Sunday, 16 November 2008

Connecting with Thebes and Communicating in Cambridge

Connecting with Thebes and Communicating in Cambridge 15th November 2008 Dr Sally Ann Ashton

Dr Sally has been working for 5 seasons at the Montu temple at Karnak and just arrived 2 weeks ago. She explained that having given a lecture on this last year she had nothing new to say after just 2 weeks so thought she would tell us something different. She is the curator for the Fitz William museum which is part of Cambridge University and the lecture would be about that.

There is a very good website that you can look at and this a direct link to the Egyptian collection

There are over 17,000 objects in the museum and the website is an important part of it. Museums are becoming increasingly aware that not everyone can get to visit in person and good websites are an important way of making collections available to everyone. Their website is also in Arabic which is another aspect of making it more available, the Petrie also has an Arabic version.

The museum was founded in 1817 by 7th Viscount Fitzwilliam and is particularly famous for its paintings. They have objects from all over Egypt and these are a mixture of excavated and donations. The later are a big challenge for any curator as provenance is often not known or obscure. The objects she selected were from Deir el Medina, Deir el Bahri, Ramasseum and Karnak in Upper Egypt and Faiyum in Lower Egypt. Since opening the galleries she has increased the objects on display by 200 to 1200.

The first object in the collection was Nespawershefi'. He was Chief of scribes of the temple of Amun Re at Karnak. This object was acquired about the time of Napoleon in 1822 by 2 clergymen Hanbury, Barnard Waddington, George (BTW I encourage you to have a look around the website it is really informative and easy to navigate) and was donated to the Fitz. It is from the III Intermediate Period and made of small pieces of cross thorn and sycamore fig. You do not realise this because it is plastered over. The Egyptians were very clever at joining pieces of wood; they had to be with no native large trees. They are expecting all their coffins to be published soon by (I didn’t catch this name properly it sounded like Gryowski but might have been Grajetski if anyone can let me know I would be very grateful).

Their next object is an enormous sarcophagus lid of Ramses III acquired in 1823 The Louvre have the base and there is some old correspondence between the two museums try to get each other’s half. The Louvre argued as they had the largest bit they should have it all. It was a fascinating insight to the way things used to be. This object is 7 ½ tons and was given by Belzoni legend has it he hoped to get a fellowship in exchange but he died a year later. It is the King in the form of Osiris flanked by Nephthys and Isis.

Her next slide was amusing as it showed the accounts kept by Wallis Budge when acquiring antiquities. It was apparent he was told to keep to a budget, in this case £100 and the accounts show the packing prices and transportation fees. I have to say these old records have the loveliest handwriting. There were letters from the EEF later to be EES about the Amarna dig, with a follow up detailing all the objects sent to them. The problem with this is that objects found together might be spread amongst many museums. For example one museum might have the outmost coffin, another, the innermost and in those days neither would swap or lend to each other.

A big source of objects is the Gayer Anderson collection which is a collection built by a medic and major in the British Army who was seconded to Egypt in 1906 and was eventually awarded the title of Pasha. Of course this is the bane of many a curator objects without provenance, bought from antiquities dealers in Cairo. He was very into masks and face so there is a good collection of those including the lower jaw of Akhenaton. There is a lot of Amarna objects and these tie in well with the Petrie excavated objects which have full provenance.

There are a number of pieces of ostracha and there most famous one, which regularly goes on tour, is the stone mason

(You can do your search for the links now or I am never going to get this finished).
25 Dynasty piece of one of the God’s wives of Amun, a gold ring and seals from the priests quarters in Karnak, sculptures models similar to that of Nefertiti’s head which only seem to have been produced in the Amarna and Ptolemaic times. Often still with their grid lines.
Cartonage from a burial in the Ramasseum excavated by Quibell, the bandages have 2 different dates on them from the period of Orsokan indicating that people used up old linen for burials. The body is missing and it is a shame how these early excavators torn apart burials. The face is gold indicating a high status and it has amulets, leather menets and a posy of garlic, 4 sons of Horus and a box with some poor quality ushabitis

From the Middle Kingdom is a magician’s wand clearly showing signs of wear. Frome Deir el Bahri there are 2 reliefs on excavated and the other from Gayer Anderson collection one shows a fox attacking a nest of chicks and the mother bird coming to the rescue. They also display ugly things like a votive object of wood with a socket for an erect penis.

One piece is the book of the dead of Ramose. Luckily this piece had never been fully displayed and as a consequence is in fantastic condition. One colour in particular, a yellow, fades almost immediately on contact with daylight. He was a royal scribe to Seti I, they expect to publish this in 1-2 years.

Recently they booked some of the collection in for CT scanning; they were admitted as private patients on Sunday afternoon. Even animals were scanned. This non-destructive technique has revealed lots of useful data about the collection.

The museum wants to make more of the collection accessible in a variety of ways and to give more information about it. As Egyptology is in two parts of the national curriculum they get 1-2 school parties a day. They have also been working with the prison population, especially those on long term sentences and they have come up with suggestions such as making a virtual gallery tour. This should go live in spring 2009. 50% of prisoners cannot read and write and as she put it those of African descent are over represented in the prison population so they have been taking an African centred approach to Egyptology as well as utilising Muslim connections with modern Egypt. She should some art work were Egyptian and Nigerian themes had been mixed. There are 3,000 students in prison, some had learnt hieroglyphics and were using them to communicate to their families. She had to provide the authorities with a translation of this code 

Next week it is Francisco Tiradritti on Harwa

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