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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Freemasonry and the American Branch of the Egypt Exploration Fund | Artefacts of Excavation

Freemasonry and the American Branch of the Egypt Exploration Fund

by Alice Stevenson, Curator of the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology

Hundreds of institutions received objects from British excavations in Egypt, typically museums, schools, archaeological societies, and universities. Amongst this number is one single Masonic Lodge: the Iowa Masonic Lodge in Cedar Rapids . Our research to date has found a few leads on the story of this collection, but there’s still some unanswered questions.

The Iowa Masonic Library was a regular subscriber to the EEF in the early twentieth century, receiving  the annual excavation reports. But they also had an advantage over other subscribers through a personal connection. Mrs Marie N. Buckman was the long-serving secretary of the EEF North American branch and her husband, according to the October 1912 issue of the Library’s Quarterly Bulletin, was a member of the fraternity, a Knight Templar and a Scottish Rite Mason.

Through this connection the Masonic Lodge received a consignment of around 66 items of pottery in 1912 from the Egypt Exploration Fund’s (EEF) 1911-12 season of work at Abydos, including Predynastic black-topped pottery vessels, Middle Kingdom libation cups and the ever popular shabtis. The following year the Lodge’s Grand Secretary was appointed to the position of Honorary Secretary of the EEF for Iowa. A further set of objects was promptly dispatched to the lodge, again from Abydos. For the Lodge the star items they received were two Ibis Mummies, but all  of the objects were revered because of the connection of Abydos with Osiris, the ancient Egyptian God of the Dead, who “all Scottish Rite Masons will be interested in”. Another point of interest was possibly the nineteenth and early twentieth-century belief that freemasonry had its origins in ancient Egypt.

We know nothing further about Buckman’s husband, not even his name. Archival traces of Marie are scattered across the US through her administrative correspondence for the EEF, but little is known about her either despite her long years of service and her active promotion of the EEF through lectures and newspaper articles. Only a very small portion of her archive still survives in the Boston Museum of Fine Art, but the rest of her papers relating to her EEF years remain to be located. We would love to find out more, as these may reveal more about the personal networks through which finds were funnelled. Perhaps there are more clues out there?


Marie N Buckman, Secretary of the American Branch of the Egypt Exploration Fund

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