Spotlight on a Mummified Crocodile from The Egypt Centre – by Warda Malik

Continuing our celebration of the Egypt Centre this week’s blog post is an edited version of a short piece of coursework originally submitted for the module ‘Egyptian Art and Archaeology’. For this assignment students were required to write an object biography for an exhibit in the Egypt Centre. Our author, Warda Malik, chose object W985 because crocodile mummies were neither something she had significantly come across before in lectures nor extensively read about.

Birds eye view of W985. Image courtesy of the Egypt Centre.

Object W985, exact provenance unknown, is a mummified crocodile and is currently on display in the ‘House of Death’ in the Egypt Centre, Swansea. W985 was initially perceived to be a false mummy as votive animal mummies were often empty or only contained fragmented remains. Votive animals usually died a natural death; however, many were deliberately killed ahead of religious festivals, as could have been the case with W985. It is probable that these mummies were produced at times when there was a shortage of the appropriate animal required. W985 was X-rayed by St James vets in 2008, revealing that the mummy contained the remains of a baby crocodile approximately 18 inches long inside, however, they were commonly placed alongside fully-grown crocodile remains. Some examples of other x-rays undertaken on mummified crocodiles from the same context can be observed in the following images:

The Late Period (664-332BC) witnessed a dramatic rise of animal cults in ancient Egypt and may have been a result of artistic archaizing of the period. Unlike most of the Mediterranean, Egyptians did not regard animals as inferior to humans, and believed that they had a soul. In ancient Egypt, crocodiles were predominantly associated with Sobek ancient Egyptian crocodile deity) who was venerated from the Old Kingdom. His cult increased particularly during the Ptolemaic Period. Crocodiles’ natural habitat was largely the Nile and they were generally considered as the offspring of the annual inundation and acted as a symbol for the Nile’s fertility. Crocodiles tend to transport their young in their mouths to ensure safe travel, and additional baby crocodiles could symbolise a positive nurturing quality of an otherwise dangerous animal. Additionally, sacred animals were identified by their ‘special markings’ which acted as proof of their embodiment of specific gods. Therefore, it is likely that W985 was worshipped as a living incarnation of Sobek during its lifetime.

Map of ancient Egypt showing the areas of Tebtunis, Kom Ombo and the Fayum.

The most prominent cult centres of Sobek in ancient Egypt were Tebtunis, Kom Ombo and the Fayum region. The excavations of Tebtunis in the 1930’s unearthed many shallow graves, with crocodile remains found buried in the sand. A distinctive style of wrapping the crocodile remains in sheets of papyrus had been adopted and can be dated to the Greco-Roman period due to writing found on recycled papyri. From this, one can conclude that W985 is unlikely to have originated from the site of Tebtunis as it does not bear the characteristic papyrus wrapping found on other contemporary crocodile mummies.

Situated in Lower Egypt, near the Delta region, the area of Kom Ombo gained importance during the Ptolemaic Period due to its access to several trade routes and had a temple dedicated to both Sobek and Horus (Egyptian deity, associated with kingship). Living Crocodiles may have been kept in the vicinity due to the high regard given to Sobek. After its death, the crocodile would have been mummified and buried, achieving the state of immortality. During special religious festivals, mummified animals dedicated to specific deities were taken for procession and later buried in catacombs, sealed until the next celebration. It may be probable that W985 was initially found in such a cache, perhaps near the site of Kom Ombo rather than Tebtunis or the Fayum region as simpler burials of shallow graves were more common in those areas.

Celebrating 20 years of the Egypt Centre!

This year we’re celebrating the Egypt Centre’s 20th Anniversary! Below are ten fun facts about Egyptology and the collection housed in this award winning museum and educational centre.

  1. An amulet or charm was worn to give the wearer protection or power. Different amulets were connected with different powers. The living wore amulets as jewellery. The dead wore amulets wrapped up in their mummification bandages to protect them. The wealthier you were, the more amulets you had. If you look really close – the detail is incredible!

    1. Amulets from the collection.
  2. Did you know that during the Victorian Era, wealthy Victorians would host ‘mummy parties’ as a social occasion? The upper-class Victorians would get together and unwrap a mummy to see how many amulets they could find and they’d be kept as gifts.

    A mummy from the Egypt Centre.
  3. The Egyptians had their own numbering system. Here’s what 1 million looks like (a God with praised arms)… and 100,000 (a tadpole)…. And 1000 (lotus flower).

    3. Egyptian numerals.
  4. Did you know that during the mummification process, all organs were removed except the heart? Even the brain was pulled out from the nose!

    4. Bob – our willing model for demonstrations in the Egypt Centre!
  5. The lungs, stomach, intestines, and liver were dried out and each placed in a canopic jar. The jars came in sets of four, and each of the Four Sons of Horus were assigned the duty of protecting the contents.

    5. Canopic jars.
  6. A Mummy Mask like this would be placed on the face of the dead. These would be made from a mixture of plaster and bandages, and gilded.

    6. A mummy mask from the collection.
  7. This beaded collar made of faience beads dates from the middle of the New Kingdom c1350BC. The object below may have belonged to an Amarna princess.

    7. A beaded collar made of faience beads from the collection.
  8. Take a look at this brand new VR feature! It brings to life a mysterious wrapped linen package that contains a mummified snake! @DrRichJohnston of @CollegeofEngineering made a 3D print of what the snake would look like.

    8. 3D print of a snake from an unopened mummy from the collection!
  9. Hundreds of gods and goddesses were worshipped in ancient Egypt, including this cheeky looking fellow Bes. Bes looked after women, children, and was even a god of music and dancing!

    9. A representation of Bes from the collection.
  10. The Egypt Centre has a very full trophy cabinet. This year the centre was awarded The Queen’s Golden Jubilee Award for voluntary service by groups in the community. This is the equivalent of an MBE!

Egyptian demons in research and the classroom

After a hiatus of few years working on the Ancient Egyptian Demonology Project  I am again offering her module on Ancient Egyptian Religious Beliefs and Practices—this time for both year 2 and 3. Students not only get to handle 4,000 year old artifacts in a special area of the Egypt Centre Museum as part of the course, but they also get to be creative and reconstruct an Ancient Egyptian ritual. One group made a “Mockumentary” while another group decided to dramatize and read out a Water-Spell against crocodiles. I can’t wait to see what we do this year!

Amber Furnage and Saffron Hinder at Museum’s Live Friday

You can also see a blog post by one of the students in my year 3 & MA module on “Supernatural Beings and Demons of Ancient Egypt” that was offered last year. His daemon was “MISSING: Armed and possibly dangerous!

British Science Festival at Swansea Museum

The Demonology Project and student volunteers were involved in three major events. Some included our Demon Creation Station where everybody was able to make their own helpful guardian “daemon.” Events included included the Heroes and Villains event at the Ashmolean Museum’s LiveFriday, the Being Human Festival on Hopes & Fear    and the British Festival of Science. If you use #demoncreationstation on twitter you can see more pics!

Written by Dr Kasia Szpakowska

E Tenebris Lux: Thoughts on the reopening of the Glynn Vivian Gallery

This is a guest blog post by Dr Evelien Bracke, who is currently working on the reception of Classics in Wales.

 

A month ago, I went along to the reopening of the Glynn Vivian gallery, Swansea’s main art gallery, which had been closed for a £6 million refurbishment since October 2011. It was a lovely event and I felt like a child in a sweet shop exploring the collection.

cropped-blog-header

The gallery was the brain child of Richard Glynn Vivian (1835-1910), who bequeathed his art collection to the city of Swansea, together with £10,000 to create a gallery to house it. The collection is really eclectic: there are such diverse pieces in the permanent collection – from Swansea pottery and Welsh paintings (particularly nice to see a number of female Welsh painters represented), to European and oriental art – that you really get drawn in walking from room to room. Apart from the permanent collection, there is also a temporary exhibit with Leonardo Da Vinci’s drawings which is worthwhile visiting.

 

An influential family

I was excited to find out that Richard Glynn Vivian, the gallery’s founder, was in fact part of the Vivian family who lived at Singleton Abbey before it became part of the university, about which I have blogged before. The Classical education of the Vivians greets you at Singleton Abbey with a ‘salve’ (‘hello’ in Latin) when you enter the building, and likewise, Classical influences can be found in the Glynn Vivian collection.

While his older brothers studied science and looked after the family copper smelting business, Richard studied arts at Cambridge and travelled extensively all around the world. By means of his share of the family fortune, he started amassing an extensive art collection during his travels. It must have come as a terrible blow when he started going blind in 1902. He wrote and published a collection of poems (which I’m yet to get my hands on) called E tenebris lux, ‘out of darkness, light’, with the sub-heading ‘scattered leaves gathered together during hours of blindness’.

Richard Glynn Vivian
Richard Glynn Vivian

The Latin title, which refers to Genesis 1.4, expresses the strengthening of his Christian faith – already running deep in the Vivian family, as the Latin quotes on the walls of the council chamber of the Abbey reveal – because of his blindness, and it was to the cause of shining a beacon of light in the darkness of humanity that he dedicated the rest of his life.

Apart from opening the Glynn Vivian gallery which gave access to international art to people from all economic backgrounds in South Wales, he also became a patron of miners – which will have had a profound impact on local communities – through the Glynn Vivian Miners’ Mission and established a home for the blind on Gower. Upon his death, his will further divided his fortune between charities.

 

Dialogue of past and present

Walking through the gallery, Glynn Vivian’s personal taste and philanthropy really speak to visitors through his collection. While Wales plays the leading role in his collection, Classical influences can also be spotted, at times very obviously, other times in a whisper. The statue of the sleeping Pan by French artist S.J. Brun (1832), given a prominent space on its own between two rooms and cleverly juxtaposed with views of the long glass windows and the Swansea street, is a beautiful example.

Sleeping Pan        Sleeping Pan with Swansea view

Less obvious, tucked away among other pieces, is the Dillwyn pottery with Greek-style red-figure vase paintings, inspired by 18th and 19th century archaeological excavations in Etruria. This pottery stands in similar contrast with the contemporary styles of other vases which surround them.

img_0953 img_0955

While the building itself has a Baroque style, its interior – and particularly the neoclassical busts – stand in stark contrast with the (awesomely disturbing) postmodern Matrix-like installation on the ground floor.

img_0947 img_0949

 

The present curators have obviously created clear boundaries between past and present through their choice of pieces that are very different in style. While they sometimes jar visually, all pieces live harmoniously within the building itself which embraces both its Baroque past and utilitarian extension. I particularly like how part of the building has been opened up onto the street, like a Greek theatre looking out onto the polis while the plays were being staged within.

I can’t wait to go and explore all the pieces further – you might find me sitting in front of the Turner painting for quite a while… In the meantime, though, I’m happy to report that the reopened Glynn Vivian gallery, outward looking and inviting visitors to consider the dialogue – or is it a clash? – between eclectic pasts and present, continues Glynn Vivian’s humanist quest to give everyone access to art and create e tenebris lux!

css.php