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Saturday, 4 March 2023

An Introduction to the Harrogate Loan

Last Tuesday (28th February) was a day that will forever be etched into the history of the Egypt Centre. In the year that we celebrate our twenty-fifth anniversary, approximately 700 objects arrived in Swansea from Harrogate Museums, where they will remain on loan for the next three years. During this time, the collection will be researched, displayed, and presented online, thus making the objects more accessible to Egyptologists and the wider public. This blog post will undoubtedly be the first of many relating to the Harrogate loan over the next few years and serves as a brief introduction to the collection.

The story of the Harrogate loan coming to Swansea is a long one. Back in July 2022, our award-winning volunteer, Sam Powell, visited Harrogate to examine a wooden tomb figure (HARGM7673) as part of her ongoing PhD research. During discussions with Harrogate curators, Sam told them about the Egypt Centre, the museum’s object-based learning approach, and our collaboration with colleagues teaching Classics, Ancient History, and Egyptology at Swansea. Sam also showed them our fantastic online collection catalogue, which is hosted on the Abaset platform she created. As the Harrogate collection had been largely understudied (research and analysis of a selection of objects had been previously undertaken by Prof. Joanne Fletcher and Dr Stephen Buckley), the curators thought that this might be an opportunity to send it to Swansea on loan. Discussions took place shortly after, and May Catt (Visitor & Cultural Services Manager) visited the Egypt Centre in September 2022 to see the museum and our storage facilities. Impressed with our facilities and resources in Swansea, discussions progressed, loan agreements were drawn up, objects were removed from display and carefully packed, and couriers (Constantine) were tasked with the transportation of the objects. As the transfer date drew near, I was, unsurprisingly, both excited and nervous in anticipation. It was quite a relief when the objects safely arrived and were deposited in the Egypt Centre store under our care (fig. 1).

Fig. 1: Happy faces after the Harrogate coffin has been safely deposited in the Egypt Centre store

Harrogate’s museum is one of many regional museums with a collection of Egyptian antiquities (fig. 2). The objects were donated by two local collectors, Benjamin Kent (1884–1968) and James Roberts Ogden (1866–1940), who had assembled their collections in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Many of the objects, particularly those from Kent, were purchased at auction, which is similar to how the Egypt Centre collection was formed. In fact, objects from Kent’s collection are known to have come from the auctions of Robert de Rustafjaell (1859–1943), Henry Martyn Kennard (1833–1911), Frederick George Hilton Price (1842–1909), Field Marshal Francis Wallace Grenfell (1841–1925), and others. These collectors are all known from material housed in the Egypt Centre, thus providing an excellent link between both collections. The Harrogate loan project has been called “Rediscovering Egypt”, with the aim to study both the objects and the collectors—how did Ogden and Kent acquire their objects and why?

Fig. 2: Egypt on display in Harrogate (photo by Sam Powell)

As only a few days have passed since the collection arrived, we have not had the opportunity to look at any of the objects in detail. Our first priority was to assign a shelf number to each of the objects, which was completed by myself, Meg Gundlach (Collections Access Manager), and Cath Bishop (Egypt Centre volunteer) on Friday. The material is quite diverse and includes stelae, statues, pottery, stone vessels, shabtis, amulets, canopic jars, a coffin, funerary cones (something we have no examples of at the Egypt Centre), mummy masks, jewellery, papyrus, copper alloy votive statues, maceheads, terracotta figures, and many more object types. There is even a number of Etruscan mirrors (much to the excitement of our ancient historians at Swansea) and a large collection of cuneiform tablets, bricks, and cylinder seals! Perhaps the most famous object is the famous Anubis mask (fig. 3), which can be traced back to the 1907 sale of Robert de Rustafjaell. To give readers a sense of some of the treasures in the Harrogate loan, I’ve chosen just a few objects that immediately caught my attention.

Fig. 3: Unboxing the Anubis mask (photo by Sam John)

HARGM3584 (fig. 4) is one of a number of inscribed stelae in the Harrogate loan. Carved across three registers, it contains a winged Behdet in the lunette, with two recumbent jackals on plinths below. In the second register, the deceased is shown in adoration on the far right before a table of offerings, an enthroned Osiris, and standing figures of Anubis and Hathor (all unlabelled). In the register below, five columns of hieroglyphs begin with the offering formula addressed to Osiris. This inscription provides the name of the owner as Hetepnesmin (ḥtp-n.s-Mnw), who held the title “Singer of Min”. This name is only attested once—according to the fantastic names database produced and maintained by Prof. Erhart Graefe—on a stela from Akhmim in the British Museum (EA1018). Whether this is the same woman remains to be seen, but the stela does highlight the potential for prosopographical research on this unpublished collection. 

Fig. 4: Stela of Hetepnesmin

HARGM3722 is one of three shabtis of Seti I that arrived on Tuesday. While the other two are the more common wooden figures, this one is a beautiful faience example (fig. 5). These faience shabtis are undoubtedly some of the finest ever produced and it is so exciting to have it in Swansea. This shabti, along with the 160+ other examples, will be studied by our Collections Access Manager, Meg Gundlach, who wrote her PhD research at Swansea on the stone shabtis of the Twenty-fifth Dynasty.

Fig. 5: Shabti of Seti I

The final object (HARGM7627) that caught my attention was a glazed steatite scaraboid engraved on both sides (fig. 6). On the first side, a recumbent sphinx wearing a nemes-headcloth is depicted holding an offering. The hieroglyphs directly above identify the sphinx as the female ruler Hatshepsut (Maatkare). Behind the head is a winged snake protecting the ruler. On the reverse side, a large baboon is shown squatting atop a neb-basket. The cartouche above again provides the name of Hatshepsut (Maatkare), who is given the titles “the Good God, Lady of the Two Lands”. Despite being miniature, you can really see the detail that the craftsman has been able to achieve!

Fig. 6: Scaraboid of Hatshepsut

The entire collection will be presented online later this year on the Abaset platform including photos and 3D models of the objects. Three temporary exhibitions on the material are planned during the course of the loan, with the first taking place to coincide with our twenty-fifth anniversary conference in the Autumn. A special thanks to May Catt, Nicola Baxter, and Karen Southworth (Harrogate Museums) for making this loan happen. We look forward to working with this fantastic collection over the next few years and presenting it to a wider audience!


Hirons, Jo 2002. Henuttawy in Harrogate. Ancient Egypt: the history, people and culture of the Nile valley [10] (2/4), 28–33.

Millerman, Alison 2004. Howard Carter and the goldsmith: James Roberts Ogden (1866–1940). Ancient Egypt: the history, people and culture of the Nile valley [24] (4/6), 46–50.  

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