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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This is Room 56, the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Gallery of Mesopotamia 6000–1500 BC. It's the next in our gallery series for #MuseumOfTheFuture. Between 6000 and 1550 BC, Mesopotamia, the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers (now Iraq, north-east Syria and part of south-east Turkey) witnessed crucial advancements in the development of human civilisation during the evolution from small agricultural settlements to large cities.
Objects on display in Room 56 illustrate economic success based on agriculture, the invention of writing, developments in technology and artistry, and other achievements of the Sumerians, Akkadians and Babylonians, who lived in Mesopotamia at this time.
Objects found at the Royal Cemetery at Ur are of particular importance, and you can see the Royal Game of Ur in the foreground of this picture – the oldest board game in the world. Our next #MuseumOfTheFuture gallery space is Room 55, the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Gallery of Mesopotamia 1500–539 BC. The civilisations of Babylonia and Assyria flourished during the first millennium BC. Political developments resulted in the incorporation of the entire Near East into a single empire, while increased international contact and trade influenced the material culture of the region.
Room 55 traces the history of Babylonia under the Kassites and the growth of the Babylonian state and empire until it was taken over by the Persian King Cyrus in 539 BC.
'Boundary Stones' carved with images of kings and symbols of the gods record royal land grants. The development of the Assyrian state and empire, until its fall in 612 BC, is illustrated by objects excavated in its palaces. Mesopotamia’s highly developed literature and learning are demonstrated by clay tablets from the library of King Ashurbanipal (r. 668–631 BC) at Nineveh, written in cuneiform script. It's time for Room 54 in our #MuseumOfTheFuture gallery series – the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Gallery of Anatolia and Urartu 7000–300 BC. Ancient Anatolia and Urartu form an important land link between Europe and Asia and lie where the modern Republic of Turkey, Armenia, Georgia and north-west Iran are located today. Objects in Room 54 show different cultures from prehistoric to Hellenistic times.
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