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!

My experience at the British School at Athens Summer School 2016

Guest blog post by Minette Matthews, 2nd Year Ancient History Student

Every year the British School at Athens offers an intensive 3 week summer course for undergraduate students interested in Ancient Greek history. On this course, students are taught by 3 specialists in Greek Ancient history – one of them being Dr. Chryssanthi Papadopoulou, the Assistant Director of the British School at Athens. Approximately 10 days are spent in Athens looking at various archaeological sites and museums (among these the Acropolis, the Parthenon Museum, the Kerameikos, and the National Archaeological Museum), and 11 days in the Peloponnese visiting Mycenae and Tiryns, and Corinth, to name a few. In 2016 I successfully applied for a place on this course.

Figure 1. Caryatids on the Erechtheion. Acropolis, Athens

 

(more…)

Reflecting on the definition of ‘cultural heritage’

I took Dr Heather Hunter-Crawley’s Greek and Roman Art and Architecture module last year and was taken on an art historical journey, studying the progression of art from Bronze Age Greece to the Byzantine era. One of the ways in which this module was brilliant was the way in which the students were taught how to ‘look’ at art, which isn’t as passive an experience as one may think (similarly to Alastair Sooke’s ‘Treasures of Ancient Greece’, a BBC Production which I highly recommend watching if you are interested in the art history of the ancient world). Heather teaches her students not only the historical significance of sculptures, pottery, and paintings – the Pergamum altar, and the Jockey of Artemision to name a couple of my favourites – but the ways in which they can be read and interpreted. However, while I could easily continue to write about the merits of this module that is not the purpose of this post. Instead I wish to write about a guest lecture given by Dr Nigel Pollard which was organised by Heather at the end of this module.

One focus of Nigel’s lecture was on the Hague Convention in 1954 which passed the Act on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, a law which made it a crime against human rights to damage or destroy a site or cultural or historical importance. The catalyst for this was the extensive damage done to sites during the Second World War, for example Coventry Cathedral or Pompeii. Now, this Act is enforced by groups such as the International Committee of the Blue Shield, which protect sites under threat and seeks to gain the co-operation of governments or other bodies that can help to implement this.


Figure1: Artemision Jockey. National Archaeological Museum, Athens

However, Nigel noted that while this law is commendable, it is not always enforced (of course some sites are easier to protect than others), and there is a global disparity in the definition of ‘cultural heritage’. For example in 2003 the Iraq National Museum in Bagdad was looted as a result of American forces not stepping into the security vacuum after the Taliban were pushed out. Also when comparing the number of UNESCO sites in Europe and Middle Eastern States the difference is quite staggering; 499 and 81 respectively (I use this example as Nigel’s lecture focused predominantly on the Middle East and the West). This to me suggests a dominant interest in Western sites and Western ideas of culture, perhaps at the expense of those elsewhere.  

Reflecting back on this lecture I can’t help but notice that in seeking to protect sites of cultural heritage, we are simultaneously potentially making them more vulnerable to cultural conflict. In the past, sites of cultural or historical importance have frequently been targeted by opposition parties as a means to demonstrate another culture’s vulnerability or lack of permanence in the world. In 25/24 BCE the Kushites invaded the province of Egypt (now North Sudan), and in a fit of triumph against Augustus, emperor of Rome, they severed a bronze head of Augustus (see figure 2), which they took back to Meroë and buried under the steps of their victory monument. Not only did this demonstrate resistance to Rome as it was never returned, but this symbolically showed the Kushites’ strength and perhaps cultural superiority over the Roman Empire, and would have evoked a sense of disgust from the Romans (if they knew that this had happened). 

With this in mind, it is perhaps not particularly surprising that cultural sites are damaged now, especially with Palmyra in mind (August 2015), and ongoing cultural conflict in the Middle East.

It is noticeable that the West has become increasingly desensitised to the atrocities that have been going on in the Middle East; some may go so far to say as disinterested. Therefore, destroying a place that we have so clearly stated is important to our culture seems an obvious way to attract our attention. Equally though, this Western interest in ancient sites has fuelled the selling of looted antiquities eg. from Apamea. Does that mean that the West is indirectly violating the 1954 Hague Convention?

While I agree that it is important to continue to protect sites with historical importance, I do think that we should be aware that there is a cultural disparity in the consensus in terms of ‘cultural significance’ which may have potentially caused conflict between groups of people. I also would argue that when people set out to protect these sites, it is necessary to be aware that increasing their publicity can have a negative impact. This is a diverse and complex topic, one which ultimately has no ideal solution.

Written by Minette Matthews, 2nd Year Ancient History Student

Here are a couple of links if you are interested in reading more on this:

http://ancbs.org/cms/en/about-us/about-icbs

http://portal.unesco.org/en/ev.php-URL_ID=13637&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html

 

Dr Nigel Pollard welcomes the new UK Cultural Property Act

On Thursday 23rd February 2017, the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill 2016-2017 received the Royal Assent and so became an Act of Parliament. This was a big moment for me, as I’ve been part of lobbying efforts to achieve this for the last five years as a board member of the UK National Committee of Blue Shield. The key provision of the Act is that the UK will finally ratify the 1954 Hague Convention on the protection of cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, and its two Protocols, of 1954 and 1999. ‘Cultural Property’ in this sense includes monuments, sites and buildings, museums, galleries , libraries, archives and their contents ‘of great importance to the cultural heritage of every people’.

The Blue Shield emblem, displayed on the Kunsthistorisches Museum (Military History Museum) in Vienna. (photo by Corine Wegener)

Damage to cultural property has been long-standing feature of wars and internal conflicts throughout history, and has been subject to considerable scrutiny in recent decades, through conflicts in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Mali, Libya, Egypt and the former Yugoslavia. This is the result of deliberate, ideologically motivated attacks on cultural property associated with other cultures and religions, accidental damage caused by insufficient care and respect for cultural property when conducting military operations, failure of occupying armed forces to safeguard cultural sites and property for which they are responsible, and looting of unprotected sites and collections in conflict zones for the illicit antiquities trade.

The Temple of Bel at the UNESCO World Heritage site of Palmyra in Syria, deliberately destroyed by Da’esh (the ‘Islamic State’) in 2015.

The UK, like the USA, didn’t ratify the original 1954 Hague Convention for political and military reasons associated with its Cold War context, and while the UK claimed to work within the spirit of the Convention (for example, at the time of the 2003 invasion of Iraq), it is the last country with extensive military involvements abroad to ratify it. Passing of the Act and ratification of the Convention will be important symbolic steps in demonstrating the UK’s commitment to the protection of cultural property as well as having practical implications. For example, violations of the Convention and its protocols will be recognised as offences in UK law, and legal sanctions relating to dealing in ‘unlawfully exported cultural property’ will be strengthened.  The UK is preparing an inventory of its own cultural property for the purposes of protection, and potentially some buildings may be marked with the Blue Shield emblem for protection, already in use in some countries such as Austria. Another requirement of the Convention is that the UK is establishing a special unit within the armed forces for the protection of cultural property, inevitably popularly dubbed the ‘New Monuments Men’ after the Anglo-American Allied Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Sub-Commission of the Second World War, popularised by the 2014 George Clooney film. In addition, the UK set up a £30 million Cultural Protection Fund to fund projects and initiatives in this field in 2016, after consultation with heritage specialists including myself.

A late Roman house at Sergilla, part of the UNESCO World Heritage site ‘Ancient Villages of Northern Syria’, damaged in the course of fighting in the Syrian civil war.

I became interested in this issue through my research relating to damage to archaeological sites such as Pompeii in the Second World War, and the history of the ‘Monuments Men’ organisation. For that reason I played a role in the re-establishment of the UK National Committee of Blue Shield in 2012. However, as an archaeologist, much of my past research and fieldwork related to Roman Syria, so the intensification of the civil war there involved me more and more in contemporary efforts to preserve heritage sites in conflict zones.  I have digitised many of my images of archaeological sites in Syria that have been damaged in the conflict as a contribution to their preservation for research and teaching.

Written by Dr Nigel Pollard

For further information, see:

http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2016-17/culturalpropertyarmedconflicts.html

https://endangeredsyriaheritage.wordpress.com/

http://www.unesco.org/new/en/culture/themes/armed-conflict-and-heritage/convention-and-protocols/1954-hague-convention/

http://ukblueshield.org.uk/

https://www.britishcouncil.org/arts/culture-development/cultural-protection-fund

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