Sunday, 14 October 2012

Pylons, Obelisks and Time Travel: An Egyptianising Tour of Brompton Cemetery

Yesterday I attended another of Cathie Bryan's wonderful walking tours of the Egyptianising monuments of London, this time the Petrie Museum's 'Egypt Undead' tour of Brompton Cemetery in South-West London. This cemetery covers 16.5 hectares and is described as 'one of the finest cemeteries in the country', containing a number of monuments of great historical interest including that of Emmeline Pankhurst, leader of the British Suffragette Movement. 

As this tour was organised by the Petrie Museum, the main focus was on the Egyptianising and Egyptology-related monuments in the cemetery. It is clear that particular features were used for Egyptianising burials in London during the period 1700-1900 which appear time and time again, including the obelisk and the temple pylon (see also Kensal Green and Abney Park cemeteries). We also saw these motifs at Brompton, though some have unusual details:

Obelisk memorial with Japanese characters of Jugoi Nagayori Asano (1865-1886)
One monument with an unusual history is that of Hannah Courtoy, an illustrious individual who possessed a huge fortune. This structure is shaped like an Egyptian temple-pylon and apparently no documentation of the construction of the monument within the cemetery survives. This somehow led to a belief that Courtoy's monument was proof that the Egyptians had invented time-travel!

Magnificent Egyptian temple pylon-style monument of Hannah Courtoy (1784-1849)
Temple pylon-style monument of Charles Thompson, built in 1881

Another pylon-style monument of Augustus Horsfall Bill, built in 1874

Most interesting of all was the grave of Joseph Bonomi and his family. Bonomi was an artist, sculptor and Egyptologist who famously worked in Egypt with Robert Hay in 1824. He was the Egyptologist curator of the Sir John Soane Museum, London, and also worked at the British Museum most famously on Hay's Egyptian temple casts. Sadly Bonomi lost four children in one week due to whooping cough, and his wife soon afterwards. Their family monument was engraved with Anubis, Egyptian god of the afterlife.

Joseph Bonomi's family monument
Detail of Bonomi's grave
The Brompton walk was a great way to spend an crisp Autumn afternoon in London and once again the group were kindly treated to tea and delicious biscuits by the Friends of Brompton Cemetery. My heartfelt thanks go to Cathie Bryan for her kindness in arranging for me to attend the tour.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Travellers and Egyptomania: A guided tour of Kensal Green Cemetery

I am gradually making my way around the Egyptianising monuments of London during my time in the city working at the British Museum. My most recent visit was to Kensal Green Cemetery as part of a guided tour organised by ASTENE (Association for the Study of Travel in Egypt and the Near East) led by Cathie Bryan, who also led the excellent 'Cinematic Necropolis' tour organised by the Petrie Museum which I attended in June 2012.

Unlike the rainy Petrie tour in June, the autumn sun shone beautifully on the cemetery and the leaves were crisp on the ground. At Kensal Green, one of London's oldest public cemeteries, Cathie's tour was intended to highlight monuments of well-known travellers as well as those in the Egyptianising style. The group slowly made their way around the cemetery - together with a playful local cat - on a two-hour tour which included the following monuments:

John McDouall Stuart (1815-1866) in the form of an Egyptian obelisk

Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-59) - Mechanical and Civil Engineer

General Sir William Casement (1780-1844) -  a British General who served in India

Sir George Harris (1827-1902) in the form of an Egyptian temple pylon with winged sun disk (with Cathie)

Sir George Farrant (1770-1844) in the form of an Egyptian temple pylon with a winged sun disk and a stylised winged Hathor-head

Detail of above

Andrew Ducrow (1793-1837) in the form of an Egyptian temple pylon with winged sun disks and sphinxes

John Shae Perring (1813-1869) - Engineer who worked with the Egyptologist Howard Vyse, in the form of an Egyptian pyramidion

Lt. Col. Charles Seton Guthrie (1805-1874) in the form of an Egyptian temple pylon with metal grilles in the form of stylised Egyptian cartouches (detail below)

The friendly local cat who followed the tour!
The tour ended in the Anglican Chapel where the group was treated to well-earned hot drinks and biscuits. Many thanks once again to Cathie Bryan, and also to Patricia Usick for organising a fascinating day out.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

The Workmen's Huts in the Theban Mountains: Documenting the royal tomb-builder's huts above the Valley of the Kings

Yesterday I attended an excellent study day organised by the Egypt Exploration Society which focussed on 'Theban Mountains Project', being the current work of Jaana Toivari-Viitala and her team at the so-called 'Workmen's Huts' on the west bank at Thebes, funded by the Academy of Finland. This project, begun in 2008 and due to finish in 2013, is building upon the work of IFAO at the site under Bernard Bruyère in 1935 and the Finnish team have the challenge of finding out exactly why these stone huts were built, and for whom. The huts are commonly attributed to the workmen who built the royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings who lived at the village of Deir el-Medina during the 19th and 20th Dynasties.

Workmens huts on the Theban Mountain


The remit of the project is as follows:

'A multidisciplinary study on human agency, housing construction and social and ritual space in Egypt 1550-1069 BC with special focus on the 'Station de Repos' area [the 'Workmens' Huts']'.

The team are using the same numbering system that Bruyère established in the 1930's, and have split the excavation area into three sections: the Northern (worked on in 2008-9), Eastern (worked on in 2010) and Western (2011) clusters. The plan of the site made by the team differs slightly from the original plan by Bruyère and is more precise. 

Dr. Toivari-Viitala split her lecture into two sections; the first presenting the archaeological setting of the huts within the context of the Theban landscape, and the second focussing on the finds from the site. Despite searing working temperatures - sometimes hitting 63°c - and often challenging working conditions dealing with the garbage which constantly accumulates at the site, the team have made some fascinating discoveries since 2008, including the following:-

- 141 stone huts have been found at the site by the team to date.

-  The floors of the huts were often covered with a limestone plaster made from local stone.

- 'Mastabas', or benches, were a regular feature in the huts, which were normally between 20-30cm in height. The mastabas were typically marked out with large boulders and filled with loose earth and rubbish, and the whole mastaba was then covered with white plaster to make a smooth surface for sitting. One unusual rock-cut 'mastaba' was also found by the team, although the precise nature of this features remains questionable as it is also much taller than the other mastabas in the group (c. 70cm).

- Limestone slabs were also used as thresholds, and would have been placed over loose boulders and plastered.

- Fossilised shells, commonly found on the Theban hills, were used as fill for the walls of the huts.

- New Kingdom pottery were discovered as fill in the mastabas.

- Remnants of 20 fireplaces have been found both inside and outside the huts, identified by surviving ashes. New Kingdom and Coptic pottery have been found inside two of these fireplaces which proves that the site was also utilised during the Coptic Period.

-  A partly-finished bundle of textile rags containing 27 lamp wicks has also been discovered, together with used pottery lamps.

- A small shrine with a single central room has been identified with two unusual small spaces at each side, what Dr. Toivari-Viitala referred to as 'dummy spaces', which seem to be too shallow for storage. There are also roughly-cut hieroglyphic graffiti on the rock-cut steps at the edge of the shrine.


But the precise motivation for the construction of the huts remains a mystery. Some ideas concerning the site's function were debated by the audience:-

1. Game boards and gaming pieces have been found, which some members of the audience suggested might be evidence of the huts being used as a 'gentleman's club' - a place for the husbands to have a break from their wives who lived at Deir el-Medina.

2. Was it a purely administrative area for the workmen to check the tools in and out on the way to and from the Valley of the Kings? Evidence of the well known scribe Qenherkhepeshef (temp. Ramesses II) at the site, including three rooms which he used, may support this theory, but then why the gaming boards? Were they simply used while the administrative staff at the huts were bored or had time to kill? 

3. The big question still remains that after the workmen had finished their daily work in the Valley of the Kings, it must have been more difficult to walk up to the top of the mountain to the huts, than to walk down to Deir el-Medina at the bottom of the mountain, and wouldn't they rather have wanted to go home if they were already halfway there? That the northern wind is quite strong at the site may suggest that it was used as a halfway point during the very hot summer months.

Dr. Toivari-Viitala presented a compelling argument but it is clear that the precise function of the site is yet to by fully established. However, it was fascinating to hear more about the work of the team, particularly to see some of the finds from previous seasons, and certainly a great day was had by all. A great benefit was that many of the audience had previously visited the site and walked over the Theban hills from Deir el-Medina to the Valley of the Kings, so the discussion was particularly engaging. I look forward to hearing more after next season to see whether more tantalising details are revealed, and would welcome any comments if readers have any further ideas to contribute!

Peter Pan in London: Great Ormond Street Statue

Since I was a child I've been captivated by J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan, and while in London I'm making the most of easy access to Pan-related features of the city. I had previously visited Kensington Gardens, near to where Barrie lived, to see the famous bronze Peter Pan statue erected in 1912. This week I visited Great Ormond Street Hospital where a statue of Peter and Tinkerbell stands in a little garden in the forecourt of the hospital, unveiled in 2000. Barrie generously gave the rights to Peter Pan to Great Ormond Street Hospital in 1929, and the hospital has benefited greatly from royalties ever since.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Egyptianising London: Cleopatra's Needle Benches

Whilst in London for 2012 I am trying to seek out Egyptianising monuments around the city. Although I'd seen "Cleopatra's Needle" on the Thames Embankment a few years ago I'd previously failed to note a group of benches set up next to the obelisk in the form of elaborate winged female sphinxes, wearing the nemes-headdress with uraeus. The benches have individual plaques recording their donors, who include W. H. Smith


Sunday, 17 June 2012

Cinematic Necropolis: Egypt in NE London

Yesterday I attended a walk organised by the Petrie Museum entitled 'Cinematic Necropolis', intended to explore Egyptianising monuments in North-East London. Being a newcomer to the city, and indeed to the Islington area, this seemed the perfect opportunity to combine local sightseeing with an interest in Egyptian-style architecture. Despite the threat of rain the group gradually assembled at the Carlton Cinema on Essex Road, Islington, which was the first stop on the walk.

This Grade II-listed building was designed by George Coles in 1930 in the Egyptian style which was particularly fashionable at the time as Egyptomania gripped the world. An interesting talk was given by Cathie Bryan on Egyptian temple architecture and how different elements of the ancient temples were combined to form the unique Carlton Cinema building, particularly the illusion of perspective through the use of different-sized columns to suggest that the viewer is actually looking through the 'temple pylon' to the courtyard beyond. Cathie's presentation of comparable temple-style buildings in both the UK and the USA was useful for placing the Carlton in the context of contemporary architectural design. The building was unfortunately closed to the public in 2007 after its reuse as a Bingo hall so we were unable to gain access to the interior, but from archive photos it is believed to have had a Neoclassical theme.

The front gates of Abney Park Cemetery
From the Carlton the group hopped onto a bus towards Abney Park Cemetery - just as the rain started! - where we arrived at the rear gates of the cemetery about 15 minutes later. Once again Cathie presented the history of the cemetery to the group, and pointed out significant headstones such as that of William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the cemetery also functioned as a nature reserve and arboretum, which seems to make Abney Park Cemetery more a place of life rather than death. 

But it was the front gates of Abney Park which the group had come to admire, which we reached just in time as the cemetery was being closed due to the high winds and the threat of falling branches. The gates were designed in 1840 by Prof. William Hosking and Joseph Bonomi Jr. in the Egyptian style, complete with a hieroglyphic inscription which states 'Abode of the Mortal Part of Man'. The elaborate column capitals and winged sundisc motifs, combined with the flower-bud design on the cast-iron gates, makes the cemetery frontage unmistakeably Egyptian.

A hieroglyphic inscription on the Abney Park gateway
One of Abney Park's Egyptianising columns
I highly recommend a visit to either of these monuments to anyone with an interest in Egyptianising architecture, and to keep up with the Petrie Museum Events page for similar events in the future. Many thanks to Debbie Challis, Jan Picton and Cathie Bryan for organising a great day out!

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Image of the Week #5: Discobolus in the Great Court

After a particularly hectic few weeks I'm finally going to pull my socks up and blog! To start with, here's a photo of the Townley Discobolus (Discus-Thrower), which is currently on display in the Great Court of the British Museum as part of the London Olympics celebrations.

This famous marble statue is a Roman copy of a 5th Century BC Greek bronze sculpture, and was found, along with many other statues, in the grounds of Hadrian's villa at Tivoli, Italy.

For more on the recent redisplay of the Discobolus, listen to this BBC interview with Dr. Ian Jenkins, Senior Curator at the British Museum.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Image of the Week #4

Here's a shot of the British Museum's touring 'Pharaoh: King of Egypt' exhibition from my visit to Leeds City Museum on Saturday (April 14th), with the iconic upper section of a colossal statue of Ramesses II in the foreground and a statue of a seated falcon behind the cartouche of Ramesses II in the background (more photos of the exhibition to follow).

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Visiting Haweswater

I finally made it to Haweswater last Sunday (April 1st) long after gaining an interest in the site after reading a book about Mardale and the Haweswater Reservoir from Kendal Library as a child (see previous blog post: Mardale: A Village Lost).

Here's a photo taken from beside Haweswater Reservoir, at the opposite end of the reservoir to Haweswater Dam. Unfortunately (though fortunately with regards to the country's water supply!) the reservoir was not low enough to reveal Mardale, but I hope to make it up there again soon when the water may be a little lower.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Image of the Week #3

On a very special week for me, this week's Image of the Week is a photo of a quote from Alfred Tennyson's poem 'The Two Voices' in the Great Court of the British Museum: "and let thy feet, millenniums hence, be set in midst of knowledge".

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Image of the Week #2

This week we have a view taken in June 2010 of the interior of the rock-cut tomb of Ankhtify at el-Mo'alla, where a team from the University of Liverpool is currently working. Ankhtify was Governor of the ancient Upper Egyptian town of Hefat in the 9th Dynasty. 

From Egypt's Sands to Northern Hills - Thank You Blackburn!

The second leg of the 'From Egypt's Sands to Northern Hills' touring exhibition on John Garstang's excavations in Egypt has just closed at Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery, and the objects are due to be unveiled on their third leg at Towneley Hall, Burnley on March 24th, where they will remain until June 28th.

The exhibition has been very well received on the first and second legs at Kendal and Blackburn respectively, and we look forward to seeing the exhibition in its stunning new venue at Burnley. Any feedback from visitors to the exhibition so far would be gladly received. 

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

University of Liverpool Poster Day 2012

Here's my contribution to the University of Liverpool's Poster Day 2012

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Image of the Week #1

I've decided that I have far too many photos and drawings sitting unused on my computer, and so I'd like to start sharing them in the form of 'Image of the Week'.

This will include photos and drawings of ancient Egyptian sites, museum visits and the landscape of Cumbria and North Yorkshire. 

The first is this photo of bound captives at the Temple of Sobek at Kom Ombo, taken in June 2010. 

Monday, 27 February 2012

Website of the Week: Digitisation of Davies Theban Tomb tracings

This is my first 'Website of the Week' for a while due partly to fieldwork commitments and to my encroaching Ph.D deadline, but I'd like to kick-start it again with a link to the newly-digitised collection of Theban Tomb tracings made by Norman and Nina de Garis Davies during the early 20th Century by the Griffith Institute, Oxford. This is an indispensable resource for those studying the Theban necropolis; a plan of the tomb and copies of the traced wall decorations are provided where available for 73 tombs which the Davies' recorded. My personal favourite is the tomb of Sennefer (TT96), Mayor of the Southern City during the reign of Amenhotep II.

The tracings are cross-referenced with Porter and Moss' 'Topographical Bibliography' and it is possible to buy high-resolution images from the Griffith Institute on request. By preserving these unique images and making them freely available this site will significantly aid both relevant Egyptological research and those curious in the subject.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Sesebi and Sudan 2012

The confluence of the Nile at Khartoum
For the last four weeks I've been working and travelling through Northern Sudan, not only missing a great chunk of the bitter British winter but also gaining valuable experiences along the way. I flew into Khartoum on January 7th where I had a couple of hours to see some of the city, including the confluence of the Nile.

The temple of Akhenaten at Sesebi
I was based at Sesebi on the west bank of the Nile just north of the Third Cataract, which was the site chosen by Akhenaten for a colonial temple-settlement during the early part of his reign, working as part of a joint University of Cambridge and Austrian Archaeological Institute mission. The three surviving columns of the tripartite temple, dedicated to the Theban triad, are the most recognizable elements of the site, though it is also still possible to see the associated settlement, storage magazines and enclosure wall of Akhenaten amongst evidence of earlier 18th Dynasty occupation. Sesebi was excavated between 1936 and 1938 by the Egypt Exploration Society, who published short reports of their findings but did not publish their work in full. Whilst at the site I worked on the documentation of the Sesebi New Kingdom ceramic corpus, which allowed me to gain an in-depth knowledge of a wide variety of vessels and their manufacture, as well as to question their precise function in antiquity. 
Sunrise on Sai Island
I also found time for several site visits with my colleagues from Sesebi. The first of which was to Sai Island, where a New Kingdom settlement and an Ottoman fort are still well preserved. Sai is probably the most picturesque place I can say I have ever visited, and we were lucky to have arrived when very few biting flies were in residence due to the harsh winds! I then travelled on to Amara West, the site of a Ramesside settlement and cemetery currently under investigation by the British Museum. Both Sai and Amara West are situated to the north of Sesebi and so were within an hour's drive of the site.
The temple of Amenhotep III at Soleb
On the second day trip we headed to the temple of Amenhotep III at Soleb, which was an hour's drive north and is comparable in some aspects of style to Sesebi, and the temple of Queen Tiye at Sedeinga. This visit was a personal highlight for me as both of these sites had played a major role in my BA and MA research into the art and architecture of Amenhotep III. Soleb is the site of a sandstone temple dedicated by Amenhotep III to Amun-Re and to his own deified form, Nebma'atre Lord of Nubia, together with New Kingdom and Merotic cemeteries. Sedeinga was the site chosen by Amenhotep III for a sandstone temple dedicated to the cult of his principal queen, Tiye. The temple itself lies in ruins, with only a single column left standing, though it still remains a spectacular sight alongside a large Merotic cemetery. Both Soleb and Sedeinga preserve many inscribed blocks, several of which, despite their beauty, are unfortunately being slowly destroyed as a result of graffiti. This day finished with a visit to Gebel Dosha, where after climbing up the rock face we were rewarded with a rock-chapel of Tuthmosis III and several New Kingdom rock stelae carved into the gebel. We also met several caravans heading back on the desert roads containing hundreds of camels!
The temple of Queen Tiye at Sedeinga
The final day on site meant a brief visit to Gebel Sese, around 1km walk from site, where impressive mud and stone architecture dating to the Medieval and Ottoman periods can be seen by hiking up to the top, which is also the best place to get a panoramic view of Sesebi itself. The next day meant a ten-hour road journey to Khartoum, and then a flight back to Heathrow which thankfully was allowed to land despite the conditions in London!
The top of Gebel Sese, looking down onto Sesebi
Further Reading:
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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