Excavating Egypt: Great Discoveries from the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, University College London

17 February—22 July 2007

Take an inside look . . .
Excavating Egypt: The Installation
It’s an exhibition with all the trappings of an historical novel: the dogged archaeologist, the lady adventurer, a dazzling collection of clues to a lost age.

While touring Egypt in the late 19th century, the popular writer Amelia Edwards (1831-1891) was disturbed by the neglect and damage she observed at ancient Egyptian monuments and archaeological sites. Upon returning to her native England, Edwards founded the Egypt Exploration Fund to promote more carefully managed excavations.

Enter Sir William Flinders Petrie (1853-1942), renowned for his scientific techniques, extensive experience, and scholarly work in the field of Egyptian archaeology. Petrie was among the first to map his sites in systematic fashion, documenting the exact location of toys, papri, utensils, furniture, and the masses of pottery that Petrie recognized as being able to speak in places where the written record went silent. "We can't overstate Petrie’s importance to the field," says Dr. Peter Lacovara, Curator at the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University. "He took what had been a glorified treasure hunt and lent the ethics, protocol, and hard science that today define archaeology."

Amelia Edwards became a devoted patron to Petrie, who acknowledged Edwards’ support by sending her many beautiful antiquities, including jewelry, scarabs, statuary, funerary tablets, pottery, and writings on linen and papyrus. Upon her death, Edwards bequeathed these gifts and her fortune to the University College London (the only English university then offering degrees to women) to establish the United Kingdom’s first professorial chair in Egyptology. In 1892, Petrie assumed the chairship and responsibility for what would become the Petrie Museum. Two decades and many dozens of excavations later, Petrie sold his own extensive collection to UCL, creating one of the largest and most important collections of Egyptian antiquities outside of Egypt, and sealing Petrie’s reputation the “father” of Egyptology.

Excavating Egypt: Great Discoveries from the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology traces the development of Egyptian archaeology from its beginnings in the 1880s to the present day through spectacular artwork and rare archival materials amassed by the Petrie Museum and its namesake. On view are over 220 of the Petrie’s most important objects from sites in the Nile River Valley, including one of the world's earliest surviving dresses (circa 2400 BCE), royal art from the palace-city of the "heretic pharaoh" Akhenaten and his wife, Nefertiti, a gold mummy mask, jewelry, stone sculpture, and objects of daily life ranging from copper tweezers to a ceramic rat trap.

The Mount Holyoke College Art Museum will be the only New England venue for Excavating Egypt, which was organized by the Carlos Museum. The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with contributions by Dr. Lacovara, Carlos Museum Curator of Egyptian art, Betsy Teasley Trope, former Carlos Museum Associate Curator of ancient art, and Stephen Quirke, Petrie Museum Curator.
Thanks to preexisting ties to Amelia Edwards and her Egypt Exploration Fund, the Art Museum has in its permanent collection a number of Petrie-derived antiquities. Like other college museums with a subscription to the Fund in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Mount Holyoke received numerous objects (with the approval of Egyptian authorities) from excavations by Petrie and his associates. Through the Fund and through gifts from another subscription, Mount Holyoke acquired approximately 150 small objects, including jewelry, pottery, funerary figurines, and other items. A selection of these has  now been organized into a special companion show to Excavating Egypt.

Image Captions:

Amelia Edwards

Early Roman Period, Hawara
Mummy mask
Cartonnage, gilt, bronze and glass
40-60 CE
Courtesy of the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, University College, London