A Review of our February talk - by Rosemary Doman

Ashley Cooke, who is Head of Antiquities at the World Museum, came to talk to us on 3rd February. He showed us a number of excellent slides of artefacts from the new Egyptology Gallery (opened in 2008), translating inscriptions, explaining symbols in detail and identifying several hieroglyphics.

World Museum Liverpool, the sixth most visited museum in the UK outside London, boasts over 16,000 artefacts in its Egyptology collection. A number of scholars and collectors contributed to the amassing of this collection. Joseph Mayer, a jeweller and collector inspired by the British Museum, opened his own museum in Colquitt Street in 1852, charging for entrance. He donated his collection to the new William Brown Library in 1860. Writer and Egyptology enthusiast, Amelia Edwards, helped found the Egypt Exploration Fund to finance archaeological research. She visited Liverpool in 1887 when a ship of her finds, in transit to the USA, docked at the Port. This allowed local people to see the exhibits as they were transferred to the American ship. Professor W.F. Petrie was a leading archaeologist who trained others. He pioneered the serial ordering of ceramic artefacts to date ancient sites, still used today.

The first Institute of Archaeology was established in Liverpool in 1904. John Garstang, its first Professor, established close links with the Museum, transferring much of his collections to it from 1947 onwards. Although many artefacts had been moved to the basement and other safer city sites at the outbreak of WWII, some survived only through drawings after the 1941 fire and bomb damage to the building. The Museum's current expanded collection owes much to Elaine Tankard, a Liverpool graduate in Archaeology. As the first woman curator, from 1942 to the 1970s, she rebuilt the collection to 11,000 artefacts, acquiring others as well as the private collection of the novelist Sir Rider Haggard. This includes a mummy and two gold rings he apparently liked to wear. One had to be repaired after he reportedly broke it in a taxi!

Dr Cooke also revealed some facts about Ancient Egyptian culture. Funerary masks included that of Amenhotep II from the 18th Dynasty (1427-1400BC), "son of Ra". Masks were made from plaster, linen and paint and were vital to protect the head of the deceased. Scrolls accompanying the burial often included spells to protect it, in addition to passwords and routes to the underworld. Gold paint represented human flesh, and standard offerings, e.g. to Osiris, included bread, beer, oxen, fowl, linen and alabaster. The symbolic depiction of creatures, e.g. the head and wings of the falcon, offered protection of the body for eternity: it was vital to protect the "Ba", the sort of soul by which the deceased could be recognised in the afterlife. Incense in the temples served as the medium of communication between the dead and the living. Masks could be and were recycled as well as specially bought, with the new name added to customise it in the space provided. Amazingly, hair extensions were very popular, as well as make up and rejuvenating creams!

Finally, Dr Cooke explained how science has refined archaeological practice. Scanners can now 'unwrap' the mummy down through five layers to individually wrapped limbs. It is known that sculptures were painted with a black resinous varnish in the 18th-19th centuries to protect them from damage through handling. This outstandingly interesting talk must surely whet our appetites to visit the World Museum. (Open daily 10am-5pm and still free!)

Read more about the Egyptology Collection at the World Museum

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