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!

Pompeii and Herculaneum study trip 2018! – by Selin Erez

A popular module that can be taken by second year students (but all year groups are welcome on the study trip component!) is the Ancient and Historical Study Places module. This year, in April, Drs Nigel Pollard and Jo Berry took students to the Bay of Naples. There the students delivered on-site presentations as part of their assessment and visited a range of ancient sites and museums, including Pompeii, Herculaneum, Paestum and Cumae. In this week’s blog post, Selin Erez reflects upon her memories of the trip.

 

Remains of the Villa of Pollio Felix and the view across the Bay.

This Easter, as part of the Ancient and Historical Study Places module, I had the opportunity to visit numerous ancient archaeological sites around the Bay of Naples. The majority of the sites were buried after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79. It was so rewarding to be able to visit the places I had heard and read so much about in lectures. As a result of this trip, I fell in love with the Bay of Naples and I definitely want to go back again someday. During the week, we visited twelve archaeological sites, the Naples Museum, and even had time to climb Mount Vesuvius where we all enjoyed a glass of wine at the summit!

Although I enjoyed the entirety of the trip, there were some moments and sites that particularly stood out. Visiting ancient villas outside of city walls, and the opportunity to investigate how wealthy Romans lived in comparison to those living in the smaller domus type houses, was a high point. Villa A at Oplontis, where it is rumoured that Empress Poppaea resided, was particularly informative. Another favourite moment was when I reached the top of Mount Vesuvius and saw the full extent of the Bay of Naples with my own eyes for the very first time. It truly demonstrated the severity of the AD 79 eruption and how far reaching its effects were upon the surrounding towns.

Cement dome at Baiae

Before the trip to the Bay of Naples, I was already quite intrigued by the Roman town of Baiae, due to its description as a town that is now half underwater. This created a kind of ‘Atlantis-like’ impression for me, adding a sense of mystery due to buildings and statues being submerged! Additionally, it was interesting to hear about the ancient stories of drunken behaviour in Baiae, as it had created a name for itself as a place to escape your problems in Rome. Moreover, the architectural qualities interested me too. The cement domes frequently seen on the tops of buildings in the town demonstrate the development of styles and tastes in certain areas. These cement domes predated the dome on the Roman Pantheon, challenging misconceptions that Rome led the development of certain architectural features in the ancient world.

The Temple of Hera, Paestum

As a part of this trip, all students were required to prepare a fifteen-minute speech on a chosen site. I chose the theme of Romanisation and the Roman Forum at Paestum. At first I was nervous about standing in front of everyone (our trip was made up of undergraduates, postgraduates, and also lecturers!), but this was easy to overcome as everyone was in the same position and we were given a lot of support from our lecturers. All of the students on the trip reassured and supported one another too. I am actually grateful for this element of the trip because it provided us all with more in-depth learning experience at each site, as each presentation was detailed and entertaining.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed myself on this trip and would recommend it to anyone! The sheer number of sites we were able to fit in still surprises me and I felt I was completely immersed in ancient culture all week, whilst simultaneously making lots of new friends across all year groups in our department.

 

Picturing Late Antiquity – by Mark Humphries

As someone who teaches modules on the period known as late antiquity (roughly 200-800 CE), one of the really interesting developments in recent decades has been the appearance of many more resources that make the period accessible to students. One that is particularly close to my heart is the Liverpool University Press series, Translated Texts for Historians (abbreviated as TTH), which has been publishing translations into English of late-antique sources since 1985. There are a number of reasons for this: one is that, when I was a student myself, volumes of the series were among the first things I read on the period. Another, perhaps more obvious, is that since 2000 I have been involved in editing the series, and have served, for about fifteen years, as one of its general editors alongside Professor Gillian Clark (Bristol University) and Dr Mary Whitby (Oxford University).

A lion from a fifth-century mosaic in Antioch for a volume of speeches by the orator Libanius – the author of the volume wanted this because she always imagined Libanius as a roaring lion!

Over the period of my engagement with the series, watching it grow from a handful of volumes to nearly seventy (as well as seeing the establishment of additional series, including one that translates Byzantine sources) has shed interesting light on how the study of late antiquity itself has flourished and diversified. From a very early stage, the series has taken a very wide view of the world of late antiquity: it includes translations of texts not only from Latin and Greek, but also from languages as varied as Old Irish, Armenian, Syriac, and Arabic. Very few people are able to read all of these languages, so the series has become an important resource not just for students (its original intended audience) but also increasingly for scholars. The series is important, therefore, in enabling its readers in developing a very broad picture of the late-antique world, which stretches not only in terms of time from the Roman Empire to the early Middle Ages, but also in terms of space from the Atlantic shores of Ireland and Spain to Persian and early Islamic central Asia.

“Candy-coloured covers”: TTH on display at a conference.

But there is another way in which the series has encouraged me to picture late antiquity in new ways. Since its establishment, the series has been celebrated for its publication format: each volume has a brightly coloured cover with a line drawing of an appropriate object (such as a mosaic, a coin, or a manuscript image). Among scholars in the United States, where the series has proved hugely popular, TTH is well-known, so Gillian Clark has been told, for its “candy-coloured covers” – and certainly at conferences a display of the series is pretty eye-catching. For reasons I cannot now completely remember, I started drawing some of the cover images in about 2000, and since have graduated to drawing pretty much all of them. This experience has led me to picture the diversity of the late antique world in other ways too, as I attempt to get to grips with objects as diverse as Persian coins, early medieval manuscripts, wall paintings, mosaic pavements, and even buildings. But it is also a reminder of one of the reasons why I got into scholarship and late antiquity in the first place: because it is interesting – and fun!

 

A coin of the Persian king Hormizd II (302-309) for a volume of Arabic historians of the Persian empire.

 

Ushering in the 2018/19 academic year!

Welcome to the re-launch of our departmental blog and the first post of the new academic year.

We may have been a little quiet over the last 12 months or so but that does not mean to say that we have been resting on our laurels. You can read about 2017/18 by taking a look at our first departmental newsletter (NewsletterVolOneEnglish) which contains details of our teaching, research, and what our students have been up to! This coming year promises to be as exciting with our staff, students, and colleagues in our award winning Egypt Centre active as ever.

To get us into the swing of the new year read below some reflections written by our freshers on their first few weeks in Swansea and the department:

Where do I start with freshers’ week?! So much has happened…met lots of new people, already learned loads about my course and enjoyed free pizza! – Meghan, Egyptology.

My favourite thing has been visiting the library and picking out my Egyptology books…The university made us feel very welcome and helped us make new friends! – Kitty, Egyptology and Ancient History.

It has been amazing waking up to a stunning view and the possibility of learning new things… Freshers in a nutshell: Stunning views, alcohol, exploration, new friends, laughs, cooking mishaps, outfits stress, and fear for my bank balance. – Lottie Lewellyn-Fox, Egyptology and Ancient History.

Freshers! Despite the many (horror) stories one hears going into it, there’s a surprising amount of variety involved. Take Saturday for example: one moment I’m stood in the corner of the ‘outdoor club’ and then I’m screaming along with everyone else in JC’s bar as Anthony Joshua knocks his opponent out twice in 30 seconds. There’s really something for all types of people to enjoy rather than a nonstop SESH. – Alfie, Ancient History.

Freshers’ week helped me to understand what was expected of me and helped me to get used to working with a hangover. Despite this the staff were very helpful and friendly and were always there to point me in the right direction. – Callum B, Ancient History.

More to come from us soon…

90 Years of the Classical Association at Swansea

I was recently lucky enough to be handed the minutes from the Classical Association of Wales – South Wales Branch (based at Swansea University) and the opportunity to riffle through the Association’s history between its formation in 1928 and the late 80’s as a result. As a Classicist, it was an interesting change of pace to pursue some more modern, local history, and I jumped at the chance to read a little more into the thoughts, attitudes and perceptions of Classics and its role in the community and the curriculum in the 20th century. As both a student of, and aspiring teacher in, Classics, this blogpost will contain a number of my musings as I flicked through the pages of old journals. I was surprised to find that, despite the many differences between the study of Classics then and now, we are still facing many of the same questions and challenges as our predecessors did nearly 100 years ago.

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Swansea Summer School in Ancient Languages 2017

In July and August of this year, the Department of Classics, Ancient History and Egyptology hosted our third Summer School in Ancient Languages. Building on the success of previous years, this year we welcomed more than 35 participants, both new and returning, from a wide variety of backgrounds, cultures, ages, and walks of life, from the UK, Europe, and beyond. Supplemented by our experienced language tutors and co-ordinating staff, the Summer School this year has offered not only high-quality language teaching in Latin and Ancient Greek, but also a number of extra-curricular activities, including talks by local and national lecturers in the field of Classics. Heading the Summer School this year in her first year in charge was Dr Catherine Rozier who, with the help of her team of students, has supported tutors and students alike in order to allow them to work at full capacity. This year’s Summer School has continued the tradition of going from strength to strength, with many noting the high standard of teaching, and the rigorous, but enjoyable, content.

Some of our tutors and participants in week 1

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School pupil visit to our Department in March 2017

On the 16th March, we had our annual Classics Schools’ day. Pupils from four local schools attended the day and took part in workshops and talks by our academic staff as well as an object handling session at the Egypt centre. Pupils from Castle School in Pembrokeshire reflect on their experience:

Swansea University

We arrived at Swansea at about 10:30 at the large, phenomenal university. We were a bit late due to traffic and parking problems but that didn’t matter much! On the way to the entrance I couldn’t help but notice the big buildings and the green garden areas. Beautiful. The inside was equally as nice and after getting lost we found our way to the first talk. Sadly we had missed a bit because we were late.

When we got there (a bit late because it takes an hour to get there and there were some traffic and parking problems) we saw lots of people, so it must be a big university.

Classics in Wales

The first talk was taken by Dr. Evelien Bracke. It was about the Romans and some Roman artefacts in Wales. It was very interesting. She talked about some Roman Artwork and buildings in Swansea that were inspired by Roman architecture. The students mentioned many museums in Swansea that held proof that the Romans did play a big role in British society. In fact we had just recently visited Caerleon where there is a theatre and some cool Roman baths. It’s amazing there.

 

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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

Ancient Egypt in the Present – conference podcasts

In May 2010 the Egypt Centre together with Kasia Szpakowska organised an international conference called Experiment and Experience: Ancient Egypt in the Present which aimed to bring academics and craftspeople together to explore aspects of ancient Egyptian technology through experiment. This conference was streamed with the support of the Swansea University Research Institute for Arts and Humanities. You can see and even download the Podcasts here.

Technologies of Daily Life in Ancient Greece – William Murphy reports on the schools’ day and conference

Monday 6th July 2015

The Technologies of Daily Life event (TODL for short), hosted by our Department in collaboration with the Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies and the South West Wales Classical Association, took place on 2nd and 3rd July and combined an academic conference with a schools’ day, to demonstrate the use of the ancient technologies to our modern world.

The TODL event began with the schools’ day in which pupils experienced aspects of the ancient world they may not otherwise encounter. This involved running a range of talks and workshops across the day with a number of workshops which were attended by a number of schools. These were led by lecturers and assistants from Swansea University, Cardiff University, and the British Society for the History of Science (BSHS). In the morning, we welcomed 90 pupils from four primary schools from the Afan Valley; in the afternoon, we worked with 50 comprehensive school pupils from two secondaries in South Wales.

 

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Astronomy workshop with Dr Melanie Keene
In the first room there were workshops on astronomy and rope making. The astronomy talk explained how the ancients named constellations and their significance. Once the pupils discussed the theory, they were free to design, create and decoration their own constellations. In the same room was also a workshop on rope making, which was led by Lois Robinson, who just finished her undergraduate degree at Swansea University. Her workshop explained how the ancients would make rope, and so the pupils themselves followed the instructions, which involved stripping the nettles and tying them into a strong rope. Alex Ferron, one of the helpers, had a little fun making his own nettle jewellery. Henry and Molly, two other helpers, had great success making a rather long rope between them.

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Curse tablets – workshop with Dr Evelien Bracke, Callum Carroll and Leigh Herring
In the next room there were workshops on magic and cosmetics. Magic proved to be on the more popular workshops which was led by Dr Evelien Bracke (Swansea University). The use of votive offerings and curse tablets was discussed, and then the pupils had a chance to create and inscribe their own votive and curse tablets made from clay.  Also in this room was a workshop on ancient cosmetics and medical recipes led by Dr Laurence Totelin from Cardiff University. Many pupils got to grips with using a pestle and mortar for the first time to create their own cosmetics.

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Dr Tracey Rihll helping a student carve a gem

 

 

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Comprehensive school pupil discussing her curse tablet
In the final room, a further two workshops were being run. Dr Tracey Rihll (Swansea University) ran a workshop on ancient drills and gem stones. Students were able to experience how ancient drill’s worked by using similar tools and attempting to drill through a log. Tracey also did gem making: students could engrave a gem as they wished and they used it to make a seal on the clay provided another very popular workshop. Also in this room were three curators from Caerleon, dressed in a similar fashion to the ancients, demonstrating ancient forms of cooking. Their workshop involved examining modern ingredient and comparing them to their ancient counterparts. The pupils could then assist in making bread using all the ancient tools. Many students enjoyed this workshop despite ended up covered in flour.

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Making rope with Lois Robinson
The feedback we got from the pupils clearly demonstrates that they had a fabulous time and learned something new:
‘I enjoyed and learned a lot about the Greeks and ancient world. I’d definitely come again.’
‘It was the best!’
‘Staff were really friendly and helpful.’
‘This has given me better understanding and respect for ancient Greek stuff.’
‘I have learned a lot from today.’
The teachers also told us the pupils and they left inspired and ready to learn more about the Greeks.
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Tracey and Laurence making gems
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Dr Laurence Totelin leading a workshop on ancient medicine

 

The conference…
After the school day, Denis Morin arrived early to set up for his demonstration. His demonstration took place later at night where he made authentic bronze arrow heads from scratch. He used similar tools to the ancients which would require heating the bronze up to 1000o. A time lapse of the attempt to make arrow heads is available on the Twitter page, @TODLSwansea. Denis also gave a talk on metallurgy the next day. Before this demonstration began however, a fascinating talk by Serafina Cumo on the Foundry cup took place.

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woodwork workshop

The second day had just as many demonstrations alongside the academic conference. At the conference there was a wide range of topics regarding aspects of ancient technologies. The conference involved topics such as how to detect pigments on statues and artefacts with a specialist camera, a talk from Giovanni Verri. Laurence Totelin returned for a second day to discuss the medicinal use of wool. Victoria Keitel, a PhD student from Reading University gave a talk on her research regarding the standardisation of Skyphoi. Adam Hart Davies gave a very hands-on talk regarding ancient wood work by explaining the similarity of ancient tools to tools we use today. Adam Hart Davies then took to making an ancient spoon and bowl from plain logs of wood as his talk progressed.

 

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The National Roman Legionary Museum brought a kiln!

 

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More practical workshops

There were a number of other talks as well but between talks there were plenty of demonstrations to be seen. Giovanni Verri provided a demonstration of the process where he identified the pigment Egyptian Blue in artefacts alongside Alan Hart Davies who showed off even more wood working skills. Other workshops included a third year student, Leigh Herring, operating a loom and a 3D printed pulley slowly pulling up 15kg of weight up several flights of stairs.

 

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Antikythera talk

The end of the two days of ancient technologies was rounded off with a trip to the National Waterfront Museum. This included a wine reception for all those who helped and spoke at both the TODL and British Society for the History of Science conference (which was taking place at the same time). The evening concluded with a fantastic talk from Mike Edmunds on the Antikythera mechanism and brought the very busy two days to a close. From pupils to speakers, the two day programme was enjoyable to all who came to experience technologies of daily life in ancient Greece.

For a Storify narrative of the event, see http://sfy.co/s0gAA.

Written by William Murphy, MA student, History & Classics, Swansea University

 
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