Ancient Egypt Project Update

And so we look to the present and future at the Silk Museum with the Egyptian Project funded by the Friends.

Here is the Curatorial Projects Officer, Bryony Renshaw, to put us in the picture.

“Walking around the Ancient Egyptian Exhibition at the Silk Museum, the neatly presented artifacts with their black and white labels stating black and white facts give the impression that we know all there is to know and that everything is very straightforward and unambiguous. This professional but static presentation masks all of the lively detective work that goes on constantly behind the scenes and all of the intriguing mysteries that we haven’t yet solved.

The sense of exploring the facts we know, the gaps in our knowledge and the issues buried within the collection is what I find so exciting about working with the Ancient Egyptian collection. The new Ancient Egypt project, generously funded by the Friends, gives us the opportunity to experiment with ways to translate this experience of discovery and exploration to the museum’s various audiences.

Currently, the Ancient Egyptian collection is predominantly popular with school groups; so targeting this particular audience with a new, more exploratory, virtual session for schools seemed like the perfect place to start the project.

At the same time, the museum’s Learning Co-ordinator, Natalie Lane, was keen to develop a new virtual session around the mummy case of Shebmut, which would encourage more scientific questioning on the part of the children. By working together, we have developed a brand new school session discovering who Shebmut was and learning her story.

In the past, the only exposure to Shebmut that schools had, was a brief section at the end of ‘Miss Marianne’s’ tour of her collection. As part of this, the member of the learning team would explain all of the main points of Shebmut’s story through the eyes of Marianne Brocklehurst.

While this fits with the tour of the collection, Shebmut’s story is much more than just the story of Marianne Brocklehurst purchasing her mummy case and is the perfect case study for a more in-depth exploration.

In the new session, instead of simply telling the pupils all of the information about who Shebmut was and why we have her mummy case, we present them with pieces of evidence and guide them through discovering Shebmut’s story themselves as Egyptologists.

The entire session is essentially a pared back version of the processes that I myself went through when researching the mummy case; from dating the artefact, to translating the hieroglyphic inscription upon it. While this took me months of reading dense academic books and learning to read hieroglyphs, these activities can be simplified to be easily managed by a class of children within a short session.

Using a very simplified Ancient Egyptian dictionary reduces the laborious task of translation to a simple matching exercise, while the intricacies of precise dating based on the style of the mummy case can be changed to a more broad comparison of the more obviously changing styles of coffins throughout Ancient Egyptian history.

By these means, children can be actively involved in the discovery of Shebmut’s story, feeling more connected to her than if they were simply passively listening to someone relaying the same information.

This approach is not only relevant for school children but can also be applied to all audiences albeit executed in different ways.

This is my focus for the project going forward; finding ways for our different audiences to become actively engaged with and connected to our Ancient Egyptian collection.”