East Kent Egyptology Society
21st OCTOBER 2017: BETH ASBURY, THE PITT RIVERS MUSEUM, OXFORD.
Note: Illustrations not included
Beth proved to be a most enthusiastic presenter as she covered the Pitt Rivers Museum at Oxford and its extensive and fascinating collection of anthropological and archaeological items gathered from all parts of the world, comprising some 300 thousand items.She began by covering the life of Pitt Rivers himself, who was a soldier and archaeologist hugely influential in the development of the science of modern archaeology. He was born Augustus Henry Lane Fox in 1827 into a wealthy landowning family, but changed his name to Pitt Rivers after inheriting an estate from his great uncle. He pursued a career in the army from 1845 and fought in the Crimean War, retiring in 1882.
He became fascinated with the development of firearms, and how they developed functionally and typologically over the years. He virtually invented the science of typology (the classification of artefacts in a stylistic and chronological sequence over time), which became of crucial importance to archaeological studies.
As his vast Cranbourne Chase estate was in the heart of Wessex, which is littered with prehistoric remains, he became interested in the study of all types of ancient artefact from flint tools to changes in pottery design and decoration. Eventually, widening his interests even further, he amassed a huge collection of ethnographical items from all over the world, largely through purchases at auctions and sales. He joined the Ethnological Society of London in 1861, and later served as president of the Anthropological Institute. He became our first Inspector of Ancient Monuments, after the passing of the Ancient Monuments Act in 1882. During a Cook’s Tour to Egypt in 1881 he met Petrie at Giza, and no doubt their common interest in the typological analysis of artefacts was of prime interest to them both.
He had a meticulous approach to excavation and was interested in recording all finds on a given site, as well as their contexts, and he kept extremely detailed records of his work. Most importantly he declared that excavation should be undertaken only under proper archaeological supervision, and by properly trained people.
Pitt Rivers exhibited his collections and finds in local museums such as the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum, and his ethnographical collections form the basis of the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. He died in 1900.
Beth then moved to a description of the museum itself, where items are displayed in a typological and thematic arrangement, and where artefacts from different parts of the world can often be seen in the same case, displaying variations in types, techniques and materials developed in different cultures. This is an arrangement quite different to the museum layouts we commonly experience, where items from one country or culture are usually displayed in close proximity. In addition to the objects displayed, the museum includes collections of photographs and manuscripts, together with an extensive sound and film archive.
The Egyptian/Sudanese collection is dispersed over a number of cabinets, and includes about 12,000 items. Beth showed many illustrations covering these exhibits, and described the contents of cases covering subjects such as The Treatment of the Dead, Religious Figures and Artefacts, The Human Form in Art, Animal Form in Art, Body Decoration, Furniture, Organic material, etc. Particular items, for example, included Egyptian returning and non-returning boomerangs, self and composite bows, the mysterious mummy assemblage of Irterau, dating to about 700 BCE, and the famous Oxford Bowl, which is inscribed with one of the very few letters to a dead Egyptian we know of. Of particular interest to Beth was the funerary assemblage of Irterau, which was presented to the Prince of Wales in 1869. The coffin and mummy were of a batch of thirty which, it was claimed, were retrieved from a pit tomb at the time of the Prince’s visit, but were probably gathered together from finds made over a number of years and “planted” to impress the visitors.
9th NOVEMBER 2017: A VISIT TO THE PITT RIVERS MUSEUM IN OXFORD.
‘A Grand Day Out’ (with apologies to Wallace and Gromit!)
On a bright November morning 36 intrepid Ankh committee members and partners, a small number of Ankh members, supplemented by class associates from Roger’s archaeology U3A and my Egyptology U3A classes, boarded the coach in William Street car park, Herne Bay, for the trip to Oxford. The destination was the Pitt-Rivers Museum, wonderfully described by Beth Ashbury on her visit to Ankh in October.
The journey was uneventful and our driver Bill in good form. Arriving about mid-day, lunch was taken with most of the group enjoying the offerings in the Lamb and Flag owned by St. John’s College. It is believed that Thomas Hardy wrote much of his novel ‘Jude the Obscure’ in this pub and it was frequently seen in the ‘Morse’ series on TV.
Early afternoon saw the group advance on the Pitt-Rivers where we were given a short talk on the exhibits, then left to investigate the displays for ourselves. The amazing collection amassed by Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt-Rivers was gifted in 1884 to the University of Oxford on condition that the objects should be used to teach and inform with museum staff actively involved in University teaching to this day.
The museum closed at 4pm giving time for a short stroll to the Ashmolean Museum where time allowed an hours viewing before the journey home. (From comments received later the day was enjoyed by all and where was the next trip going to be?).
13th DECEMBER 2017: ANNUAL CHRISTMAS SOCIAL.
The event was, yet again, a success with over twenty people attending. Chris came armed with projector and slides which made an enjoyable backdrop, especially as they were accompanied by Roger’s tape of authentic Egyptian Yalla music. As is always the case with these events Dianne sallied forth with her extremely tasty Egyptian food – and the orange rice pudding was delicious.
Pat was on hand to add to the festive fayre with mince pies, mulled wine, tea and coffee. Altogether, it turned out to be a very enjoyable feast.
Our second hand book stall, organised by Eileen, seems to be proving increasingly popular amongst our members, and quite a few books were sold with the proceeds going to charity.
All in all, the afternoon went very well with everyone catching up on everything Egyptian, one another’s plans for the festive season, and general news. The free raffle was greatly appreciated. It seems now that this occasion will definitely be placed into our diary as an annual event, but we would like to see more of our members attending, but fully realise we all have many commitments at this time of year.