Update – this post contains outdated language. We no longer use the term “mummy” and instead use “mummified human individuals” to refer to Ancient Egyptian people whose bodies were preserved for the afterlife. To read more about this decision, follow this link.
Today was day 1 of the conference Understanding Egyptian Collections: Innovative display and research projects in museums.
Before saying anything about the conference, I have to mention that I am staying in Christ Church, one of Oxford University’s largest and oldest colleges, and this morning, I had breakfast with someone very near and dear to our hearts at Penn.
Yes, that’s right, it’s a picture of our very own William Penn, which is hung in the Great Hall (or Hogwart’s Hall to all of you Harry Potter fans out there), where breakfast is served each morning. Penn was educated at Christ Church.
Anyway, on to the conference! As promised, it was a full day of talks, many which focused on the new Egyptian galleries at the Ashmolean Museum, and the conservation and architectural projects associated with their renovation. Liam McNamara, Assistant Keeper for Ancient Egypt and Sudan at the Ashmolean, and Stuart Cade of Rick Mather Architects, both spoke about the planning and decision-making involved in renovating the new galleries.
One of the new Egyptian galleries at the Ashmolean, prominently featuring the shrine of King Taharqa
Mark Norman, Head of Conservation at the Ashmolean, spoke about 5 millennia of collections care in their collections, and specifically touched on examples of some fascinating ancient repairs and early treatments, which included the use of lots of wax, shellac, linseed oil, and cellulose nitrate.
Daniel Bone, Deputy Head of Conservation, reviewed the work that was required to display some large, complex objects using specific design concepts, including displaying 3 coffin lids vertically and mounting a set of stacked coffins within a single case.
A detail of the large case showing one of the vertically-displayed coffin lids
Conference attendees admire the stacked coffins of Djeddjehutyiuefankh (Third Intermediate Period)
Conservator Bronwen Roberts gave a presentation on the treatment of one of the coffin lids that is now displayed vertically.
Bronwen Roberts discusses the large “green coffin” lid she treated to enable its display (coffin on far right)
Finally, Jevon Thistlewood, Paintings Conservator at the Ashmolean, spoke about the investigations and treatments of their mummy portraits.
Just after lunch, the keynote speaker, Professor of Egyptology and Director of The Griffith Institute at Oxford, gave a dynamic talk entitled “Egyptology Beyond the Institutional Divide,” emphasizing the importance of collaboration between curators, conservators, Egyptians, and the importance of considering materials and landscape when interpreting objects.
The final two talks of the day focused on projects outside of the Ashmolean. Marie Svoboda, Associate Conservator of the Antiquities Department at the J. Paul Getty Museum presented the APPEAR Collaboration, which is a project and database designed to allow for a comparative study of ancient mummy portraits in collections around the world (of which the Ashmolean is an important participant). Finally, Dr. Mohamed Gamal Rashed spoke about the plans for the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) which are impressive, to say the least. The museum, which is slated to open in 2017, will have space for the display of 50,000 objects, and will include a grand staircase with a view to the Giza Pyramids at the top.
The sessions concluded with special tours of the new Egyptian galleries, and of the Discovering Tutankhamun exhibit, which features original records, photographs and drawings from Lord Carnarvon and Howard Carter’s excavation of the tomb of Tutankhamun, from the archives of Oxford’s Griffith Institute.
Stay tuned for details on Day 2 of the conference!