Reflections on volunteering and learning at Swansea’s Egypt Centre – by Sam Powell

In this week’s blog post Sam Powell reflects upon her volunteering and learning experiences at Swansea’s award winning Egypt Centre. Sam completed a BA Joint Honours in Egyptology and Ancient History at Swansea University in 2006. In 2010 she went on to complete an MA in Archaeology at UCL. Sam then worked at English Heritage/ Historic England and had two children before returning to Swansea in 2017 to study part time for an MA in Egyptian Material Culture.

Sam in Egypt!

During my undergraduate degree I enjoyed volunteering at the Egypt Centre. It is an absolutely fantastic resource for students and, as well as being home to over 5000 objects, it provides a great opportunity to volunteer as a gallery assistant and gain real experience of the workings of a museum.  The museum opened in 1994 and houses a significant number of artefacts from the collection of Sir Henry Wellcome. The two galleries have a range of objects including coffins, jewellery, furniture and pottery. Unlike a “traditional” museum, there are lots of interactive activities including playing the Egyptian board game senet, a chance to try your hand at mummification (on a dummy-mummy!), and an object handling board, allowing visitors the chance to really examine ancient Egyptian artefacts in great detail.

Given how much I enjoyed my time volunteering at the Egypt Centre as an undergraduate,  I was pleased to find out one of the optional modules for my MA was “Reaching the Public: Object Based Learning”. This module was an amazing opportunity to get up close with the objects and learn about the benefits of using artefacts as a medium for teaching.  The history of museums, the creation of conservation reports, catering to different audiences, issues of display, and creating information files for objects were topics also covered.

As part of our assessment we were given the opportunity to choose a topic and to present five relevant objects to an audience. It was a brilliant way to actually apply what we had learnt about object based learning. I chose “depictions of childhood” as my theme and was able to  research my chosen objects, review their object files, which included information about their provenance and how they came into the collection, as well as investigate similar objects for comparison regarding their function and original owners. Although technically an exam, I thoroughly enjoyed presenting my chosen objects to the three participants for my one hour session. It was fantastic to be able to practise answering questions from an audience and to guide them as they drew their own conclusions about the objects they were handling.  My group responded really well to this and it was clear that they enjoyed a sense of ownership over their learning process.

I would highly recommend volunteering at the Egypt Centre, enrolling on a module which enables you to work with collection, or at the very least visit it if you find yourself at Swansea University. Click on the following link to find out more about the Egypt Centre, the volunteering opportunities on offer, and about the active Friends group which hosts monthly evening lectures for those with an interest in ancient Egypt!

http://www.egypt.swan.ac.uk/

Calling all filmmakers – Job advert for the project The Ancient World on Film!

This week’s blog is a call for filmmakers interested in working on an exciting new collaborative project between staff and students at Swansea University, local communities. Details below:

The Ancient World on Film is an exciting new collaborative project between staff and students at Swansea University, local communities, and filmmakers. Filmmakers will work with staff and students in the Department of Classics, Ancient History and Egyptology to produce a short film (5-10 minutes) about the ancient world which opens up the subject to new audiences. Staff and students will be responsible for writing the script in consultation with local communities so that the films can be targeted effectively at our ideal audiences. However, we hope that filmmakers will embrace this opportunity to mentor our students and help them explore the creative potential of the medium. We are particularly keen to develop new ways of presenting information about the ancient world which go beyond the traditional documentary format and will welcome suggestions from filmmakers about how to do this. The films will be shown at a big launch at the Taliesin theatre in May 2019, where filmmakers and students will have the opportunity to discuss the production process with members of the public and invited guests.

We are producing four films in total and invite pitches from filmmakers to produce one or more of those films. For each film:

You Will Need:

* Demonstrable experience producing short films; ideally you will be able to demonstrate experience delivering a contracted film on schedule and on budget.

* To supply your own filming and editing equipment.

* Public liability insurance.

* To be prepared to undertake a DBS check if necessary.

* Ideally you will have experience producing films as part of a team, and particularly of working with community groups and/or students.

* Ideally you will be available to attend a workshop with members of the local community in late January or early February 2019. Dates will be confirmed after further consultation with all parties involved.

* To consult with students and staff during the script-writing period (February-March 2019). This can be done remotely if necessary.

* To be able to shoot the film in March or early April 2019. Filming is expected to take no more than one day.

* To provide a rough cut of the film for discussion by mid-April 2019.

* To deliver the final film by 30th April 2019.

* To attend a film screening at the Taliesin theatre on the University’s Singleton Park Campus on Monday 13th May from 4.30 to 7.30.

You Will Receive:

* A fee of £1,500 to be paid in two instalments (the first instalment to be paid after filming, the second upon delivery of the final film).

* A budget of £1,000 to make the film.

Deliverables

* 1 film (5-10 minutes in length) shot in Full HD format (1920×1080)

* Delivered as an MP4 file and one copy on a blue-ray disc

* Deadline for completion: 30th April 2019

* You will also be required to discuss a rough cut of the film with students at an appropriate moment in the process, likely in March or April 2019.

The Film

We are looking to create exciting, new films about the ancient world and we intend to give filmmakers and students plenty of scope to utilise their creative vision and skills to develop the film. In particular, we want to move beyond the traditional documentary format and find innovative ways to communicate information about the ancient world. For an idea of what we mean by all of this, feel free to have a look at an earlier project led by Dr Harrison.

 

To Apply

Send a brief (1 page max) cover letter detailing your experience and including a link to a showreel or equivalent to Dr Stephen Harrison (stephen.harrison@swansea.ac.uk) and Dr Joanne Berry (j.t.berry@swansea.ac.uk) by 23.59 on 31st December 2018. Shortlisted applicants will be contacted in the first week of January 2019 with a view to further discussion.

We would love to hear from interested filmmakers, so please send informal queries and expressions of interest to Drs Berry and Harrison.

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.

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