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I thought I knew the Ancient World Galleries…

September 29, 2013

Yesterday was my fifth visit to Manchester Museum’s Ancient Worlds galleries since November 2012. I managed to take over 130 photos at the museum during these visits. Not surprising, then, that I think I am reasonably familiar with the items on display. To be honest, I thought I knew fairly well what they have on display.
I was wrong.

The SSAE organises day trips. Yesterday’s trip took us to Manchester Museum and included a handling session. We arrived early enough to spend some time alone in the galleries with the curator, Dr Campbell Price (I have mentioned him before on this blog). It was during this hour that I realised I had not fully noticed everything or even paid enough attention to some of the artefacts. I had fallen into the trap of assumption.
For example: the Middle Kingdom pectoral you can see on the photo below is, I think, quite famous. I have seen several photos of it and it has even been discussed at a few lectures I attended. First of all, I never knew the thing is so small! And I never noticed it is in the first room of the Ancient World galleries. Shame on me.

Pectoral
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But enough of my shame and stupidity, because the day trip was fantastic…as always.
There’s a lot going on at Manchester Museum. You’d have to live in a cave to have missed the spinning statuette (and with that I promise never to mention the thing again), but of course there is also the Mummy Project which has been running since the 1970s and is still going strong today with several mummies being extensively scanned. In October 2012 the Ancient World galleries were reopened after a major refurbishment. There is a mobile website for the galleries as well – ideal for getting additional information while walking through the rooms. Quite a few of the artefacts from storage, including a number of mummies, are going on an American tour for 3 years.

In the meantime they have also managed to improve on the new galleries. During previous visits I noticed the information is sometimes difficult to read, even though it was quite beautiful (dark red letters on frosted glass). That has now been replaced by different panels which are extremely easy to read and here and there also have photos on them. This museum remains the one which provides most information of all the ones I have visited so far.

Let’s ‘walk’ through the galleries for a moment.
The first room is all about archaeology. You will find more than Egyptian artefacts there. There is information on people who played or are currently playing a pivotal role in the Museum’s collection and the field or archaeology in general. It is a very bright and spacious room. The way the items have been displayed provides enough space around them for several people to see them at the same time.

Archaeology!
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Ancient Egypt is in the second room. In there it is darker, but still quite bright compared to some other museums. I understand the need to protect ancient artefacts from sunlight, but artificial light is a necessity. The way it has been set up is once again quite spacious, albeit it’s not as big as the previous room. The atmosphere is wonderful, though.

Ancient World gallery
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As you can see on the photo above there are also items on display upstairs. This is also where you will find two screens displaying information on collecting and on scanning mummies. There are things to play with on the railing (not just for children!). Plenty to see everywhere.

The third room holds two Late Period mummies and several mummy portraits. It is a very dark room (a little too dark, if you ask me). It’s quiet and small. It is actually quite nice to just sit there and study the faces for a while.

Mummy portraits
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The day trip included a handling session. If you have never attended a handling session, I strongly suggest you try to. It is so much fun! Not only do you get to hold and touch extremely old artefacts which are usually not on display, it is also great to have someone there who knows more about the items. You can study things (for a short while) up close and ask questions about it if you want to know more. I find there is usually at least one surprise among the items. Just look at this little hedgehog vessel. I have never seen anything like it!

Hedgehog vessel
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I know I have said that the British Museum is my favourite museum. It still is. Obviously a big museum like that can create a high quality magazine and build a beautiful room for its members. They organise many events for all ages and their temporary exhibitions are world-class. But it’s not fair to compare other museums to the British Museum because the British Museum is huge and world famous.
Why do I bring them up in a post about the Manchester Museum? That’s simple. Because the Manchester Museum is a much smaller museum and they keep on surprising me with how active they are and how much they organise. This museum is obviously very keen on sharing their collection with the public. Not only is the collection on display of great quality and significance, the people working there are always very helpful and willing to spend time with you. Whether it’s the people with the iPads I see walking around (always willing to answer a question or guide you in the right direction) or one of the curators (for a trip to storage or a handling session for a group), they are there to help you.

Kahun display
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The one thing I can compare with the British Museum is the two blogs. There is one for Ancient Worlds and one for the Egyptian items. I try to follow museums’ blogs, and I have found none as active as these two.

I have been to Manchester Museum 5 times so far, as I mentioned at the beginning of this post. I know I will visit many more times in the future. Not only do I believe a museum which is trying so hard to present things in a fun and informative way should be supported, I also learn something new every time I am there. I always leave with something to think about. And that is just what someone who is enthusiastic about ancient Egypt needs.

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