British Museum blog

130 objects, 3,000 years of history: pharaoh exhibition opens

Margaret Maitland, British Museum

In just under two weeks, over 3,000 years of history – in the shape of 130 objects – has been installed at the Great North Museum: Hancock in Newcastle upon Tyne for the British Museum UK touring exhibition Pharaoh: King of Egypt. The objects span almost the entire extent of ancient Egyptian history, from an exquisite ebony label belonging to one of the very first rulers of Egypt to a monument depicting the Roman Emperor Tiberius as an Egyptian pharaoh.

The exhibition focuses on the kings of Egypt, but there is an incredibly diverse selection of objects, which presented a wide range of challenges in the installation. Among the objects is a tiny pendant of King Senusret II that transforms the hieroglyphs which spell out his name into a decorative piece, delicately crafted from gold and colourful semi-precious stones. To display this beautiful piece of jewellery and other small items, the museum assistants handcraft special mounts for each object.

Pendant of King Senusret II, about 1897-1878 BC.

Pendant of King Senusret II, about 1897-1878 BC.

The monumental objects presented the biggest technical challenges, a task for museum assistants Emily Taylor, Simon Prentice, and Emma Lunn. One of the most fascinating objects to install was the massive wooden statue of Ramses I, which would have stood guard protecting an inner chamber in his tomb in the Valley of the Kings. Towering two metres high, this massive statue has been skilfully conserved but is still fragile, and it was a slow and cautious operation to remove him from his enormous crate, condition check him, and slowly and carefully manoeuvre him into his case.

Museum assistants from the British Museum move Ramses I into position.

Museum assistants from the British Museum move Ramses I into position.

Ramses’ new home in the exhibition space, designed and built by Tyne & Wear, evokes an Egyptian tomb and temple landscape to convey where many of the objects were found. The exhibition text, created in collaboration between British Museum curator Neal Spencer, Great North Museum manager Sarah Glynn, Tyne & Wear curator Gill Scott, and myself, uses these objects to tell both sides of the story of Egyptian kingship: the powerful image the kings wanted to show their subjects and the rest of the ancient world, and stories they might not have wanted you to hear, about civil wars, palace conspiracies, assassinations, foreign conquerors, and female kings.

On Saturday 16 July, the exhibition opens to the public. It has been an incredible experience working with such a great team and amazing ancient objects and I’m thrilled to think of how many more people will now have the chance to enjoy them.

British Museum Director, Neil McGregor spoke eloquently at the official opening of the importance of this exhibition and others like it in bringing the national collection to people around the UK. Although ancient Egyptian pharaohs preferred to safeguard their power by restricting access to their palaces, temples, and knowledge, this free exhibition will share their splendour through the British Museum collection with audiences all over the country.

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7 Responses - Comments are closed.

  1. G. Ian Goodson says:

    I have just visited the exhibition in Birmingham. I was exceedingly disappointed with an overpriced and dull waste of an hour. Furthermore, there was a gross inaccuracy that would appear to be supporting the bogus Arab claim that Palestine pre-existed Israel. On the time line you state that one of the Pharoahs conducted campaigns against Nubia and Palestine in 2055 BC. It was, at that point, Canaan. The Sea People, later the Philistines, did not occupy what we now call the Gaza Strip unil the 12th Century BC.

    The name of Palestine was not commonly given to the whole of the land until the Romans ethnically cleansed Israel in 70 AD. Palestine was never an independent Kingdom and did not include any Arabs until after the Islamic conquests. Finally, it was part of the British Mandate and Israel was re-established by the League of Nations and then by the UN in 1947. The Gaza Strip was taken by Egypt and Samaria (West Bank) by Jordan and it has been Arab occupied land since then. Yasser Arafat created the notion of an Arab Palestine after the Arab defeat in 1967.

    It seems that you are colluding in the rewriting of history in order to give an Arab Palestine a bogus history and to deny Israel’s legitimacy. Using Palestine as a substitute for Canaan is disingenuous as you do not explain where Nubia was.

    Will this egregious mistake be corrected or will you continue misleading the public over this politically senstive issue?

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    • I am sorry to hear that you did not find the exhibition engaging. In archaeological and Egyptological discourse, ‘Palestine’ (and ‘Syro-Palestine’) refers to an area (broadly from the north of Sinai to Kadesh, and from the Mediterranean to the current Jordan border), not a present or past state. Similarly ‘Nubia’ is an area that overlaps the boundaries of several historic polities, including today.

      “Israel” is generally used to refer to the modern state, and “Israelites” as the group of people first mentioned in ancient texts on the stela of Merenptah in the 13th century BC.

      There is no reference to Arab peoples, or the Palestinian Authority in the exhibition, which would of course be inappropriate given the timeframe covered.

      Please accept our apologies if the wording has caused any offence.

      Neal Spencer, British Museum

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      • G. Ian Goodson says:

        I agree that Nubia needs explanation which isn’t given on the timeline. Clearly, Palestine also needs explanation. It is a politically charged term and gives rise to the misconception that Palestine pre-dates Israel.

        You claim that the term is part of archaeological and Egyptological discourse. G.W. Anderson some-time Professor of Hebrew and O.T. Studies at Edinburgh in his book ‘A Critical Introduction to the Old Testament’ ( published 1959 and revised several times till 1972) never refers to the Land as Palestine. Similarly, ‘Bernhard W. Anderson Living World of the Old Testament (2nd Edition 1967)’ which has even more archaeological content that his namesake. Also John Bright ‘A History of Israel’ only uses the term on maps and then not until the Maccabees. By then, some Greek writings were using the term. Hardly surprising, considering the origins of the Philistines. More recently, the Illustrated Bible Dictionary IVP 1980 has an extensive entry for Palestine, but only for geology, geography, agriculture and the like. For history, it cross-refers to Canaan, Israel, Judah and the Philistines. For archaeology, it refers to individual sites. Some entries do use the term Palestine rather loosely but the current revisionism was not really underway in 1980.

        The use of Palestine and Syro-Palestine date from Roman times. This latter term, along with period of Syrian occupation well before the Romans, provide the basis for modern day Syria’s claims to Israel as a province of Syria. These terms are loaded.

        Nubia, was at various times and with various borders, an independent, self-ruling, political entity. Palestine has never been an independent, self-ruling, political entity. Nubia existed in 2055 BC. Palestine did not. To use both words in the same sentence and in the same way must lead to the inference that they are similar entities.

        Currently, the Palestinian Authority, the Waqf and various other ‘scholars’ are promulgating a version of history which eradicates Israel from the Land altogether. Although to any rational scholar this is ridiculous, many people now believe it.

        In Theology, the term ‘myth’ has a precise meaning and does not, necessarily, imply that an event is unhistorical. Most people think it means ‘fairy tale’. When educating the general public one needs to be aware of this sort of misunderstanding.

        I don’t accept that Palestine is a scholarly term, in common scholastic use and (especially since 1947), referring to a particular or general area. You draw its border at the Jordan, but the Britsh Mandate included Trans-Jordan (now the Kingdom of Jordan) and I have maps that include what is now part of Syria. In other words, the term you are using as a general scholarly term is, in fact, politically defined.

        On the time-line Palestine is used to refer to Canaan in 2055 BC. The area you define as Palestine would not include parts of Canaan!

        It’s just too confusing.

        Which is my point. It would have been simple to include a foot-note explaining where Nubia and Canaan were. In the case of Canaan; Israel, the disputed territories and part of Jordan. In the case of Nubia; parts of Southern Egypt and Northern Sudan.

        In the meantime, your exhibition states that Palestine existed in 2055 BC. At best, this is poor scholarship, bad teaching and dangerously ignorant of politics. At worst, it is collusion with those who seek to eradicate Israel ‘from the River to the Sea’. ” (broadly from the north of Sinai to Kadesh, and from the Mediterranean to the current Jordan border) “.

        It is not a matter of offense to me. I am not a Jew or an Israeli. It is a matter of scholarly accuracy and, also, sensitivity to the current and volatile situation in the Land.

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  2. G. Ian Goodson says:

    This is a scholarly article on the subject which may help to clarify the argument. The article is good but , unhappily, the web presentation is very poor

    Like

  3. G. Ian Goodson says:

    http://www.esek.com/jerusalem/iudaea.html

    the link was not allowd with HTML

    Like

  4. PKSmith says:

    I think this person needs to broaden his horizons and think outside the box of bigotry. Neal Spencer in his reply makes it perfectly clear that this is a non political exhibition. but the person criticing the exhibition reveals his position on the matter through his reading list.

    Like

  5. G. Ian Goodson says:

    The exhibition states that Palestine existed in 2055 BC. That is ridiculous. I cite several standard textbooks on the subject matter and one scholarly article found on the internet and posted on site that has a viewpoint. Presumably one of which you disapprove. This is a politically charged subject given the current attempts to eradicate all evidence of Israel ever existing in the Middle East. Where are the narrow horizons or the bigotry?

    Like

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For our final #MuseumInstaSwap post we’re highlighting the 'Make Do and Mend' campaign of the Second World War, as told by our partner @ImperialWarMuseums in their #FashionontheRation exhibition.

The campaign was launched to encourage people to make their existing supplies of clothes last longer. Posters and leaflets were circulated with advice on subjects including how to prevent moth damage to woollens, how to make shoes last longer or how to care for different fabrics. As the war went on, buying new was severely restricted by coupon limits and no longer an option for many people. The ability to repair, renovate and make one's own clothes became increasingly important. Although shoppers would have to hand over coupons for dressmaking fabric as well as readymade clothes, making clothes was often cheaper and saved coupons. ‘Make Do and Mend’ classes took place around the country, teaching skills such as pattern cutting. Dress makers and home sewers often had to be experimental in their choice of fabrics. Despite disliking much of the official rhetoric to Make Do and Mend, many people demonstrated great creativity and adaptability in dealing with rationing. Individual style flourished. Shortages necessitated imaginative use of materials, recycling and renovating of old clothes and innovative use of home-made accessories, which could alter or smarten up an outfit. Many women used furnishing fabrics for dressmaking until these too were rationed. Blackout material, which did not need points, was also sometimes used. Parachute silk was highly prized for underwear, nightclothes and wedding dresses.

We've really enjoyed working with and learning from our friends at @imperialwarmuseums this week. You can catch up on all our posts and discover many more stories from London’s museums with #MuseumInstaSwap. © IWM (Art.IWM PST 4773 For #MuseumInstaSwap we’re discovering the street style of the Second World War in the #FashionontheRation exhibition at @ImperialWarMuseums. In this archive photo a female member of the Air Raid Precautions staff applies her lipstick between emergency calls.

In wartime Britain it was unfashionable to be seen wearing clothes that were obviously showy, yet women were frequently implored not to let 'standards' slip too far. There was genuine concern that a lack of interest in personal appearance could be a sign of low morale, which could have a detrimental impact on the war effort. The government's concern for the morale of women was a major factor in the decision to continue the manufacture of cosmetics, though in much reduced quantities. Make-up was never rationed, but was subject to a luxury tax and was very expensive. Many cosmetics firms switched some of their production to items needed for the war effort. Coty, for example, were known for their face powder and perfumes but also made army foot powder and anti-gas ointment. Make-up and hair styles took on an increased importance and many women went to great lengths to still feel well-dressed and stylish even if their clothes were last season's, their stockings darned and accessories home-made. As with clothing, women found creative ways around shortages, with beetroot juice used for a splash of lip colour and boot polish passing for mascara.

Discover more stories from London’s museums with #MuseumInstaSwap © IWM (D 176) In the @ImperialWarMuseums exhibition ‘Fashion on the Ration: 1940s street style’ we can see how men and women found new ways to dress while clothing was rationed. Displays of original clothes from the era, from military uniforms to utility underwear, reveal what life was really like on the home front in wartime Britain.

Despite the limitations imposed by rationing, clothing retailers sought to retain and even expand their customer base during the Second World War. Britain's high street adapted in response to wartime conditions, and this was reflected in their retail ranges. The government intervened in the mass manufacture of high street fashions with the arrival of the Utility clothing scheme in 1942. Shoppers carefully spent their precious clothing coupons and money on new clothes to make sure their purchases would be suitable across spring, summer and autumn and winter. Despite the restrictions, the war and civilian austerity did not put an end to creative design, commercial opportunism or fashionable trends on the British home front.

#FashionontheRation exhibition runs @imperialwarmuseums until 31 August.

Discover more stories from London’s museums with #MuseumInstaSwap. For our final day of #MuseumInstaSwap we’re learning about the Second World War @ImperialWarMuseums, and discovering the impact of the war on ordinary people. 
Clothes were rationed in Britain from 1 June 1941. This limited the amount of new garments people could buy until 1949, four years after the war's end. The British government needed to reduce production and consumption of civilian clothes to safeguard raw materials and release workers and factory space for war production. As with food rationing, which had been in place since 1940, one of the reasons for introducing civilian clothes rationing was to ensure fairness. Rationing sought to ensure a more equal distribution of clothing and improve the availability of garments in the shops.

As this poster shows, the rationing scheme worked by allocating each type of clothing item a 'points' value which varied according to how much material and labour went into its manufacture. Eleven coupons were needed for a dress, two needed for a pair of stockings, and eight coupons required for a man's shirt or a pair of trousers. Women's shoes meant relinquishing five coupons, and men's footwear cost seven coupons. When buying new clothes, the shopper had to hand over coupons with a 'points' value as well as money. Every adult was initially given an allocation of 66 points to last one year, but this allocation shrank as the war progressed. © IWM (Art.IWM PST 8293) This week on @instagram we’ve joined up with other London museums to highlight our shared stories. Our partner is @imperialwarmuseums, whose incredible collection brings people’s experiences of modern war and conflict to life. Follow #MuseumInstaSwap to discover some of the intriguing historical connections we have found, as well as insights into everyday life during wartime. As part of our #MuseumInstaSwap with @ImperialWarMuseums, we’ve been given special access to the Churchill War Rooms – located deep below the streets of Westminster.
This is Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s bedroom, which includes his private desk, briefcase and papers, his bed and chamber pot and even an original cigar! The bedroom is located close to the Map Room, keeping Churchill as close as possible to the epicentre of Cabinet War Rooms.
Following the surrender of the Japanese Forces the doors to the War Rooms were locked on 16 August 1945 and the complex was left undisturbed until Parliament ensured its preservation as a historic site in 1948. Knowledge of the site and access to it remained highly restricted until the late 1970s when @ImperialWarMuseums began the task of preserving the site and its contents, making them accessible to as wide an audience as possible and opening them to the public in 1984.
Discover more stories from London’s museums with #MuseumInstaSwap
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