 08 May or Wednesday 11 May): The Book of the Dead

Week 3: (Sunday 15 May or Wednesday 18 May): The Amduat and the Book of Gates

Week 4: (Sunday 22 May or Wednesday 25 May): The Book of Caverns and the Book of the Earth

Week 5: (Sunday 29 May or Wednesday 01 June): The Litany of Re and the Books of the Sky


This course costs £40, with fees going directly to supporting the Egypt Centre. Additionally, participants have the option of adding an extra donation if they wish. Donations, of course, are greatly appreciated! Tickets can be purchased via the following link. Once you have booked, you will automatically receive a confirmation email from Eventbrite. If you haven’t received anything within 24 hours, please contact me at

Readers to this post may also be interested in a virtual tour of the Egypt Centre and storeroom that I’ll be leading on the 28 April. In this virtual session, I’ll give an overview of the highlights of the two galleries, the House of Death and the House of Life, as well as a look behind the scenes at some of the treasures still in storage (fig 2). I’m happy to take requests for specific objects people are interested in viewing, so please check out the Egypt Centre’s online catalogue prepare!

Fig. 2: Virtual tour poster

The tour will be moderated by Birmingham Egyptology, a society that brings current postgraduates together with alumni, other students and academics associated with the University of Birmingham, and members of the public to work on a variety of projects. Further details can be found at

This event is free of charge, but donations to the Egypt Centre can be made while booking your ticket. Alternatively, you can use the Egypt Centre's donation page (, where you can add an additional 25% through Gift Aid if you are a UK taxpayer. All donations are greatly appreciated and will also be used for purchasing a new display case!

Monday, 11 April 2022

Work Begins on the Plaster Cast of the Djedhor the Saviour Statue Base

The blog post for this week has been written by Micah Ellis, a second year at Cardiff University studying Conservation of Objects in Museums and Archaeology.

The statue base plaster cast (fig. 1) previously seen during the visit to Cardiff University Conservation Department (W302) is now undergoing the first steps in the conservation process. Before it can be reunited with the statue (currently in the Petrie Museum in London) for display at the Egypt Centre, the base will first need to be cleaned and have the surface chips treated. Work on the plaster cast is being carried out by Cardiff University conservation students.

Fig. 1: Plaster cast of the Djedhor the Saviour statue base

The plaster cast was made from the original at the Cairo Museum in 1933 and over time has acquired surface damage and a build-up of dust and dirt. An initial inspection of the condition also revealed several small paint splatters and staining in some areas of exposed plaster, as well as some places where air pockets within the plaster had collapsed. These contained some small, loose pieces of plaster as well as a more significant amount of dust and dirt that has accumulated inside. Further caution will have to be taken when cleaning these areas due to the potential for losing plaster or causing more breaks in these weaker areas (fig. 2).

Fig. 2: The plaster cast in the Cardiff University conservation labs

For the cleaning process, the main techniques considered included brush and vacuum cleaning, and using Groomstick and smoke sponges (effective at removing soot and smoke and often used on paintings) to remove surface dirt. We are considering dry-cleaning methods to begin with, as we don’t have information about the paint used or how the plaster was sealed, and the use of water or solvents over the entire surface has the potential to cause damage, which may not be necessary after the dry-cleaning is complete. The end of the vacuum was covered by a piece of mesh to prevent the loss of any plaster if loose pieces were disturbed while cleaning (fig. 3). After tests were carried out on small areas, it was determined that the most effective technique to begin with would be to brush and vacuum loose dirt before using the Groomstick to remove what the vacuum was unable to. Groomstick is a dry-cleaning putty that can remove dirt and grease without leaving detectable residue on many surfaces (best suited for smooth surfaces) when fresh and stored at room temperature.

Fig. 3: Beginning the brushing and vacuuming of the surface

Throughout our testing, there was no visible residue from the Groomstick, and only the surface dust was removed. During the cleaning, it will be important to be mindful of any other air bubbles within the plaster and to not apply too much pressure. The preliminary cleaning also revealed an as-yet-unidentified stain in the well where the statue would usually sit. The next step in the cleaning process will be to identify methods for removing the paint splatters and this newly revealed stain. 

For cleaning plaster, cotton swabs with a small amount of water and detergent can be used with caution, but we will first have to test on a small unobtrusive spot to ensure that none of the original paint is removed by this method. The paint splatters may have to be removed mechanically using a scalpel as any solvent that could effectively remove them could also impact the original paint. Once clean, the chips on the surface will need to be addressed. In some cases, particularly where the surface paint has been scraped away, only inpainting will be required. In some areas of greater loss, gap-filling with mixed adhesive may be required first to create an even surface for the inpainting. In these cases, it will be important to consult images, if available, of the original statue base or the plaster cast before damage for any original detailing that may have been lost. 


Jelínkova-Reymond, E. 1956. Les inscriptions de la statue guérisseuse de Djed-ḥer-le-Sauveur. Bibliothèque d’étude 23. Cairo: Institut français d’Archéologie orientale.

Moy, Sara A. 2004. Groomstick: A study to determine its potential to deposit residues. Objects Specialty Group Postprints 11, 29–42.

Sherman, Elizabeth J. 1981. Djedḥor the Saviour statue base OI 10589. Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 67, 82–102.

Monday, 4 April 2022

Treasures for the Dead

The blog post for this week is written by Jeanne Whitehurst, who has completed her Certificate of Egyptology from the University of Manchester. She moved to Egypt over ten years ago, just before the revolution. Initially, she lived in Luxor, overlooking Karnak Temple, but now she lives in Aswan overlooking the First Cataract. She was extremely fortunate to have worked with Ted Brock on the sarcophagus of Merenptah (KV 8) as a volunteer.

As most of the objects from ancient Egypt found in museums around the world come from tombs, it is appropriate that we investigate the legacy that the Egyptians left us to gain more understanding of life in Pharaonic Egypt. We need to consider that most of these objects came from the top 20% of the population. They wanted to take personal belongings or substitutes with them into the afterlife, and we are fortunate that we have such a variety of objects surviving besides depictions on the walls in many tombs. The walls of tombs are decorated with funerary processions with servants carrying many objects such as furniture, jewellery, cosmetics, games, and clothes (fig. 1). Family scenes show chairs with favourite objects under them, such as wigs, mirrors, and scribal cases. In discussing all of the “treasures” in this blog, we cannot be sure whether the objects were used in everyday life or specifically made for the afterlife. Clothing is the main exception as we can see signs of wear.

Fig. 1: Funeral procession in the tomb of Ramose


For the ancient Egyptians, personal hygiene was important, which is why they regularly used cosmetics, perfumes, and oils. From Predynastic times, stone cosmetic palettes, most often made from mudstone, were used to grind green malachite (an oxide of copper), red ochre, and kohl, which is mostly made of the mineral galena (a dark mineral compound mainly consisting of lead sulfide). These were then mixed with resins, oils, or fats to form a paste that could be applied to the face as eye makeup. The process of grinding also left circular indentations in the stone, which today can often retain traces of ancient pigments. After the end of the Old Kingdom, kohl or soot was the preferred pigment. The cosmetics were kept in beautifully decorated containers, individually for kohl with round-headed applicators made of wood, bronze, haematite, obsidian, or glass. Wooden cosmetic containers are among my favourite objects, especially those in the shape of swimming girls, ducks, or servant girls (fig. 2).

Fig. 2: Wooden "swimming girl"

Besides having beautiful containers, these cosmetics not only had a cosmetic element but also a health benefit. Spell 125 from the Book of the Dead prohibits one from speaking unless they “clean, dressed in fresh clothes, shod in white sandals, painted with eye-paint, anointed with the finest oil of myrrh.” The gods are regularly depicted wearing eye make-up, as are the souls in the afterlife. Cosmetics are among the most common items placed in tombs as grave goods.


Most people admire jewellery from ancient Egypt, not only for aesthetic reasons but the intricate workmanship. From Predynastic times through to the Roman era, Egyptians adorned themselves in a variety of embellishments including rings, earrings, bracelets, pectorals, necklaces, crowns, girdles, and amulets. Most Egyptians wore some type of jewellery during their lifetimes, and almost every Egyptian was buried with some form of adornment. The materials chosen and the quality of workmanship often marked the status of the owner or wearer. The elaborate gold masks and inlaid pectorals of the Twenty-first and Twenty-second Dynasty kings of Tanis (ca. 1069–945 BC) and the intricate Middle Kingdom girdles and bracelets from the burials of princesses at Lahun and Dahshur were of far different quality than a simple strung clay bead found in a poor individual’s burial. Some simpler objects such as single strung barrel-shaped carnelian swrt beads were also common in elite burials. The jewellery was commonly made from gold and semi-precious stones, such as carnelian, lapis lazuli, and turquoise. The Egypt Centre has four beautiful, beaded collars, which are potentially from the Royal tombs at Amarna (fig. 3).

Fig. 3: Amarna collar with central heart amulet


In ancient Egypt, mirrors were highly polished discs of copper, bronze, or gold to represent the sun with handles in the form of a papyrus stem or the figure of Hathor, an Egyptian goddess associated with beauty and rebirth. It was thought that looking into a mirror gave you a glimpse into the afterlife and conversely from the afterlife you could see everyday life.

Wigs and hairpieces

The elite had elaborate wigs and extensions usually made of human hair. Women’s wigs were adorned with braids and gold, hair-rings, and ivory ornaments making them more stylish than men’s wigs (fig. 4). Ultimately, the more elaborate and involved the wig was, the higher the social rank. Not many wigs have been found in tombs.

Fig. 4: Jasper hair ring from Riqqeh


Early stools for ceremonial purposes were just squared blocks of stone. Later stools of the wealthy often had seats made from animal skins, woven leather strips, or plant materials. Some were painted and featured carved animal legs. They were commonly decorated with household gods such as Bes and Taweret, who it was thought would protect them when sleeping (fig. 5). The ancient Egyptians also used folding stools; one of the most stunning examples of a folding stool is the one found in Tutankhamun’s tomb. In time, the stool developed with the addition of a back and arms into chairs. Footstools were of wood. The royal footstool was painted with the figures of traditional enemies of Egypt so that the pharaoh might symbolically tread his enemies under his feet. Carvings of animal feet on straight chair legs were common, as were legs shaped like those of animals. Once again, Tutankhamun’s throne and footstool show not only high craftmanship but that it had been used in life as it had his initial throne name, Tutankhaten, instead of his later name, Tutankhamun, inscribed on it!

Fig. 5: Furniture leg with a depiction of Taweret

Wooden bed frames were rectangular and slanted downwards, with footboards. Often the legs of the bed were carved into lions or bulls. At the head of the bed was a headrest consisting of a semicircular upper piece supported by columns fixed to a base (fig. 6). The base of the skull rested on the headrest. These headrests were made of wood, ivory, or even stone. Leather and fabrics were often used to upholster the bed. Materials were woven through the open part of the frame to support mattresses. The beds of some pharaohs were made of gold and the footboards were richly decorated. Couches were very similar to beds except they did not have footboards and were shorter. The great beds found in the tomb of Tutankhamen were put together with bronze hooks and staples so that they could be dismantled or folded to facilitate storage and transportation; there was also a folding wooden bed with bronze hinges. Furniture existed in small quantities and when the pharaohs toured their lands, they took their beds with them.

Fig. 6: Wooden headrest


The four games most commonly found in ancient Egypt were Mehen, Senet, Twenty Squares, and Hounds and Jackals, which were sometimes closely associated and played on opposite sides of the same boards. Mehen, meaning “the coiled one,” was played during the Predynastic Period and the Old Kingdom (ca. 3100–2130 BC). Its board depicts a coiled snake divided into segments, which refers to a protective deity who wrapped around the sun god Re during his journey through the night. The spiral imitates the natural posture of the snake protecting its (or her) eggs. The best description of the game appears in a picture in the tomb of Hesre at Saqqara (ca. 2700 BC). Senet is the most famous game from ancient Egypt, where it was in favour from the Predynastic Period to at least the Late Period (ca. 3100–332 BC). Its board is characterized by a pattern of three rows of ten squares, with the last five squares consistently decorated (fig. 7). The players moved their pieces in a boustrophedon (S-shaped) direction. In the New Kingdom (ca. 1550–1070 BC), Senet, which means “passing,” became associated with the journey to the afterlife. Scenes of Senet-playing are included among the vignettes of Chapter 17 of the Book of the Dead and are magnified on the walls of tombs.

Fig. 7: Tutankhamun's senet board

The Metropolitan Museum in New York Accession Number: 26.7.1287a–kk has an exquisite box of Hounds and Jackals (fig. 8). The board rests on the four legs of a bull; one is completely restored and another only partially. There is a drawer with a bolt to store the playing pieces: five pins with the heads of hounds, and five with the heads of jackals. The board is shaped like an axe-blade, and there are fifty-eight holes in the upper surface with an incised palm tree topped by a shen-sign in the centre.

Fig. 8: Hounds and jackals game (Metropolitan Museum of Art)


Strangely, not many have been found in tombs, but when they are they were usually made of linen and turned inside out. Perhaps clothes were cut up for mummy bandages or as there were many depictions of clothes on the walls of the tombs, it was thought unnecessary.


One of my personal treasures is “The Swansea Egypt Centre”, the privilege of looking at their artefacts with such insights into their history, and the delivery of highly informative courses in such a friendly manner. Thank you very much to all the staff who have given me so much pleasure in learning about ancient Egypt!