Collecting and interpreting ‘Ancient Egypt’
The Manchester Museum
21st March 2023
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This talk coincides with the return to Manchester Museum of a major international touring exhibition, Golden Mummies of Egypt. With the expert help of Dr Campbell Price, we will examine the emergence of interest in Egyptology in Manchester in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.
Which key figures kick-started the collection’s creation?
Cotton industrialist Jesse Haworth became fascinated with Pharaonic culture after reading Amelia Edwards’ book ‘A Thousand Miles up in the Nile’, in the late 1870s. He subsequently visited Egypt in 1880.
Inspired by what he saw, he invested significant sums of money into excavations in Egypt. These excavations were led by British archaeologist William Matthew Flinders Petrie. And this partnership shaped the rich collection of Egyptian antiquities that formed at Owens College. – which later became the Manchester Museum.
Petrie’s excavations at the important site of Hawara, near the Faiyum lake in Egypt, were instrumental in setting tastes and expectations among the museum-going British public. Hawara was a major cemetery site of the Graeco-Roman Period. During this period, Egypt was ruled successively by Greek kings called Ptolemy and Roman emperors.
The funerary art of this time, between around 300 BCE and 300 CE, shows a multicultural attitude to death. The objective of mummification was more about the transformation of the deceased into a god, rather than simple preservation of the flesh, as so often assumed.
A heady combination of gold, art, sex and death ensured the continued popularity of the Museum’s displays for over a century. In this talk, Dr Price’s closer examination of reactions at the time will reveal more about us than about the ancient Egyptians.