British Museum blog

When the Pharaohs came to town


Victoria Page, Great North Museum: Hancock

When thousands of years of Egyptian history came hundreds of miles from the British Museum to the Great North Museum: Hancock in Newcastle, it wasn’t just the artefacts that needed extra care; I nearly burst with excitement when the crates were popped open.

A statue of Ramesses II on display in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Photo: Great North Museum: Hancock

A statue of Ramesses II on display in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Photo: Great North Museum: Hancock

My role throughout Pharaoh: King of Egypt has been that of publicity, marketing, events management, print production, social media and any other ad hoc duties that arise. Being a provincial museum employee has its advantages! The regional broadcast and press have been regular advocates, as has BBC History magazine.

As the resident lay person among many highly specialist professionals from both museums – Egyptologists, conservators, curators, designers, learning officers, marketing and public relations experts, builders, and administrators – I had the luxury of prowling around the curatorial team as they put the exhibition together. I got so close to the two-metre tall tomb guardian statue from the tomb of Ramesses I that I could smell the wood and bitumen on him. It gave me goose pimples: he’s over 3,000 years old.

The Great North Museum has a strong family audience; generations of north easterners have enjoyed visits to this museum, and I myself used to come to see the mummies as a child. Pharaoh: King of Egypt has been a delight for the people of this region; so far, over 120,000 people have visited the museum since opening on 16 July.

Two participants at a mask-making workshop. Photo: Great North Museum: Hancock

Two participants at a mask-making workshop. Photo: Great North Museum: Hancock

Our learning teams have welcomed 2,000 children to their exciting and innovative free events programme to celebrate Pharaoh, which included historical re-enactment, Egyptian jewellery crafting, making Egyptian masks, and learning about mummification.

The ‘make your own mummy’ session was a particular favourite with a flurry of social media activity generated by a Facebook competition about which was the best mummy. We had over 400 children come to make masks one day too – our learning officer Stephen had his hands full.

Thinking about the entire exhibition process, the word that springs to mind is illumination; I have learnt so much, from playing witness to the talents of my Great North Museum colleagues (and feeling mighty proud of them too), to having the professional support from the staff of one of the best museums in the world.

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It’s #ValentinesDay! To celebrate, we’re sharing some of the stories of love throughout history. These seated ancient Egyptian statues depict the divine Isis and her husband Osiris. They were found together in the tomb of an official from the time of the reign of king Amasis (570–526 BC). Isis wears a sheath dress and a crown in the form of the emblem of Hathor – a solar disc set between cow’s horns. In her right hand she holds the ankh, the sign of life. Her face is modelled with wide-open eyes and a slight smile. Osiris, carved in the same beautiful style of the 26th Dynasty, is wrapped in fine cloth, as he holds symbols of sovereignty – the flail and crook. 
The inscriptions around the bases of the statues were intended to invoke ‘Isis, mother of the god, great in magic, mistress of the Two Lands’, and ‘Osiris who presides in the west, great god, lord of Ro-Setaou’. Following his judgment of the deceased, Osiris could grant wishes for a peaceful arrival in the netherworld, while Isis gives life – the carved life symbol reveals her to be a magician stronger than death. This divine couple belonged to a sumptuous burial and would have ensured perpetual protection for the person interred in this tomb. 
You can see these statues in our blockbuster exhibition #SunkenCities, opening 19 May.
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