British Museum blog

The pharaohs are coming

Margaret Maitland, British Museum

Some of ancient Egypt’s greatest pharaohs — Thutmosis III, Ramesses the Great, and many more — have now arrived at the Great North Museum: Hancock in Newcastle upon Tyne.

The journey north from the British Museum, with the museum assistant team and the 130 objects for the exhibition Pharaoh: King of Egypt, took almost seven hours, but these objects are no strangers to long journeys. Before these magnificent sculptures and intricate jewellery took shape in the hands of ancient Egyptian master craftsmen, their materials were sourced from distant lands pharaohs sought to conquer, such as gold from Nubia (Sudan) and cedar from Lebanon.

Unpacking a statue of Ramesses the great

Unpacking a statue of Ramesses the great

Despite running slightly behind schedule, our hosts at the Great North Museum gave us a warm welcome and a helping hand in unloading the dozens of crates, weighing several tonnes in total. The process leading up to our arrival has been a much longer journey though; bringing any exhibition to life is a team effort but especially with this one, considering the collaborative process and many venues involved.

The exquisite objects were chosen from the British Museum collection by exhibition curator Neal Spencer, but before any object can go on loan, it needs to be assessed by the Museum’s conservators, who gauge the objects’ stability and consolidate them. Not everything on a curator’s wish list for an exhibition is always stable enough and if it isn’t approved, it won’t go; the objects’ safety comes first.

Installing Ramesses the great in the gallery

Installing Ramesses the great in the gallery

A lot of planning and preparation then goes into ensuring the safe packing and moving of objects. The crates that large objects travel in are custom-built to fit each one. Foam pads are tailored to fit perfectly around each object to prevent any movement within the crate, and they are wrapped in sheets of strong but breathable polyethelyne to prevent any friction.

Since our arrival, Senior Museum Assistant Evan York and Museum Assistant Emily Taylor – both from the British Museum – have been busy moving the 130 objects into place, with the aid of a crane, stacker, palette truck, and a bit of muscle and ingenuity. With their expert skills, they make moving an over 600 kilogram statue of Ramesses the great look easy.

Margaret Maitland from the British Museum and Rachel Metcalfe from Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums check each object.

Margaret Maitland from the British Museum and Rachel Metcalfe from Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums check each object.

I have been working with Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums conservator Rachel Metcalfe and curator Gill Scott checking each object against photographs taken before transport to ensure everything has arrived in good condition.

Alex Garrett from the British Museum adjusting the display

Alex Garrett from the British Museum adjusting the display

Museum Assistant Alex Garrett, also from the British Museum, has been helping to painstakingly arrange objects in the cases, with input from the designers and curators from Tyne & Wear and the British Museum. Deciding the exact positioning can be a complex process, as various considerations have to be taken into account from ensuring the objects’ stability to creating a pleasing visual effect and maximizing visitors’ understanding.

After over a year of planning and many long hours of hard work from dozens of people, it is extremely satisfying to see the objects and labels finally taking their positions in what will surely be an exhibition fit for a pharaoh.

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Filed under: Exhibitions, Pharaoh: King of Egypt

5 Responses - Comments are closed.

  1. Vesica says:

    Great to see this exhibition is travelling!

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  2. david caldecoat says:

    This looks like another fantastic egyptian exhibition
    wish it would come to Australia

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  3. Mike Ho says:

    A mouth-watering exhibition! I will be visiting there tomorrow!

    Thanks for the opportunity to view these magnificent objects in your touring exhibitions programme, it really does bring ancient history alive to the wider UK public who usually do not have the chance to see them outside of London! :-)

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  4. bew1 says:

    Went to the opening lecture (Newcastle, 18th July) by Neal Spencer. Absolutely fascinating. Wonderful objects – go and see it. Great to have the possiblity outside of London, to see stuff like this! :-)

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  5. I will be escorting a group of 8 and 9 year olds around this exhibition in Birmingham on Monday. Can anyone point me toward any support documentation I can use to further engage the children please.

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