The ‘father of scientific archaeology’ is how William Matthew Flinders Petrie (1853 – 1942) is known – more commonly as Flinders Petrie – and as a pioneer of the systematic methodology in archaeology and preservation of artefacts.
Petrie’s immediate forebears endowed him with much talent, while encouraging him too as he studied at home ... his father was an electrical engineer, who developed the precursor to the electric light bulb ...
His mother was the daughter of Matthew Flinders, surveyor of the Australian coastline, who spoke six languages and was an Egyptologist ... you can see their son’s life’s work laid out before him ...
|Wooden Astrolobe - Ottoman period|
(probably made for teaching rather than actual use)
His father taught him how to survey accurately, laying the foundation for his archaeological career. He learnt French, Latin and Greek in those early formative years ... and was opinionated!
When friends visiting the Petrie family were describing the unearthing of Brading Roman Villa in the Isle of Wight ... which they described as the rough shovelling out of the contents- young Flinders, aged 8, (that’s what I want to call him!) was horrified and protested that the earth should be pared away, inch by inch, to see all that was in it and how it lay.
When Flinders Petrie, in his late seventies, noted that “All I have done since, was there to begin with, so true it is that we can only develop what is born in the mind. I was already in archaeology by nature.”
I expect many of us would love to be so decided in life ...
This “Digger” had great encouragement from Amelia Edwards (1831-92), a successful writer, novelist and Egypt enthusiast who became Petrie’s self-appointed patron.
She provided Petrie with contacts in the press and helped finance his excavations. She eventually launched Petrie’s university career by using her fortune to endow the professorship at University College London that he took up in 1892.
|A name tag attached to a mummy - probably used|
at the time 30BC - 37AD to identify mummies at the
time of mummification
Edwards donated her collection of several hundred Egyptian antiquities, many of historical importance ... however the collection grew to international stature in scope and scale thanks mainly to the extraordinary excavating career of the first Edwards’ Professor, William Flinders Petrie.
In his teenage years, Petrie surveyed British prehistoric monuments in attempts to understand their geometry and at 19 produced the most accurate survey of Stonehenge.
He travelled to Egypt in early 1880 to make an accurate survey of Giza, making him the first person to properly investigate how they were constructed ...
... his triangulation survey report, and his analysis of the architecture of Giza was exemplary in its methodology and accuracy and still provides much of the basic data regarding the pyramid plateau to this day.
So why do we find Ancient Egypt so fascinating? Mummies, pharaohs, gold, hieroglyphs, pyramids, strange gods ... these are what people often think of when ancient Egyptian civilisation is mentioned.
|An Armana glazed floral necklace (reconstructed)|
The forms, shapes, colours and decoration of Egyptian objects are immediately recognisable and seem to summon up the culture of ancient Egypt in an instant.
Yet to talk of the ‘culture of ancient Egypt’ is a little misleading – ancient Egyptian civilisation was made up of many different periods and changed enormously over a huge era of time.
Egyptians in the reign of Tutankhamun were as far away in time from the pyramid builders as we are today from the Vikings ... all of 1,200 years ...
Ancient Egypt is continually in dialogue with the modern world – yet, Petrie’s work and Victorian legacy has left us with the marvellous Petrie Museum ... letting us follow that journey back with the 80,000 pieces in the Collection ...
... giving researchers an exceptionally well-documented ‘objective archive’ – an unsurpassed resource for scholars the world over.
|A Head cover was put over the mummy not only to|
emphasise that this was a real person, but to show in
the afterlife the person was transformed into a
perfect god-like form
The Museum tells the story of the Nile Valley from prehistory to the rise of the Pharaohs to the emergence of Islam.
What makes the Collection unique is its extensive collection of everyday objects, such as hair combs, clay bowls and textiles, which provide insight into their daily life ...
... there are spectacular art works, sculptures of Kings, mud toys, fine ceramics alongside rat traps, jewellery alongside everyday garments, socks and sandals ...
... there are coffin faces and masks, three full-length coffins, and the best-preserved example of a pot burial (3,000-2,000 BC), a large, highly prized, group of Roman Period mummy portraits ...
We can also see ancient Egyptian garments as worn, notably three dresses, five thousand years old, (including a rare bead-net dress of a dancer and a linen tunic), life-size statues, the stone lions from Koptos (c 3,000 BC) ...
Those rich colours of garnet, cornelian, kohl, Egyptian Faience ... the potsherds and limestone shards, the sintered-quartz ceramics displaying surface vitrification which creates the bright lustre of various blue-green colours ...
Egyptian Faience was perceived as a substitute for the blue-green materials such as turquoise, found in the Sinai peninsula, and lapis lazuli from Afghanistan.
Today it has proved impossible, much like the Blaschka’s glass models, to find the techniques that the Egyptians used in their workshops ... but with copper, gold and other minerals available, clay widely used, ‘workshops’ were found in close proximity – allowing much experimentation to occur.
|.. yet another case or cabinet full of curiosities|
from the Egyptian era .. the faience blue object ...
also the pair of human inlay eyes in limestone
with glass pupils
This Digger thankfully brought us so much knowledge from the Nile dynasties ... and faithfully recorded it for posterity – it is still being used today ... the guide taking us round Durham Castle, and the Museum Education Officer for the Lindisfarne Gospels Exhibition ... both had undertaken study work at the Petrie Museum ...
His other claim to fame was to be a populariser ... through his early writings he brought Egypt to life, which he then supported through his research work and diggings in the field, letting the public have insight into Egyptian history with his vivid anecdotes and stories.
The Petrie Museum is a researcher’s paradise ... and with the techniques we have available to us today ... once again opens new doors into ancient Egyptian civilisation through its collections and Museum displays.
Note - I'm off again to the Welsh borders ... back later in the week!
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