Sunday, 30 October 2011

Sacred and Profane at the Barber Institute

Yesterday I spent the day in Birmingham and finally got around to visiting the exhibition "Sacred and Profane: Treasures of Ancient Egypt from the Myers Collection, Eton College and the University of Birmingham" at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts. The objects in the exhibition belonged to Major W. J. Myers, an alumnus of Eton College who amassed a fine collection of Egyptian antiquities during his time in Egypt during the 1880s. On his death in the Second Boer War in 1899 Myers' collection of antiquities, his libraries and his diaries were bequeathed to Eton College. This exhibition is a collaboration between Eton College, The University of Birmingham and Johns Hopkins University, and uses objects to illustrate key aspects of the religious life of the ancient Egyptians and the beliefs behind their burial and afterlife.

Detail of a wooden rowing boat (ECM 1550)
Though the exhibition is a little smaller than I had first anticipated, the space available had been effectively utilised and four large cases had been arranged to accommodate 80 objects, ranging from a gilded fragment from the 18th Dynasty coffin of the master builder Amenhotep from Thebes, to Old and Middle Kingdom tomb models, to decorative clay and faience vessels, and Hellenistic and Roman papyri and coins. For me the most interesting object in the exhibition was a wooden architectural cramp or dovetail inscribed with the name of Seti I and thought to have originated from his mortuary temple on the Theban west bank. This object would have been used to connect two blocks of stone in a building, perhaps while the mortar was drying. 

It was also interesting to see two of Myers' 34 notebooks on display, which contain details of his travels around the world. Unfortunately the two notebooks were left closed in the case, meaning that it is not possible to see Myers' handwriting and the details of his journeys. This decision may have been made to preserve the structural integrity of the notebooks as they are over 100 years old, though if it were possible for one or both of them to be opened at particular pages it would be interesting to catch a glimpse of Myers' original notes on Egypt, especially if those notes refer to any of the objects in the exhibition. 

The layout of each case was particularly striking; they were neither too cramped nor too empty, and the use of number labels next to each object, referring to a list of longer labels next to each case, meant that more information could be provided without cramping the interior of the case. The exhibition clearly caters to an older audience, which given the nature of the university-affiliated Barber Institute is understandable, however a children's trail has also been designed to accompany the exhibition meaning that younger visitors are still able to benefit from their visit.

I do recommend a visit to the exhibition if you are in the area, and to get the most out of your visit (as photography is not allowed in the Institute) I would suggest that you get hold of the accompanying exhibition catalogue to read beforehand if possible, or buy it on the day in the Museum shop, which contains a great deal of information on Myers the man and his Egyptian collection.
All images from

Ancient Egypt Magazine (Oct-Nov 2011)

This is just a quick reminder that the current Ancient Egypt Magazine contains an article on the Garstang Effective Collections Project, and the associated touring exhibition "From Egypt's Sands to Northern Hills: John Garstang's Excavations in Egypt", which is currently open at Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery. Definitely worth a read!

John Garstang in Blackburn

Last Saturday (October 22nd) saw the opening of the second leg of the touring exhibition "From Egypt's Sands to Northern Hills: John Garstang's Excavations in Egypt" at Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery, after a successful first leg at Kendal Museum. The layout of the exhibition is subtly different to the first leg at Kendal, and so even if you did make it to Kendal it is definitely worth your while visiting the second leg in Blackburn to gain insight into Garstang's excavations and into the social history of Egyptian excavations during the early 20th Century. 

The exhibition will remain in Blackburn until March 16th 2012, when it will move on to Towneley Hall, Burnley where it is due to open on March 24th. Any feedback you have on the exhibition so far, whether in Kendal or Blackburn, would be very much appreciated.

View of the exhibition at Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery
(Photo: Claire Ollett).

Saturday, 1 October 2011

From Egypt's Sands to Northern Hills - Thank you Kendal!

That's it! The very last day of the first leg of the exhibition "From Egypt's Sands to Northern Hills: John Garstang's Excavations in Egypt". Kendal Museum did a fantastic job and it is with great pride that the exhibition has been well received by all who have visited so far.

The exhibition will now be packed up and transported to the venue of the second leg, Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery, where it is due to be unveiled in a couple of weeks' time - so watch this space!

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Rome: The "City of Obelisks"

During a holiday to Rome in July 2011 I managed to squeeze in some Egyptology-related sightseeing, namely following the trail of obelisks around the city which Labib Habachi dubbed the "City of Obelisks". There are 13 obelisks standing in the city today, more even than in Egypt, and although I didn't have the time to see every one (I only managed to get to 8), I'd like to share some of my holiday snaps of the obelisks that I did see, some of which were inscribed in Egypt then brought to Rome, and others were brought uninscribed from Egypt and subsequently decorated in Rome. 

Piazza Della Rotunda
Red granite, 6.34m, 19th Dynasty
Originally erected by Ramesses II at Heliopolis
Now outside the Pantheon of Hadrian
Piazza dell' Esquilino
Red granite, 14.75m, Unknown date
Originally erected on the western flank of the Mausoleum of Augustus
Now outside the church of Santa Maria Maggiore

Monte Citorio
Red granite, 21.79m, 26th Dynasty
Originally erected by Psamtek II at Heliopolis
Now outside the Italian Chamber of Deputies building
Piazza San Giovanni in Laterano - "Lateran Obelisk"
Red granite, 32.18m, 18th Dynasty
Undoubtedly quarried in Aswan
Originally erected by Tuthmosis III at the Temple of Amun, Karnak
Now outside the Lateran Palace
Largest obelisk in Rome
Piazza Navona
Red granite, 16.54m, inscribed in Rome
Originally erected by Domitian near the Iseum
Now in the Piazza Navona
Piazza San Pietro
Red granite,23.37m, uninscribed
Originally erected in the Julian Forum in Alexandria by Augustus
Now in front of St. Peters Cathedral
Trinita dei Monti
Red granite, 13.92m, inscribed in Rome with a copy
of the Popolo inscription of Seti I and Ramesses II (below)
Originally erected in a private residence (Horti Sallustiani)
Now in front of the church of Trinita del Monti (Spanish Steps)
Piazza del Popolo
Red granite, 32.77m, 19th Dynasty
Originally erected by Ramesses II at Heliopolis (inscribed by Seti I and Ramesses II)
Now in the Piazza del Popolo
(note the man in Egyptian costume in front of the obelisk!)

The remaining obelisks that I didn't see are:
- Monte Pincio (Red granite, 9.25m; inscribed by Hadrian)
- Villa Celimontana (Red granite, 2.68m; originally erected by Ramesses II at Heliopolis, smallest obelisk in Rome)
- Piazza della Minerva (Red granite, 5.47m; originally erected in Sais by Psamtek II)
- Piazza del Quirinale (Red granite, 14.64m; originally erected on the eastern flank of the Mausoleum of Augustus)
- Vialle delle Terme di Diocleziano (Red granite, 9.25m; originally erected in Heliopolis by Ramesses II)

I also managed to find a couple of other Egyptianizing monuments whilst in Rome, I'll be sure to put up those images in a second blog post. 

All information after Habachi, L., (1977), The Obelisks of Egypt: Skyscrapers of the Past, London: Biddles Ltd, where you can also find more information about the obelisks I missed on my visit.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Visit to the Petrie Museum 10.9.11

On a day off from my internship at the British Museum during September 2011 I took a trip to the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology on a cold and wet Saturday afternoon. Although I've visited this museum quite a few times before, I was pleasantly surprised to find that some of the collection has been redisplayed and that new and innovative methods of conveying information about the collection had been implemented.

The Museum holds over 80,000 objects, only a fraction of which are currently on display, so it was great to see that supplementary information about a selection of the objects was being offered, making those objects more accessible to both visiting members of the public and academics.

To begin with, a screen has been installed which, when wearing the 3D glasses provided, allows the viewer to browse a selection of objects from the Petrie collection in 3D, meaning that those objects are automatically more accessible and perhaps also more interesting to the general public as they are able to control the angle of the object and thus their experience of that object.

A QR code for the painted
stela of Neskhons (UC 14226)
Some of the objects have also been given QR codes, meaning that visitors with smartphones are able to scan a code to give them more information about that object on their phones via This is both a great way of utilising new technology and providing more information on an object when physical museum space is at a premium.

The glazed inlays and pendants etc. from Amarna have (on the whole) been arranged according to form and colour, meaning that the case is particularly eye-catching. However it was the addition of plans of Amarna buildings in the case which I was particularly interested to see. Where the context of a fragment is known, an arrow connects that particular object to its findspot on the plans. This is extremely useful as it is both aesthetically pleasing and a visual device to emphasise the context of the objects to the viewer, which they may not have previously been aware of.
The glazed objects from Amarna

Plan of part of Amarna with arrows showing the context of the Petrie Museum fragments

My favourite of all the updates to the Museum are the quotes which have been added to the walls of the stairwell when entering/leaving the building of Flinders Petrie and Amelia Edwards, which add to the atmosphere of the visit as a personal touch.

Overall I think these additions to the displays only serve to emphasise the importance of the collection and how object information can be projected in an accessible, and dare I say fun, way, which can only improve the overall visitor experience. I do hope that more of the Petrie displays will be added to and updated in such ways in the future. 

Friday, 22 July 2011

From Egypt's Sands to Northern Hills: John Garstang's Excavations in Egypt (Update)

Last weekend I had to opportunity to revisit the exhibition currently in residence at Kendal Museum of objects from the excavations of John Garstang in Egypt during the early 20th Century. As I've written previously, this exhibition was the end result of a collaborative Effective Project reconciling objects from these excavations in three north-west museums (Kendal, Blackburn and Burnley) with Garstang's archives and photographs at the Garstang Museum of Archaeology, University of Liverpool.

I presented a paper at Kendal Museum on the exhibition and Kendal's Egyptian collection as part of the Festival of British Archaeology on Friday July 15th, which I am pleased to say was very well received and I got some great feedback. I took some more photos of the exhibition which I thought might encourage those of you who haven't yet visited to make your way there! The exhibition will move on to Blackburn at the end of September, so catch it in Kendal while you can! Also, be sure to look out for an article on the exhibition in the October-November issue of Ancient Egypt Magazine.

Two female figurines from Abydos
Various Predynastic vessels from Hierakonpolis

Replica excavation tent
Various wooden mummy masks
Statuettes of soldiers from Abydos
Close-up of a wooden boat model (?Beni Hassan)

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Mardale: A Village Lost

When I was a child I was told about the village of Mardale in the Lake District, which was drowned under Haweswater Reservoir in 1935. I was recently reminded about the site and I decided to do a little bit of research into what actually happened to Mardale and its residents. 

Mardale Shepherd's Meet in 1908
Mardale was described by Councillor Hinchcliffe of Manchester in 1921 as "The most primitive and secluded dale, the most charming and restful to be found in all Lakeland" (Berry 1984: 9). The village was located in an unspoilt area of the Lake District and contained houses and farms, a pub, a school, and a church. Mardale also hosted the famous autumnal 'Shepherd's Meet' when local shepherds came together with stray sheep from the fells, hoping to find their rightful owners after checking their ear tags and wool markings, as each farm had an individual code. At this event, wrestling, horse racing and other sports also took place.

The decision was made in the 1930's to build Haweswater Dam and its associated reservoir to supply the water needs of Manchester. The dam was considered to be an engineering feat of its time, and at its maximum capacity it can hold 18.6 billion gallons of water. Mardale's inhabitants were moved to local villages and measures were taken to remove and preserve some of the village buildings. For example, the Old School, founded in 1713 by Richard Wright, was carefully dismantled and rebuilt on higher ground at the expense of a private donor. However, the majority of the village buildings had a worse fate, being blown up by the Royal Engineers who used them as target practice! 

Holy Trinity Church in 1893 (Francis Frith Coll.)
The most famous building in the village was the Holy Trinity Church which held 75 people. In spite of much protest, the church was dismantled in 1936 and the stones were used to build a small pier and a tower along the shore of the reservoir. The last service held at the church was ticketed as the congregation far surpassed the capacity of the small church, and the hymns chosen for the service included 'I will life mine eyes unto the hills', 'The Church's One Foundation' and 'Bright Vision that Delighted'. Around 100 coffins were exhumed from the cemetery and reburied just east of Shap Church. Plans to build another church on higher ground never materialised.

Although the village was completely submerged by the reservoir in the 1930's, when a severe drought occurs the level of the reservoir can be drawn down to such an extent that it is possible to visit the ghostly remains of Mardale, including brick buildings and the village bridge. This happened in July 1984, 2003 and July 2010, and it could well happen again should the region suffer a similar drought in the future. The memory of the village lives on in the Mardale Times, a satirical newspaper about global warming, and a novel entitled Haweswater set at the time of the dam's construction.

Berry (1984: 9) stated after his visit in 1984 that "There is a strange fascination in the re-emergence of a drowned village and as soon as this happened in Mardale the valley became a place of pilgrimage". I would be very interested to hear if anyone has visited the site during a time of drought, as I am yet to have the privilege.

Reference Cited: Berry, G. (1984) The Story of Haweswater: Mardale Revisited, Kendal: Westmorland Gazette.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Website of the Week: Sewing the Town Together

Although I am clearly biased when I write this, I would like to recommend a visit to the website of my artist sister, Charlotte Louise Garnett, who describes her working mantra as follows: "I emphasise sewing as a means of demonstrating architectural perspective of buildings and text, elaborately using the sewing machine like a pencil and the fabric as an inter-changeable canvas".

"Sewing the Town Together"

For her final year project, Charlotte undertook a unique project which she hoped would bring together the different religious institutions in Kendal, entitled "Sewing the Town Together". 

She describes the project as follows:

"Over the past year I have been researching all of the 22 religious buildings in Kendal and through my sewn works, aim to emphasise the idea of community by bringing these different establishments together through an exhibition to be held in the town in spring 2011. 

As part of the project I will be inviting a member from each establishment to an exhibition of the 26 works where they will have the opportunity to not only view the pictures but more importantly be part of an event where all religious orders can feel they are part of one single local community. After this event, they will be able to take away their respective pictures to hang in their particular establishment, thus creating a legacy exhibition sewing the town together".

"Keep Left"

She has recently completed her final exhibition of her work as a student of Fine Art at Leeds University, which is currently open to the public in the School of Fine Art, History of Art & Cultural Studies at the University as part of an exhibition entitled "Keep Left". The pieces included in this exhibition utilise buildings of cultural importance as the subject matter, including the Taj Mahal, Buckingham Palace and the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Charlotte uses a unique method incorporating different fabrics and textures which are skilfully sewn onto a background of calico. The effect is simple and clean, yet highly effective. 

Charlotte is available for commissions; if you would like a sophisticated, original rendering of a building or scenic location close to you, or indeed of a favourite famous landmark, whilst supporting up and coming British artistic talent, please contact her by phone on 07515176641 or by email at

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

New Kendal Museum Content on the ACCES Website

© Kendal Museum
I'd like to draw your attention to some new content on Kendal Museum that has recently been uploaded to the ACCES website (The Association for Curators of Collections from Egypt and the Sudan). ACCES is the first curators’ group in the UK for curators who are responsible for archaeological collections from ancient Egypt and Sudan.

The ACCES website is a useful portal for browsing through the history and objects of both local and national UK museums with Egyptology collections, and it contains a link to some great images of a selection of the objects from Kendal Museum - definitely worth a visit.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Anatomy of an Exhibition: Kendal Museum's new Egyptology Display

Although it is now quite a while after the official opening (March 31st), I have recently acquired some images of the recent re-display of Kendal Museum's ancient Egyptian collection and I thought the story behind the display might be of some interest (all photos courtesy of Morag Clement).

The Collection

As a direct result of their involvement in the current touring exhibition of objects from the excavations of John Garstang, entitled "From Egypt's Sands to Northern Hills: John Garstang's Excavations in Egypt", Kendal Museum received a sum of money from Renaissance North West to be used to improve their Egyptology display. The Museum contains over 140 Egyptian objects, most of which were excavated from Abydos, Esna, Hierakonpolis and Beni Hassan by John Garstang during the early 20th Century on behalf of the Liverpool Institute of Archaeology (now the School of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology, University of Liverpool). The collection was also supplemented by gifts from members of the local community. 

For each of Garstang's excavations, a financing committee was set up and 50% of the objects were divided between the Liverpool Institute and the sponsors of these excavations. One of these sponsors, and also the Treasurer of the Excavation Committee, was John Rankin of Hill Top, Kendal, who donated his Egyptian collection to Kendal Museum in January 1923. Rankin’s Egyptian collection was of an exceptionally high quality, and includes objects from historically significant tombs. Several of the objects have already been published and are famous in their own right.

The two cases before the project....

....and the same two cases after the re-display

Until Summer 2010, Kendal Museum's Egyptology display was somewhat dated and it was clear that a lot could be done to improve the quality of the display, which would then directly improve the visitor experience and the knowledge of the collection. I worked with the Curator of the Museum, Morag Clement, to identify aspects of the display requiring regeneration and key themes illustrated by the collection, which were: 

- Life and Living in Ancient Egypt
- Death and the Afterlife in Ancient Egypt
- The Art of Hieroglyphs

Although space constraints meant that it was not possible to redisplay every object in Kendal's collection, the most historically significant objects and those most representative of the collection were chosen to feature in the new display. Everyone at the Museum played a part in the re-display; it really was a team effort.

View of the new display
The Re-Display

Four new information panels were designed which detailed the three main themes (detailed above), together with a series of relevant colour images used to illustrate the text. A map of Egypt and a timeline of Egyptian history were also designed, in order to put the collection in context for the visitors to the Museum. 1:1 cut-outs of the objects currently in the touring exhibition were also made for the cases, so that visitors are able to view the objects that are missing.

New object labels detailed the date, provenance and material of each object where possible, together with extended labels containing information on key aspects of ancient Egyptian life and death, for example shabti-figures, scarabs, mummification and cosmetics.

Sobekhotep Statuette
Although the cases received quite a bit of light from the nearby window, their dark lining and wooden shelves made the old display feel a bit dingy. It was decided that the cases already present should remain, but that they should be re-coated and lined with calico which would make the display much lighter, which was very effective.

The wooden shelves were replaced with glass shelves, the length of which depended on the size of the object that they would support. For example, longer shelves were chosen to display the collection of pottery, but key objects (such as the inscribed Second Intermediate Period statuette of Sobekhotep, see left) were showcased on individual shelves. Where required, perspex mounts were used both to safely display the objects in the cases and to highlight interesting features, for example a mirrored perspex mount was used to display the inscriptions on the back of scarabs.

Morag Clement placing the objects back into the newly-revamped case

Hanging the Farming Scene
A farming scene from the tomb of Sennedjem at Deir el-Medina (above) was chosen to be blown up and hung over the wall-mounted case, which illustrated both the key theme of 'Life and Living in Ancient Egypt' and formed a link with the local farming community in and around Kendal. The ceiling of the nearby corridor leading downstairs was also painted with stars to emulate the Egyptian tradition of painting the ceilings of their temples and tombs which they believed represented the heavens. 

Carol Davies painting the ceiling
A catalogue detailing the history of the collection has also been produced for visitors to consult, which will undoubtedly be extended as more information is gathered about the objects in the collection over the coming months.

This project has successfully highlighted the importance of Kendal Museum's Egyptology collection, and has significantly improved the visitor's understanding of the history of the collection and of Ancient Egypt in general. It is hoped that the display will remain relevant and up-to-date for years to come, and any feedback is gladly welcomed.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Visit to the K Shoes Heritage Centre 19.5.11

I finally found the time for a quick visit to the newly-opened K Shoes Heritage Centre, located on Parkside Road, Kendal. This £500,000 investment into the preservation of the history of the world-famous K Shoes company, over ten years in the making, was designed and created as an integral part of the newly-refurbished K Village outlet, on the site of the former K Shoes factory which was demolished in 1996.

I must admit, my only real memories of K Shoes before it closed were of playing in the grounds and visiting the shoe shop for some new school shoes. However, after hearing stories of life in the factory from my uncle Ian Postlethwaite who used to work there (following in his father's footsteps), I decided that a visit to the Heritage Centre was a must.

Archway with the bust of K Shoes founder
Robert Miller Somervell

On entering the gallery, the visitor's eyes are immediately drawn to the original stone archway which marked the entrance of the factory, together with archive images of the archway in situ. The initial space tells the story of the K Shoes founding family, the Somervells (the company was originally called Somervell Bros.), being richly illustrated with archive images and original shoes and shoe-making equipment. The exhibition then opens into a larger space which houses a large and important collection of memorabilia, tools and machinery from the factory. One of my favourite pieces is the bicycle used to collect worn shoes to be repaired, known as 'Jimmy Metcalfe's Bike'.

'Jimmy Metcalfe's Bike'
The open plan of the exhibition is highly effective, as is the use of a display of suspended perspex boxes to hold the large selection of the factory's most popular shoes. A wonderful image of the factory teeming with rows and rows of workers adorns the back wall of the exhibition, providing a good opportunity for local visitors to put names to faces; a key benefit of the project for the history of the company and the local community. Another important feature of the exhibition is the display of the archive merchandising posters and television adverts, which the company was famous for. A memorial for those workers who died in WWI and WWII forms a fitting tribute at the end of the exhibition.

One of the original metal signs from when the company was known as the Somervell Bros.
I wasn't sure what to expect from this exhibition, but I thoroughly enjoyed my visit and I would encourage both locals and visitors to the town to include the Heritage Centre on their next trip to K Village. The exhibition will never truly be complete; local historian and former employee Jonathan Somervell told the Westmorland Gazette that:

“This exhibition is more about the people who made the shoes..... We get a mixed bunch of visitors. A lot of curious people come in and a lot of Kendal people who worked at the factory. In a sense the exhibition will never be finished. We have had so much to draw on that we can’t use everything.”

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Elizabeth Peters - My new favourite author

I have recently discovered the wonderful Amelia Peabody series of books written by the New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Peters, a graduate in Egyptology from the University of Chicago. The books are set in turn of the century Egypt, and are based on the adventures of Amelia Peabody, her husband Radcliffe Emerson (both of whom are Egyptologists/detectives) and their son, the extremely precocious Walter Peabody Emerson, otherwise known as Ramses. 

The series is most notable for the depth of Egyptological content included alongside the main crime narrative, and of course the compelling twists in the stories. The Amelia Peabody website is also worth a visit, which features the timeline of the Emerson's journeys, as well as maps from some of the books. The most recent volume, 'A River in the Sky', is based in Jerusalem and the website features a video of the author discussing the book. A complete list of the Peabody books is also available.

 I'm aware that I'm probably very slow off the mark with this recommendation, but if you find yourself in need of a good read the Amelia Peabody series will undoubtedly sate your appetite for adventure.

January 25th Graffiti on Zamalek

During my stay on Zamalek at the end of April I couldn't help but stop to admire these wonderful pieces of artwork illustrating the January 25th revolution in Egypt on Ismail Mohammed Street. The pieces have become somewhat of a model backdrop as people stop to have their photo taken. My personal favourite is the mummy saying, 'I'm Free!'

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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