Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Anonymous artists invented ancient Egypt's iconic style | National Geographic

Anonymous artists invented ancient Egypt's iconic style

The painters who decorated Egyptian tombs and temples followed rigid guidelines for centuries—until a style revolution changed the rules.

Thursday, 3 September 2020
By Maite Mascort
Hunting in the afterlife, a scene depicted on a wall                painting from the Theban tomb of ...
Hunting in the afterlife, a scene depicted on a wall painting from the Theban tomb of the 18th-dynasty high official Nebamun, who lived around 1350 B.C.
Photograph by British Museum/SCALA, Florence

Painters in the Western tradition strive for "originality," stamping a style on their work to ensure their name will be remembered forever. The painters of ancient Egypt could not have been more different: Creators of some of the world's most iconic art, they worked anonymously, continuing a style whose precepts were laid down at the dawn of Egyptian culture in the third millennium B.C.

From its distant origins to the peak of its splendour in the grand tombs of the Valley of the Kings and Queens, Egyptian painting was not created to please a public, but for more transcendent needs. The ka, the vital essence of the deceased, needed nourishment in order to survive in the afterlife. To supply it, Egyptians looked to the magic (heka) of painting. By representing an object, they believed they could make it a reality, which is why growing wheat, hunting, and fishing were popular subjects.

Traces of pigments remain in these first-century                    A.D. vessels from Hawara, Egypt. British Museum,                    Lonndon
Traces of pigments remain in these first-century A.D. vessels from Hawara, Egypt. British Museum, Lonndon

This idea of art having a function beyond aesthetic pleasure is alien to classical and modern notions of painting. The Egyptian painter was striving to capture a subject not in one moment of happiness or sadness, but for all time, a nameless undertaking, carried out in praise of the cosmic order. (These are the sacred and secret rituals in the Book of the Dead.)

Historians know from hieroglyphics that these anonymous artists were called sesh qedut, roughly translated as "scribes of outlines." The office was hereditary, handed down from father to son. Apprentices learned by making copies of earlier works on walls or on ostraca (pieces of stone or sherds). They would sketch out the draft in red, and the master would correct in black.

The application of their skills included the decoration of statues or coffins, as well as more mundane pieces such as furniture and stelae. The most highly regarded task for these craftsmen, however, was decorating temples and tombs. The same themes—life along the Nile, scenes from the afterlife, the pharaoh dispensing justice—recur for centuries, in the same distinctively flat and two-dimensional style. Colours are uniform, and forms are organised in bands similar in appearance to a modern comic strip.

Animals and plants are often depicted with vivid naturalism, while people are usually rendered in a flat, two-dimensional style. The body and head are almost always shown in profile while the eyes and shoulders face forward.

Located in the Valley of the Kings, the tomb art                    of the 19th-dynasty pharaoh Seti I ...
Located in the Valley of the Kings, the tomb art of the 19th-dynasty pharaoh Seti I demonstrates the degree of perfection achieved by painters in Egypt during this dynasty. On the pillar, Neith, a very ancient goddess of war, is depicted standing beside the pharaoh.
Photograph by ARALDO DE LUCA

This distinctive style is ancient. It was first codified in the Old Kingdom (2575-2150 B.C.) and endured through the Middle Kingdom (1975-1640 B.C.) and New Kingdom (1539-1075 B.C.) with little disruption. Painters continued to utilize it until the Roman annexation of Egypt in 30 B.C. The style is intertwined with Egyptian ideas of cosmic order, and the needs of the eternal soul after death. Its origin story begins with the birth of pharaonic culture itself.

Iconic origins

Distinctive red figures on a yellow background adorn Tomb 100 at the site of the ancient royal city of Hierakonpolis. Painted around 3400 B.C., these hunting and battle scenes are the earliest known tomb paintings in Egypt. Some 200 years later, Egypt was united for the first time under King Narmer. Following his reign, Egypt's 1st dynasty was established, and soon after an emergence of the new artistic style.

Working together, a husband and wife harvest                    grain in the fields of the afterlife in a ...
Working together, a husband and wife harvest grain in the fields of the afterlife in a mural from the Artisan Sennedjem's tomb, which dates to the 19th dynasty (1292-1190 B.C.).
Photograph by ARALDO DE LUCA

Although the themes in Tomb 100—a king subjugating people, animals, a procession of boats—would dominate painting for centuries, the emerging style adopted a much more tightly organised composition, which reflected m'aat, a complex spiritual concept that embraced order, harmony, balance, truth, justice, and morality. Central to m'aat was the organising principle of duality. Day is separated from night, female from male, and earth from heaven, a symmetry that is replicated in most Egyptian painting. (See rare, lifelike portraits of Egyptians who lived thousands of years ago.)

During the Old Kingdom, artists began using a grid system to create their works. Mapping their work onto it ensured correct figure positioning and proportions. At this time, artists also began using a technique called sunken relief, in which outlines would be etched into plaster and then painted, a technique that provided the flatness of the artwork with a degree of light and shade. Many fine specimens of their works were found in the royal tombs of Saqqara, near the ancient capital of Memphis.

As the age of the pyramids drew to a close, Egypt underwent a period of transition that lasted until around 1975 B.C., the beginning of what became known as the Middle Kingdom. The traditional painting style flourished and slightly evolved to feature cleaner, simpler designs.

Nefertari's face is rendered with shading to add                    depth to the figure, an unusual practice in ...
Nefertari's face is rendered with shading to add depth to the figure, an unusual practice in Egyptian paintings.
Photograph by ARALDO DE LUCA

Egypt's New Kingdom, starting around 1539 B.C., was a time of expansion and imperialism. Massive royal monuments, palaces, and temples provided artists with enormous new "canvases" to feature their work.

During this period of growth, Egypt experienced a religious and artistic revolution led by Pharaoh Akhenaten, who replaced the old pantheon with worship of one god: Aten, the sun disc. Akhenaten moved the capital to Amarna, and the art produced during his reign was dubbed "Amarna style." People were represented with elongated heads, luscious lips, protruding bellies, and thin legs.

After Akhenaten's death, his new theology and art were abandoned; artists quickly returned to the traditional style and the old gods. Although Tutankhamun reigned for only a few years after his father Akhenaten's death, the rapidity with which the old gods, and the old style, had been restored is evident in the art of his famous tomb. (Here's how a stubborn archaeologist found the lost tomb of Tutankhamun.)

In a relief from Amarna, Queen Nefertiti embraces                    and kisses her eldest daughter, Princess Meritaten, as                    ...
In a relief from Amarna, Queen Nefertiti embraces and kisses her eldest daughter, Princess Meritaten, as both are blessed by the rays of the god Aten.
Photograph by SCALA, FLORENCE

Once reestablished, the traditional style became the vehicle for proclaiming Egypt's imperial supremacy. Egypt reached new heights with the reigns of Seti I and Ramses II. Tombs from this era glow a rich gold, a colour associated with the incorruptible flesh of the gods. The New Kingdom tombs of Seti I and Queen Nefertari feature myriad depictions of the afterlife. Encounters between the deceased and the gods are revealed in stunning colour.

Egypt's iconic art would last well into the Ptolemaic Period, after Alexander the Great conquered Egypt in 332 B.C. The leaders that followed, including Cleopatra the Great, embraced Egypt's glorious past, depicting themselves in the same style as the pharaohs of centuries past.

In living colour

Egyptian artists made their paints from the materials that surrounded them. Black was obtained from charcoal, soot, or burned bones. The colour was associated both with death and life—partly, perhaps, because it was the color of the life-giving Nile silt. Blues symbolised fertility and birth, and greens were used for the afterlife; both were made from copper oxides. Yellows (the sun) and reds (symbolising both fire or danger and destruction) were obtained from ochre, which was abundant in the desert. (Europeans would later use pulverised Egyptian mummies to create their pigments.)

Egyptian rulers lavished funds on the best                    painters for their tombs. The image shows the second                    ...
Egyptian rulers lavished funds on the best painters for their tombs. The image shows the second burial chamber intended for the 19th-dynasty queen Tausert, who later ruled as pharaoh in her own right. Scenes on the rear wall are from the Book of Gates, a funerary text about the soul's passage through the underworld.
Photograph by ARALDO DE LUCA

These substances would be ground into powder, then mixed with water and a little vegetable gum. Egg albumin and wax served as a fixative. Painters could decorate stucco, papyrus, and wood having treated the surface beforehand with a layer of mud or gypsum plaster. To apply the paint, they used a simple calamus, a reed like that used by the scribes, but with the tip clipped so as to retain the paint.

Painters belonged to workshops arranged according to a hierarchy. No one artist would ever claim authorship of a work as complex and prestigious as a tomb painting; it was a team effort. One artist would design the overall composition; others would then carve the reliefs. Craftsmen would add details before colour was applied in the last stage of the artistic process.

Life on the grid

Studies of tomb art at the necropolis of Saqqara revealed not only the beauty but also the ingenuity of Egyptian artists in the Old Kingdom. In these early tombs, artisans would prepare the "canvas" by applying a smooth layer of plaster before the artists would begin creating their paintings. The uniformity and style struck 19th-century Egyptologist Karl Richard Lepsius, who was the first to notice that these tomb paintings depicting human figures were designed using a grid, a tradition that continued throughout Egypt's long history.

Egyptian artisans prepare the walls of a tomb for                    decoration. Plaster is applied and smoothed (left),                    ...
Egyptian artisans prepare the walls of a tomb for decoration. Plaster is applied and smoothed (left), as pigments are prepared (lower right). After the plaster has dried, grids are mapped on the wall, and then figures are sketched following a master design.

Archaeologists have found the earliest use of the grid in the Third Dynasty, during Egypt's early dynastic era (ca 2950-2575 B.C.). The grid helped ensure that the figures and objects would be rendered consistently with little variation in proportion and positioning. Artists typically created a map with 18 rows of squares. A smaller master document would be sketched, and then artists would map the work onto the larger surface.

Some tombs, such as Pharaoh Horemheb's at Saqqara (built ca 1332-1319 B.C.), feature splendid finished works as well as unfinished paintings. These "works in progress" have given scholars valuable insight into the artistic process and the many steps, revisions, and contributions that went into creating the spectacular finished pieces.

Artistic revolution

Akhenaten disrupted traditional artistic style when he replaced Amun, the principal god of Egypt, with the solar deity Aten during his reign between 1353 and 1336 B.C. Unusually for an Egyptian god, Aten had no human form and was represented as the solar disc. In a further break with tradition, Akhenaten founded a new capital, Akhetaten, on a site today called Tell el- Amarna.

This religious revolution altered all orders of society, including art. As part of the new "Amarna style" (as it came to be known), representation of the human figure changed radically. In contrast to the traditional style, the pharaoh was represented with skinny arms and legs, a plump belly, and an elongated head. Depictions of the pharaoh and his family adhere to this new style, which is more languid and fluid than the iconic Egyptian style of dynasties past. (Archaeologists have discovered the purpose of pointy "head cones" depicted in Egyptian art.)

Artifacts from the Amarna palace reveal marked                    contrast to the stiffness of traditional royal                    portraits. Two ...
Artifacts from the Amarna palace reveal marked contrast to the stiffness of traditional royal portraits. Two little princesses chat animatedly amid colorful carpets and cushions. Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

Archaeologists have had to piece together details of Akhenaten's reign because his name was struck from history and his images desecrated after his death. Tutankhamun, Akhenaten's son, was named Tutankhaten (image of Aten) at birth. His name was later changed to Tutankhamun (image of Amun), which shows how quickly Egypt restored Amun to supremacy. This is also reflected in the traditional art and iconography discovered in Tutankhamun's famous tomb.

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Northern Cal. Egyptology Lecture Oct. 11: Revealing the Practice of Tattooing in Ancient Egypt

The American Research Center in Egypt, Northern California Chapter, and the Near Eastern Studies Department, University of California, Berkeley, invite you to attend a virtual lecture by Dr. Anne Austin, University of Missouri-St. Louis:

Revealing the Practice of Tattooing in Ancient Egypt

Zoom Lecture for ARCE-NC members only.
When: Sunday, October 11, 2020, 3 PM

The tattoo on the neck of this mummy means "to do good" in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs and might have symbolically given its power to her voice when she sang or spoke. (Photo provided by Anne Austin for the University of Missouri-St. Louis Daily)


About the Lecture:

The practice of tattooing in ancient Egypt is rarely attested. Egyptologists have identified tattoos on only a handful of mummies spanning Pharaonic Egypt's more than 3,000 year history. Textual evidence is virtually silent on the practice and art historical evidence is often ambiguous. In 2014, the mission of the Institut Français d'Archéologie Orientale (IFAO) made an incredible find--an extensively tattooed mummy from the necropolis at Deir el-Medina, the community of the workmen who cut and decorated the New Kingdom's royal tombs. With over 30 tattoos, this woman completely redefined what we knew about tattooing in ancient Egypt. The extensive use of Hathoric imagery in these tattoos further showed us the incredible amount of religious agency women could hold during a time when the title "priestess of Hathor" was not even attested.

Since then, we have used infrared imaging to identify dozens of new tattoos among the many unpublished human remains at the site. This talk presents the most recent findings from the bioarchaeological team of the 2019 and 2020 IFAO mission at Deir el-Medina. These additional tattoos indicate that many more individuals were likely tattooed at Deir el-Medina. Additionally, the designs and placement of tattoos varied broadly. Coalescing the physical and art historical evidence, this talk offers some of the most comprehensive evidence we have to date on the practice of tattooing in ancient Egypt. 

About the Speaker:

Dr. Anne Austin (Photo by August Jennewein for the University of Missouri-St. Louis Daily)

Anne Austin is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology & Archaeology at the University of Missouri—St. Louis. Her research combines the fields of osteology and Egyptology in order to better understand daily life in ancient Egypt. Specifically, she uses data from ancient Egyptian human remains and daily life texts to reconstruct ancient Egyptian health care networks and identify the diseases and illnesses people experienced in the past. While working in Egypt, Anne discovered the only known ancient Egyptian tattoos on a mummy with over 30 different tattoos. Her next research project will focus on the practice of tattooing in ancient Egypt and its potential connections to gender, religion, and medicine. In addition to her interest in Egyptology and osteology, Anne works on improving archaeological data management practices through her participation in an international, collaborative ethnographic research study on archaeological field schools.

About ARCE-NC:

For more information, please visit,,, or To join the chapter or renew your membership, please go to and select "Berkeley, CA" as your chapter when you sign up.

Jodi Picoult's 'The Book of Two Ways' book review - The Washington Post

In 'The Book of Two Ways,' Jodi Picoult delivers another powerful story about heart-wrenching moral choices

September 22, 2020 at 7:35 a.m. PDT

In the mood to contemplate your own mortality? Then Jodi Picoult has the book for you.

The best-selling author's latest offering, "The Book of Two Ways," follows Dawn Edelstein, a former Yale Egyptology student turned death doula. In Dawn's orbit there's a whole lot of death, starting with Win, the dying woman she's caring for, the memories of those Dawn lost and the very, very deceased (as in mummified in Middle Egypt 4,000 years ago).

In short, if you are looking for comic relief, you are out of luck. But readers don't pick up Picoult for the LOLs. Instead, they come for the heart-wrenching moral choices, the complicated family dynamics, the deep dive into ethical issues, and, lately, the nonlinear plots. Picoult's last book, "A Spark of Light," told the story backward; "The Book of Two Ways" presents two possible timelines and settings: Land/Egypt and Water/Boston. This is an homage to an ancient Egyptian coffin text also called "The Book of Two Ways," which contains one of the first known maps of the underworld. While the ancient Egyptians believed that one could get to the afterlife either by land or water, Picoult's book is not "choose your own adventure." Instead, timelines occur simultaneously (think "Sliding Doors" but without Gwyneth Paltrow's iconic hairdo).

When we're introduced to Dawn, she boards a plane that soon begins to "fall out of the sky." As it goes vertical, she contemplates that "Ancient Egyptians believed that to get to the afterlife, they had to be deemed innocent in the Judgement Hall. Their hearts were weighed against the feather of Ma'at, of truth." She's not sure her heart will pass the test. Her guilt stems from her thinking not of her steady quantum mechanics professor husband, Brian, but of Wyatt Armstrong, a British Egyptologist whom she hasn't seen in 15 years. In what could be her final moment, she's grasping for another man, for the Egypt she left behind and the dissertation she never finished.

That's when the path breaks into two.

Option one: Dawn is a brilliant graduate student at Yale, an expert in "The Book of Two Ways." All is going as planned, including taking part in a dig in Egypt with Wyatt, when news that her mother is dying puts everything on hold. Turns out, that hold is going to be a long one. Stateside, Dawn meets Brian and soon after, Dawn and Brian meet marriage and a baby. Dawn pivots from the long dead to the dying, becoming a death doula, a job she's devoted to, especially with new patient Win who is trying to answer what-might-have-beens before she passes. Win's journey inspires Dawn to question her own lost loves: Wyatt and Egypt.

Option two: When the airline offers up their mea culpa to survivors of the crash in the form of a plane ticket, Dawn asks not for a one-way home, but a ticket to Cairo, knowing Wyatt is in Egypt, still digging, now making a name for himself, and perhaps still thinking about her.

It sounds simple enough, but it's not. Picoult weaves us around, at times not clarifying which story line we're in. Some readers may find the ambiguity frustrating, others may enjoy trying to figure out Dawn's path.

While there's ambiguity in the story, there's none regarding Picoult's passion for Egyptology. After 26 novels she is a master researcher, but she's also usually a master of weaving in information without letting it slow the pacing. Not this time. She knows her stuff, but she's showing readers her 200 best vacation pictures instead of 20. As a result, the history can feel heavier than a sarcophagus.

That heaviness aside, "The Book of Two Ways" is a return for Picoult to the themes of her earliest books — motherhood, complicated romantic love — when she did not build tension in a courtroom or hospital. Picoult, at this point in her career could skillfully build tension in a broom closet, but the best part of this book is not the suspense; it's the look at the complexity of a woman as she enters middle age. When Win muses that, "women don't get to have midlife crises where they run off to find themselves," Dawn instinctively knows she's right. "Men leave their wives and children behind every day, and no one is shocked," she thinks. "It's as if that Y chromosome they hold entitles them to self-discovery, to reinvention." But Picoult allows her protagonist to have both, and that backward reflection and forward glance lift the narrative, reminding fans that Picoult always tells both sides of a story not with judgment, but with grace.

Karin Tanabe is the author of five books, including, most recently, "A Hundred Suns."

The Book of Two Ways

By Jodi Picoult

Ballantine. 417 pp. $28.99

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Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Mummy Portraits of Roman Egypt

Mummy Portraits of Roman Egypt: Emerging Research from the APPEAR Project

Edited by Marie Svoboda and Caroline R. Cartwright

Once interred with mummified remains, nearly a thousand funerary portraits from Roman Egypt survive today in museums and galleries around the world, bringing viewers face-to-face with people who lived two thousand years ago. Until recently, few of these paintings had undergone in-depth study to determine how they were made.

An international collaboration known as APPEAR (Ancient Panel Paintings: Examination, Analysis, and Research) was launched in 2013 to promote the study of these objects and to gather scientific and historical findings into a shared database. The first phase of the project was marked with a two-day conference at the Getty Villa. Conservators, scientists, and curators presented new research on topics such as provenance and collecting, comparisons of works across institutions, and scientific studies of pigments, binders, and supports. The papers and poster presentations from the conference are collected in this publication, which offers the most up-to-date information available about these fascinating remnants of the ancient world.


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The Life and Times of Butehamun : Tomb Raider for the High Priest of Amun

The Life and Times of Butehamun: Tomb Raider for the High Priest of Amun
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Arts, Department of Archaeology and Ancient History.
2020 (English)Independent thesis Advanced level (degree of Master (Two Years)), 30 credits / 45 HE creditsStudent thesis
Abstract [en]

This is a biography of the scribe Butehamun. A member of a well-known family who had long lived in the village of Deir el-Medina working on the tombs in the Valley of Kings, Butehamun's coming of age saw invasion and civil war in Thebes, and the end to the making of new tombs in the Valley, as the New Kingdom came to an end. Instead he was given the task by the High Priests of Amun to remove and rewrap royal mummies and rebury them in secret caches, while plundering them of their gold and other valuables for the coffers of the priestly rulers of Thebes. In many respects Butehamun was a tomb raider in the service of the High Priests of Amun. That project seems to have been successful: The mummy of every single king from the 18th through 21st Dynasties that has been identified and was found in a tomb was found in the two caches KV 35 or TT 320 (with the sole exception of Tutankhamun). Butehamun is unusually well-documented, leaving behind many letters, labels on coffins he worked with, graffiti, and highly unusual imagery on his own coffins. Two houses he lived in have been excavated, one with inscriptions about his family. This paper seeks to create a biography of Butehamun through the study of these things he left behind. One seems to reflect he may have suffered a crisis of faith, others may display instead a deep piety for Amun and pride in the royal mummy reburial project he carried out in the service of the god.

Abstract [sv]

Detta är en biografi över skrivaren Butehamon. Han kom från en mycket känd familj som i många generationer verkat i byn Deir e-Medinah och arbetat med gravarna i Konungarnas dal. Han växte upp under en tid av invasion och inbördeskrig i Thebe, vilket ledde till slutet på det Nya riket och på byggandet av nya gravar i Dalen. Butehamons uppdrag från guden Amuns överstepräster blev istället att svepa om mumierna med nytt linne och avlägsna allt guld och andra värdesaker. Mumierna begravdes i nya hemliga förvaringsplatser, medan värdesakerna gick till Thebes religiösa härskare. Man kan beskriva Butehamon som en gravplundrare i tjänst hos översteprästerna. Projektet tycks ha varit en succé: Varenda kung från 18:e till och med 21:a dynastierna vars mumie har identifierats och som hittades i en grav fanns i ett av de två gömställena, KV 35 eller TT 320 (med Tutankhamon som enda undantag). Butehamon är ovanligt väldokumenterad, med många brev, etiketter på likkistor han arbetat med, graffiti samt de mycket ovanliga bilderna på hans egna likkistor. Två hus där han bodde har grävts ut, ett med inskriptioner om hans familj. Denna avhandling är en biografi över Butehamon baserad på studier av de saker han lämnade efter sig. En av dem tyder på en andlig kris, medan andra tycks avspegla en djup fromhet och tro på Amun och stolthet över det mumieprojekt han ledde i gudens tjänst.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2020. , p. 160
Keywords [en]
Butehamun, Deir el-Medina, Thebes, Egypt, Egyptology, mummies, reburial, caches, Valley of the Kings, biography
Keywords [sv]
Butehamon, Deir el-Medinah, Thebe, Egypten, Egyptologi, mumier, Kungarnas dal, biografi
National Category
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-418993OAI:, id: diva2:1464825
Subject / course
Educational program
Master's Programme in the Humanities – Archaeology
Available from: 2020-09-08 Created: 2020-09-08 Last updated: 2020-09-08Bibliographically approved
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Egypt Centre Collection Blog: Kate’s Museum: Transcribing the Daybooks of Käthe Bosse Griffiths

Monday, 7 September 2020

Kate's Museum: Transcribing the Daybooks of Käthe Bosse Griffiths

The blog post for this week is written by Dr Dulcie Engel, a previous contributor. Dulcie is a former lecturer in French and linguistics and has been volunteering at the Egypt Centre for the last six years. She is a gallery supervisor and associate editor of the Volunteer Newsletter. She has a particular interest in collectors and the history of museums.
Käthe Bosse (fig. 1) was born in Wittenberg, Germany in 1910. She gained a PhD in Classics and Egyptology at the University of Munich in 1935, and then took up a post at the Berlin State Museum. However, she was dismissed soon after when it emerged that her mother was of Jewish origin (her mother would later perish at the notorious Ravensbrück camp). Käthe fled to Britain, and undertook research work at the Petrie Museum (University College London) and the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. There she met fellow Egyptologist Gwyn Griffiths and they married in 1939. They settled in Wales and became involved in the Welsh literature movement. Käthe Bosse Griffiths learnt Welsh during this period, later publishing literary works in Welsh. When Gwyn Griffiths took up a lectureship position at University College Swansea (UCS: now Swansea University), Kate (as she was now known) became honorary Keeper of Archaeology at what is now Swansea Museum, the oldest museum in Wales, founded in 1841 as the Royal Institution of South Wales (RISW). She remained involved with the RISW for many years.

Fig. 1: Kate Bosse-Griffiths (Y LOLFA/FAMILY COLLECTION)

Through their friendship with fellow Welsh Egyptologist David Dixon at University College London, Gwyn and Kate Griffiths were instrumental in bringing part of Henry Wellcome's Egyptological collection out of storage in the Petrie Museum to UCS. This was part of the main distribution of Wellcome's Egyptological legacy. The other main beneficiaries were Birmingham Museum, Durham Oriental Museum, and Liverpool World Museum. At the time, Swansea had Egyptology teaching staff, and a small collection of classical Greek and Roman objects. In 1971, 92 cases arrived in Swansea from London, containing around 4500 items, which make up just over 80% of the items in the collection (fig. 2). With that loan, a small teaching collection in the classics department was transformed into the Swansea Wellcome Museum (also known as the Swansea Wellcome Collection of Egyptian Antiquities), which first opened to the public in 1976. It was finally moved to a purpose-built museum in 1998, and was re-named The Egypt Centre. Kate was honorary curator of the collection from 1971 until the early 1990s; the post was passed onto David Gill (in 1993). Kate Bosse-Griffiths died in Swansea in 1998, aged 87.

Fig. 2: Kate unpacking the collection

During her time at the museum, she unpacked, restored, and cleaned objects; lobbied for better facilities, equipment, and repairs; she identified, researched, catalogued, and published objects from the collection, welcomed students and scholars to the collection, corresponded with Egyptologists from around the world, and set up the display cases, labels, and boards ready for the official opening in June 1976.

We know quite a lot about her activities from the daybooks she kept. So far, fifteen books have been found, covering the period from 1972 to 1987. Each book contains around 150–200 pages of Kate's rather challenging handwriting! Mostly in English (with some Germanisms), Kate also writes in German, Welsh, and French (fig. 3). She includes sketches of objects and copies of hieroglyphic inscriptions. Through Ken Griffin's initiative, these daybooks have been scanned, and a group of volunteers have been involved in transcribing them since 2018. It is hoped they will prove a useful resource for researchers.

Fig. 3: An example of a page from Kate's daybooks

Most recently, I have been transcribing the 75–76 daybook (13/11/75–7/5/76) and the 1976 daybook. These books are of particular interest as they relate in part to the period of preparation for the opening of the museum to the public, originally planned for March, but delayed until June 1976. We also see her thoughts on a possible future for the collection at RISW (Swansea Museum) and for her in Oxford, her notes on receiving a donation of ring bezels, and her wicked sense of humour when she receives a letter not intended for her… These gems appear between notes from textbooks (often in German or French), 'to do' lists, lists of objects to be photographed, lists of objects to go into certain cases, rough drafts of correspondence, talks and articles, decisions on colours of hessian, possible Egyptian symbols to represent the museum, etc. The entries also reflect the period: no computers or mobile phones, communication by landline telephone or by letter; drafts of documents handwritten before being typed up, copies of photos by Xerox or prepared slides; the wonder of basic audio and video tape recorders and closed circuit television. I have also started on the 1978 daybook (16/1/78–4/9/78). Here are some entries, which give a flavour of the books:

Setting up a museum for public opening
The first extracts here deal with the planned March opening of the museum. Although 17 March is mentioned here first, later the date is given as 15 March. The list of jobs 'to do' gives a great insight into a typical workload for Kate and her helpers at this time, foremost amongst whom was Roger Davies, the Arts Faculty photographer. Roger was far more than a photographer of artefacts: he was actively involved in various aspects of the work to be done, and truly appreciated by Kate. The translation of labels is important: David Dixon insisted on bilingual labels for the collection, which would have been welcomed by Kate. Indeed, it is now the law in Wales that public documents and displays be in both English and Welsh. We also have an insight into her feelings about the work to be done: the game of chess is an interesting analogy, suggesting the need to plan ahead and protect one's own ideas. Indeed, she may have felt some threat to the collection (as the section below dated February 1976 illustrates):

21.X1.75 (fig. 4)
In meeting of principal, Collard, Georgia Bonns (registry) Glanmor it was decided to have official opening on 17-III-76 at 6 o'clock with slides, address of Dr Dixon & handing over, visit of museum. Sherry party in Staff Common Room.

Fig. 4

Looking at the Collection the things which have to be done next are:
filling in of hole of ventilator
getting responsible person from works department to decide how to store monuments
O.K. lintel and stela of Guardian can be put up
copying out of case descriptions
photo of Akhenaten and Nefertiti
also arranging of Amarna case
new perspex case for crocodile
choosing of pictures for window wall
putting up Amarna corner
Horus the saviour corner
Translation of labels

Telefon (German: telephone) from Works Department that there is no money to do the work ordered to finish Museum (pediment for statue – fixing stone slab – painting, filling hole? – shelving)
…(Strangely enough I should be glad if Opening were postponed as I have finished all major work & don't like to be pressed with finishing of minor details – students could come to see all the same.)
The moment of reckoning has come as predicted – like playing chess.

Roger Davies has asked Dean for three weeks exclusive work for Collection before opening, that will answer "my prayers".
Opening to be on Wednesday March 15 1976 at 6pm.

In the 1976 daybook, we learn that the opening is now scheduled for the start of June, but actually takes place on the 16 June. We do not know the reason for these various delays, although Kate was away in Egypt from mid-March to early May, and she says above that she would be happy if the opening were delayed:

Opening to be on June 1st one day after 'Spring Holiday',
Guests: possible list.
P & R (Welsh speakers & religious interest)
RISW President, GD, MI
National Museum NS
Glyn Vivian (?)    B
Art Gallery?
School of Art (helping with Tape) Cover?
Coleg of Education?

Wednesday 23-VI-76
And on 16-VI-76 the official Opening took place in Museum of an invited audience including
the mayor & mayoress of Swansea & representatives of RISW & Glyn Vivian Art Gallery.
Where a close circuit film was shown of Collection in which members of the Classics Department took active part.…This film made in Welsh & English is played to school classes before they actually see the Museum Room.

Fig. 5: Photo of the official opening of the museum

Receiving a donation
Throughout the museum's history, the main donation from the Wellcome Trust has been supplemented by many other donations and loans from institutions and individuals. The section below refers to a loan by Anthony Donahue (1944–2016), an Oxford-based Egyptologist who was a great friend of the Swansea Wellcome Museum/Egypt Centre. Apart from recording the circumstances of the loan and the provenance of the items as shown below, Kate also described each ring bezel in great detail (for cataloguing), and researched various references on Amarna excavations to find either the actual pieces (a few have excavation labels) or parallels (fig. 6):

on loan 31 Amarna faience ring bezels which he bought from Eg.Expl. Society some years ago in toto.
after examining them at Alan B. Lloyd's Home…
Three of these carry excavation numbers…

Fig. 6: Ring bezel with the name of Akhenaten

Financial strains: A suggestion to move the collection and that Kate might move!
Just over a month before the museum was due to open to the public, and while Kate and Roger were busy organising for that, Kate felt the need to write down why she would not want the collection to be moved to RISW. As we know, Kate was involved with both institutions and knew their set-up well. However, she was 'in charge' at the university, and clearly appreciated the academic setting of the collection: as well as Roger! The mention of the lack of an expert curator is a little strange as Kate herself was the expert in both museums, although of course not in overall control of the whole collection at RISW. It is unclear where the suggestion came from, and the timing is strange. However, UCS was in 'partnership' with RISW from the early 1970s until 1991 when Swansea Council took it over and it was renamed Swansea Museum. The taking on of RISW by UCS did cause quite a lot of resentment as it was seen as diverting scarce financial resources away from the college. Thankfully, for the integrity of the collection, this move never happened.

To be thought about. Why do I not want to take the Egyptian Collection to R.I.S.W. Museum.
Certainly according to my ideas a museum give(-s) zest to University but few professors seem to agree.
For my own purpose:
There is no workshop in R.I.S.W.
No photographer
and if these were, there is no money to spend
no machine to cut Perspex
no experts to help with objects
no expert curator

Financial issues threatening the future of the Wellcome collection at UCS also incensed Kate later on in the year. We get a real sense of her fighting spirit in this entry:

11-V-76 (fig. 7)
Chris comes to tell me that Wellcome money has come from Classic funds and that Classics are in the Red & possibly money will have to be repaid over years from W Funds!
At last the confrontation and that at psychologically right moment as I have laid the fundaments and can withdraw ad libidum (i.e. Latin ad libitum: at one's pleasure) in fact will withdraw to Oxford any hour.
Tell Chris that I have waited for this moment. That I consciously did not count the cost and that on the moral ground then I put more into it than I demand for collection.
It could be a beautiful confrontation & I have to consider whether one should do that during or before Opening –
N.B. Principal asked department to help to increase student population through special effort
How much are they willing to do to support this effort?
[Chemists show interest not only because they have helped the Collection in the beginning but because they are tired of working on material without meaning
Egyptology has material & meaning]
Or could it be a sign of stirring in the minds that dirt rises to surface?
Promiss (sic) freedom of spending for growing Collection (apart from Classics)
No Committee
growing like baby, in spite of everybody giving from own money for things like labelling tape, plastic bags, bostic (i.e. Bostik glue), books

Fig. 7

A Hands-on approach to conservation
Museum conservation principles and practices have evolved since Kate was trained in Berlin in the late 1930s; and since she practised those skills in Swansea in the 1970s and 80s. It would horrify any modern curator to think of someone taking artefacts home to clean, or for experimentation, in particular by someone who was not the curator!

Take home for cleaning 32508 Egypt XVIIIth dyn. – 323
(sketch of vase) returned washed & silicon-polished.

*Thanks to the numbers listed here, it was possible to identify on Saturday the object in question as W5386 [KG] (figs. 8 & 9).

(sketch of jug) Take home for cleaning N.K. jug with handle

small eye mould 1891
sitting goddess mould 1813
loan for experiment. LT - Montpelier Terrace

Fig. 8: Daybook entry
Fig. 9: W5386

Writing to fellow Egyptologists
The daybooks are filled with drafts of letters from Kate, including to other Egyptologists and museum curators. There is a particularly friendly exchange in 1978 with a fellow German Egyptologist, Emma Brunner-Traut (1911–2008) who published various books, including one on Egyptian tales in 1963. This volume clearly included a tale about mice (I am defeated by the 'crimpers'!):

(Translation from German original) (fig. 10)
Dear Emma,
Heartfelt thanks for your letter, which arrived today (23-1-78). I almost think that our letters have crossed. I had enclosed for you a modern version of the old mouse crimpers, which amused me, and shows how correct your findings 'Tales' are. My bead story is now in press, and I am very pleased that my reading is so similar to yours…

Fig. 10: Letter to Emma Brunner-Traut

A wicked sense of humour
This must be my favourite page: Kate received a letter in an envelope wrongly addressed to her and not only read it, but transcribed it in English: despite an attempt to hide the issue by using a German phrase at the top of the page! And as for the content: the person who wrote this has misunderstood exactly how the Wellcome items came to Swansea, and seems to regret a time when anyone could literally pick up antiquities in Egypt and bring them home for their own collections… (fig. 11)

Friday : 12-III-76
Der Lauschen an der Wand (German: listening at the wall/eavesdropping)
Receive wrong letter in envelope written by Gibbs & read:
"I was invited to a newly formed Egyptological Museum at Swansea University by Dr. Kate-Bosse-Griffiths. She and her husband are Egyptologists at the University – known her for years – she's helped me with my collection – they are off to Egypt on 20th March – guests of the Egyptian Govt. The collection was part (90 cases) of the Wellcome Archaeological ExpeditionEgypt. Tell el-Amarna. There were fabulous exhibits found at Amarna – huge complete vases - complete necklaces – jewellery – sculptures collected 1900–1908 when pickings were agogo
nowadays we can hardly find a small sherd of Amarna pottery...

Fig. 11: Entry in daybook
These extracts give a flavour of the treasures hiding in the pages of Kate's daybooks, and are a wonderful record of her legacy to the Egypt Centre. She was a truly indomitable woman; a refugee who became a leading figure in Egyptology and Welsh literature. She will not be forgotten in Swansea.

With thanks to Ken Griffin for getting me involved in the daybooks, and giving me extra information on KBG and her daybooks; and to Syd Howells for filling me in on the relationship between RISW and UCS.

Engel, Dulcie M. 2017. 'Henry Wellcome's Egyptian Legacy'          
Griffin, Kenneth 2020 'A brief history of the Egypt Centre'
Griffiths, J. Gwyn 2000. Museum Efforts before Wellcome' Inscriptions 5, December 2000: 6
Gruffudd, Heini 2014. A Haven from Hitler: A young woman's escape from Nazi Germany to Wales: The Story of Kate Bosse-Griffiths and her Family. Y Lolfa.
Lloyd, Alan B. 1998. 'Kate Bosse-Griffiths', The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 84: 191–193.
Stephens, Meic 1998. 'Obituary: Kate Bosse-Griffiths' The Independent 10.04.1998
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