Petrie Museum

Published Categorised as History, Travel, UK 2 Comments on Petrie Museum

Earli­er today I met up with my friend Chloe on her way up to Glas­gow, and we went to the Souzou exhib­i­tion with her old flat­mates. When she went to catch the train, I decided to fit in a visit to the Petrie Museum round the corner in UCL too, which I hadn’t been to for a long time. (I tried to say hi to Jeremy too, but his box was closed).

The museum is currently crammed into some upstairs rooms of the univer­sity (they have plans to move to a bigger, more suit­able build­ing), and is open at incon­veni­ent times. It’s like the museum that time forgot, despite their fabulous collec­tion of arte­facts. Everything is piled up en masse in tall glass cabin­ets with type­writ­ten labels. The cabin­ets are close togeth­er, and the light­ing is bad, and there are odd corners filled with strange junk from schools activ­it­ies. One of the galler­ies is housed down the walls of the fire escape. It’s totally unac­cess­ible, and prob­ably unin­vit­ing to a lot of people. I kind of like it though, even though I think it’s good that they are going to move to some­where more appro­pri­ate.

Chloe commen­ted that she had found the museum fairly boring when she visited, because it was just odds and ends with no explan­a­tion of what they were, which isn’t very help­ful if you don’t know about the topic before you visit, and not really the aim of a modern museum. I stud­ied Classics/​Ancient History at uni though, and bits are what I like in this kind of museum. I love seeing people’s every­day items from the past. The museum has a lot of jewellery, house­hold items and pot sherds and mummy face plates. I partic­u­larly love the faces from the peri­od of Roman occu­pa­tion of Egypt. People contin­ued to use the tradi­tion­al Egyp­tian sarco­phagi with styl­ised art, but added a portrait of the person to the face of the mummy band­ages in the real­ist­ic Roman style. This means you can see what the people looked like when they were alive. Here are some examples. I didn’t take many pictures of the contents of the cabin­ets because the glass was very reflect­ive and I can’t find my polar­iser.

Flinders Petrie himself was a miser­able sod, but he is one of the few figures from the early days of archae­ology who wasn’t basic­ally just a vandal/​bumbling amateur (I’m look­ing at you, Schliemann and your dynam­ite). He made up for that in bad deeds though in being a firm believ­er in eugen­ics.

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  1. That is so cool about the portraits…and lucky, I guess, that it was the Romans. I guess that's about as close as you could get to a photo at the time.

    I stud­ied the Brit­ish Empire and I spent a lot of energy on the every­day inter­ac­tions between low level army officers and the India, the Sudan, etc…people that weren't so concerned with the bigger issues but, just play­ing the angles that were presen­ted to them.

    It's nice…maybe even important…to be reminded of the every day, the consist­ency, of human exist­ence.

    Very cool ma'am.

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