Museum of… Egypt Centre, Swansea University - Museums Association

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Museum of… Egypt Centre, Swansea University

Life and death | Nandni Sharma unearths a treasure trove of ancient Egyptian artefacts
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Nandni Sharma
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The Egypt Centre houses 6,100 Egyptian antiquities IMAGES COURTESY OF THE EGYPT CENTRE, SWANSEA UNIVERSITY

Where

This museum of Egyptian antiquities is based in the Taliesin Building on Swansea University’s Singleton Park Campus. The museum started as a small Egyptian collection in the University of Wales in 1994.

The Egypt Centre was created in 1998 on the suggestion of Sybil Crouch, the manager of the Taliesin Arts Centre at the University of Wales Swansea, so that the collection could be better used.

This gilded cartonnage death mask was made in the Graeco-Roman period of Ancient Egypt, somewhere between 332 BCE and 395 CE IMAGES COURTESY OF THE EGYPT CENTRE, SWANSEA UNIVERSITY

What

The Egypt Centre houses 6,100 Egyptian antiquities. Ken Griffin, the curator at the Egypt Centre, says: “The vast amount of Egyptian and non-Egyptian material comes from the pharmaceutical entrepreneur Henry Solomon Wellcome. [He died in 1936] and his collection of 20,000 antiquities was dispersed in 1971. The university acquired around 4,000 of them and it was really then that the Egypt Centre took birth.”

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Collection

“The gallery is divided into two parts – the House of Death and the House of Life,” says Griffin. “The Egyptians believed that everything that they took with them into the afterlife would be used again in another life, so they are very fluid in terms of objects that could be placed in death, or that could be placed in life.”

The House of Death includes coffins, coffin fragments and the Book of the Dead – a document written on papyrus to ensure that the deceased had a pleasurable afterlife – while the House of Life features amulets, daily jewellery and furniture.

An Ancient Egyptian funerary stela
A wooden funerary stela (or pillar) for a priest called Pasherienimhotep from the Ptolomaic period, c.200-100 BCE. The second scene from the top shows the deceased on a lion bier with the god of funerary rights, dog-headed Anubis, performing the mummification IMAGES COURTESY OF THE EGYPT CENTRE, SWANSEA UNIVERSITY

“The Egyptians had lots of gods in their pantheon, so we have figures that are made out of faience [tin-glazed pottery], bronze and different types of wood,” says Griffin.

Many objects in the collection were taken from tombs, so their exact provenance is unknown, but a few items on display are known to belong to pharaohs such as Tutankhamun, his father Akhenaten, and Thutmose III.

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Highlights

“The museum has lots of hands-on activities for visitors,” says Wendy Goodridge, museum manager at the Egypt Centre. “They can handle real ancient Egyptian objects, play the ancient game of Senate and do a full mummification on a dummy mummy. Visitors can also try an ancient wooden headrest or an Egyptian pillow as well as attempt some ancient Egyptian writing or maths.”

Vision

The Egypt Centre aims to reach a diverse audience, while also supporting students at Swansea University by providing them with workshops and access to the library and the objects on display.

Nandni Sharma is a freelance journalist

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