Thursday, 25 November 2010

Website of the Week #6: The World of Beatrix Potter

For this week's 'Website of the Week' I've chosen the homepage of the 'World of Beatrix Potter' as something a little bit different! I've been fascinated with the life and history of Beatrix Potter since I was a child, and this website is a lovely starting point for anyone interested in 'Miss Potter' and her little books; the most famous of course being 'The Tale of Peter Rabbit'. In fact, there is an Egyptological link here: a copy of Peter Rabbit in hieroglyphs was published by the British Museum Press!

The website contains information and images of Beatrix's artwork, including her famous paintings and drawings of animals and plants, and landscape paintings of the Lake District. Some of her childhood sketches have also been reproduced, which allows the visitor to trace the development of her artwork over the course of her life. There are also a large selection of printable downloads, including a wallpaper calendar and a relevant map of the Lake District. Do take a look, and hopefully this will prompt you to revisit the books of Peter Rabbit and perhaps even visit Beatrix Potter's house at Hill Top, Hawkshead, which is currently in the care of the National Trust. 

Visit to the Dales Countryside Museum, Hawes

I visited the Dales Countryside Museum in Hawes, North Yorkshire, on a Sunday jolly with my mother last weekend. I am very interested in the history of the Yorkshire Dales and the local countryside, and I hoped that this Museum would satisfy my interests. I was not disappointed; the enormous collection of objects relating to life in the Yorkshire Dales range from Romano-British coins and milestones to local children's toys dating to the Victorian era.

A small selection of the huge collection of farming equipment
The Museum is arranged chronologically, beginning first with the archaeology and history of the Dales from the Prehistoric and Roman Periods and concluding with a piece on modern farming practices and the impact of the current economic conditions on the local farmers. The Museum was officially opened in 1979, and is located in the Victorian buildings which once functioned as Hawes Railway Station. A superb use of space employs an old train as an exhibition area for the history of the Railway and the social history of the area, including a case on the tradition of countryside sports and Victorian pastimes. 

The exhibition in the main building snakes around the large gift shop and is designed to allow the visitor to experience different local working situations, such as life in coal mine, a Victorian pharmacy, a milk farm and a ropeworks. Though the building does not look particularly large from the outside, the layout of the exhibition makes full use of the internal space with a mezzanine floor and connecting rooms.

Image of the train converted into an exhibition space at the Museum

View of the reconstructed Victorian pharmacy
On the whole, the objects are well labelled and there are also extended descriptions where required. I was also impressed with the use of audio recordings in some of the scenes, including a description of haytiming during the early 20th Century, and an interactive touchscreen which detailed the history of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Unfortunately we visited on a rather quiet day; the Museum frequently holds events for families and interested visitors including dry stone walling, spinning and weaving demonstrations, and rag rug making, and I would very much like to return for an event in the future. Though the Museum is somewhat off the beaten track, I highly recommend a visit for a fascinating and unusual day out. 

Monday, 15 November 2010

Website of the Week #5: Ancient Egypt Online

For this week's "Website of the Week" I've chosen Ancient Egypt Online: a new website dedicated to the study of ancient Egypt created by Nicholas Wernick, a Ph.D student in Egyptology at the University of Liverpool. This site aims to be more comprehensive and user-friendly than the current selection of Egyptological websites, and even though it is still in the early stages of development, it is clear that over time it will become a useful study tool for students of Egyptology and general interest alike. 

The different sections of the site are being written and designed by a small group of MA and Ph.D students from Liverpool, with the prior aim that the information supplied is as accurate and up-to-date as possible - this includes the current news stories that are regularly added to the news feed.

I must confess that I have a personal interest in the site; I have written some of the content and I have also supplied some of my own images of Egyptian sites. However, I do genuinely believe that the importance of the site as a tool for current Egyptological research will continue to develop as the different sections are added to over the coming months, and I would certainly recommend that you take a look.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

A New Acquisition: 1945 Guidebook for Luxor and Upper Egypt

Yesterday, on the advice of my good friends David Smith and Helen Murphy, I picked up a small, yet perfectly preserved paperback Guidebook of Egypt from Reids of Liverpool Bookstore, entitled "The Latest Pocket Guidebook to Luxor & Environments, Including also Tutankhamun", for the princely sum of £8 [Apologies for the quality of the images, I didn't use a flash].

It was written by N. F. Mansfield-Meade, an English resident of Luxor, who describes the volume as "Historically Accurate, Beautifully Illustrated, Lucid & Interesting". This is the 1945 (5th) Edition, but the 1st Edition was written in 1926; four years after Howard Carter's discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamun.

The book itself of course is a treat: there is a pull-out map of Karnak Temple, and images of sites dating to the 1920's which are archival records in themselves; the quiet image of the Giza Pyramids and Sphinx a stark contrast to the modern-day visitor experience of the Giza Plateau. 

 However, it is not just the book which interested me. This guidebook was evidently used by a certain British Serviceman in Egypt post-1945: a black-and-white photograph of a saluting patrol was tucked in the back, together with a leaflet for the YMCA Club and Hostel, Ismailia, "Open to all Services and Services Families". I'm not entirely sure who this book  belonged to (though I will be pursuing this further), but nevertheless I'm delighted to be the new owner of this little piece of history. 

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Dr. Jaromir Malek at MAES: Their Rules and Ours: The Art in the Tomb of Tutankhamun

Last night (November 8th) marked the inaugural lecture of the Tutankhamun exhibition lecture series at the Trafford Centre's Museum of Museums. Dr. Jaromir Malek, keeper of the Griffith Institute Archive, Oxford, gave a fascinating lecture on the study of artistic representation in ancient Egyptian art, and how pieces from the tomb of Tutankhamun can be used to illustrate theories and principles of artistic proportion and decorum.

Dr. Malek began by presenting several images of modern art, together with the mask of Tutankhamun. He reminded the audience that, for each of the pieces, they did not need  any specialist knowledge of art to be emotionally moved after seeing them. This, of course, is entirely correct, though I must say, for me, having even limited knowledge of the ancient Egyptian rules of decorum dramatically enhances my enjoyment of the ancient art, and I do hope that much of the audience were able to say the same after Dr. Malek's lecture.

The audience were reminded that Egyptian art should not be viewed in isolation, and certainly that it should not simply be taken at face value. Some of the complex ideas inherent in the ancient art are still not fully understood today, for example the exact significance of the animal-headed couches from the tomb of Tutankhamun. The modern viewer simply cannot experience the artefacts on the same emotional level as the ancient Egyptians; one should always remember that their production relied upon a complex ancient system of religious, traditional and artistic conventions.

The two 'Guardian Statues' before the entrance to the Burial Chamber
Dr. Malek then went on to discuss the treatment of the human body in the ancient reliefs and paintings, and interestingly reminded the audience that the same conventions used in the portrayal of King Narmer on the Narmer Palette were also used in the production of the so-called 'Guardian Statues' from the tomb of Tutankhamun. Each part of the human figure was shown in its most characteristic view as composite elements of a whole, and throughout the pharaonic period the left foot of a human figure always stepped before the right. 

Another interesting theory presented in the lecture concerned the pose of cat statues: the tail of a cat was considered to be a fundamental element in ancient Egypt feline representation, and it was always represented on the right side of the cat's body. The most famous example of this idea is, of course, the Gayer-Anderson Cat in the British Museum. This theory also affects where the figures would have been positioned in antiquity; a sphinx with it's tail on the right must surely have been placed to the left of an entrance, so that the tail was clearly visible to the onlooker.

Howard Carter inspecting the Second Coffin of Tutankhamun
Finally, Dr. Malek released a rather mind-boggling statistic: Howard Carter and his team excavated 5398 objects from the tomb of Tutankhamun, and at the current rate of publication it will take until the year 2215AD to complete the publication of the tomb's entire contents! So far only 30% of the objects have been studied and published to an academic standard, and the worldwide participation of Egyptological institutions will be required to complete the task. This is a massive job, and although chances are that we won't see the completion in our lifetimes, the work of Dr. Malek and the Griffith Institute is going a long way to make it happen. I do highly recommend a visit to the homepage of the Institute, though be sure to set aside a good amount of time as it is very easy to spend hours looking through the digitised archive!

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Visiting the "Journey Though the Afterlife: The Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead" Exhibition

During a day trip to London this week I managed to find the time to visit the new Book of the Dead exhibition at the British Museum, on the opening day. The tickets to the exhibition are timed to allow for the efficient flow of visitors, and I booked a ticket for 5.40pm. Entering the exhibition area, within the circular Reading Room in the centre of the Great Court, was rather atmospheric in itself as the shadowy moonlight flooded through the ceiling of the Great Court.

The Book of the Dead of Hunefer, illustrating the 'Opening of the Mouth' ritual. New Kingdom.
The Book of the Dead was the culmination of the ancient Egyptian tradition of creating religious texts for the deceased. These texts, made up of a series of spells, were necessary to enable the deceased to enter their afterlife, while also avoiding potential dangers along the journey. The exhibition promises that, "The Book of the Dead will help you to be in full command of your special powers so that you can avoid disaster along the way".

The earliest example of this were the Pyramid Texts; a series of religious inscriptions carved onto the walls of the royal pyramids during the Old Kingdom. This idea was transferred to the walls of coffins during the Middle Kingdom, known as the Coffin Texts. It was during the New Kingdom that the Book of the Dead, funerary texts inscribed on papyrus, mummy bandages and coffins, developed from the Coffin Texts.The papyri were sometimes placed within the coffin alongside the deceased. The majority of the Books on display date to the New Kingdom, though there are also several papyri dating to the Late Period.

The "Pyramid Texts" from the 6th Dynasty Pyramid of Teti at Saqqara
The choice of the Reading Room for the exhibition was an excellent one; the visitor ascends a flight of stairs before making their way through a cluster of rooms, 11 in total, each dedicated to a particular aspect of the burial. The visitor literally follows the ancient Egyptian journey from death to the afterlife through the maze of rooms; a journey which is made all the more real with the use of atmospheric lighting and hushed silence. The dimmed lighting is also necessary to protect the fragile photosensitive papyri from permanent damage, which is also why photography is not allowed. 

The exhibition utilises a variety of different digital media in several of the rooms, including interactive video slideshows and projected images, and relevant objects are displayed alongside the selection of Book of the Dead papyri, including shabti-figures, jewellery and amulets, which enhance the viewer's understanding of the particular concepts illustrated by the papyri, and help to place the papyri in their historical context. Many of the objects chosen for the exhibition have never been seen before by the general public, and although a small number of the objects are on loan from overseas institutions, the vast majority of the objects are from the British Museum collection.

The Book of the Dead of Ani, illustrating the 'Weighing of the Heart' ritual. New Kingdom.
Some personal highlights include the famous New Kingdom Books of the Dead of Hunefer, an overseer of the palace of Seti I, and Ani, a royal scribe. Unfortunately, we do not have a provenance for these papyri as they entered the collection via antiquities dealers during the latter half of the 19th Century, but their illustrations are still as vivid as they must have been in ancient times. At the end of the exhibition, once the visitor has completed their journey to the afterlife, they must walk along a curved pathway, which has been used very effectively to display the Greenfield Papyrus. This is the longest Book of the Dead in existence, measuring 121feet/37metres.

The exhibition catalogue has been written by Dr. John Taylor, Assistant Keeper of Ancient Egypt and the Sudan at the British Museum, who also featured in a BBC news story about the exhibition. The only advice that I would add is to make sure you have at least three available hours for your visit - it took me at least that long to complete the visit and I was forced to rush towards the end to catch my train! It was a fantastic experience to visit the exhibition on its opening day, and judging from the volume of visitors on that day alone it is clear that the exhibition will be a resounding success.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Visit to Harrow School 4.11.10

This week I was privileged enough to visit the Egyptian galleries at Harrow School, Northwest London, with a group from the University of Liverpool. The Egyptian collection, containing some 900 objects, was donated to the museum in 1864 by a former pupil, Sir John Gardner Wilkinson, on the condition that it was used for the education of the schoolboys. The collection consists of objects that were purchased by Gardner Wilkinson during his travels in Egypt, together with a selection of objects from the EES excavations in the Faiyum and some objects from other private collections. His handwritten catalogues are also housed in the museum.

Painted limestone head of a sphinx. New Kingdom
The current display was designed by Dr. Ian Shaw, University of Liverpool, during the 1990's, and consists of a large, rectangular case of Egyptian objects on the ground floor and a tall case on the upper mezzanine. The collection also features Greek objects and a selection of modern British paintings; one of which can be attributed to Sir Winston Churchill, a former pupil of Harrow School.

The attitude of Gardner Wilkinson to archaeology and artefact acquisition at that time was surprisingly ahead of its time; Dr. Shaw's short catalogue of the collection preserves an excerpt of a letter from Gardner Wilkinson to the headmaster of Harrow in 1864: 

"You know how often an interesting object may afford most useful information relating to customs and dates which, if not explained, may pass unobserved. Fragments of pottery may sometimes prove or illustrate more, and be of greater importance than, an entire handsome vase - one instance of this occurs to me in a broken bottle in the Egyptian collection that many might look upon as an insignificant fragment though it enables us to correct the date generally assigned to vases of that particular style".
Funerary cone with the name of Neferhotep, 4th Prophet of Amun, from Thebes. New Kingdom

Rosette inlay tiles from from Tell el-Yahudiya. New Kingdom

Commemorative green-glazed steatite scarab of Amenhotep III. New Kingdom
Wooden hammer, mallet (Roman Period), copper alloy knife and chisel. New Kingdom

Selection of shabti-figurines. Late Period
It is this attitude towards artefact acquisition which makes the Harrow collection well worth a visit - extravagant gilded objects and fragments of stone statues are displayed together with objects of daily life, such as a stonemason's chisel, mallet and hammer, and toilet articles. The collection contains several royal objects of interest, including a painted fragment and a shabti from the tomb of Seti I in the Valley of the Kings, five inlay rosettes from Tell el-Yahudiya, an unusual human-headed scaraboid with the cartouche of Tuthmosis III and one of Amenhotep III's commemorative 'Wedding' scarabs. Interestingly, a quartzite fragment from one of the Colossi of Memnon is also on display. 

Fragment from the Tomb of Seti I in the Valley of the Kings
Gilded and painted head from a cartonnage mummy case. Ptolemaic Period
Scaraboid with the face of Tuthmosis III wearing the blue crown. New Kingdom
The collection represents sites from all over Egypt, in a variety of materials which represent the technological processes used in their production throughout the pharaonic period. Despite the fact that the display is already over ten years old, the use of suspended glass shelves and a two-tier method of displaying the objects means that it still appears quite modern to the visitor. I would like to see more of the collection on display in the future, but as it stands the current display makes good use of the space that is available, with a choice of objects that is truly representative of Gardner Wilkinson's extensive collection, and it is well worth a visit.

Website of the Week #4: The Epigraphic Survey

For this week's 'Website of the Week' I have chosen the homepage of the Epigraphic Survey of the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute. I have a particular interest in the work of the Epigraphic Survey, directed by Dr. W. R. Johnson, as they are currently involved in the documentation and conservation of Luxor Temple, constructed primarily by Amenhotep III

The Epigraphic Survey, based at Chicago House, Luxor, has worked in Egypt since 1924 to record the scenes and inscriptions preserved on the ancient monuments to a very high standard; a technique known as the "Chicago House Method". Many of the OI publications are also available as free PDF downloads from the site, including the Medinet Habu volumes. I'm sure many of you are already very familiar with the work of the Chicago team, but do visit the website again to view their 2009-10 field season report and a selection of  associated photographic portfolios containing high-quality images of sites in Egypt, including Gebel es-Silsilah and the temples in Luxor.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Guest Article by Prof. Ken Kitchen: "Egypt's Exotic Trade with Africa"

Do have a look at the Iconic Guides website for a guest piece by Prof. Ken Kitchen on Punt and Egypt's trade links with Africa. 

The piece marks the launch of the new updated "Iconic Guide" to the temple of Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahri.
Yan Tan Tethera: A rhyme derived from a Brythonic Celtic language used by shepherds to keep sheep in many parts of England and Southern Scotland.

Until the Industrial Revolution, the use of traditional number systems was common among shepherds, especially in the Dales of the Lake District.

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