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Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Egypt Centre Collection Blog: From the Banks of the Nile to the Garden of Sennedjem

Monday, 2 September 2019

From the Banks of the Nile to the Garden of Sennedjem

For just over a week (22–30 August) I was fortunate to have been based at the Czech Institute of Egyptology Charles University, Prague. My main reason for being there was to participate in two academic events. First was the initial workshop as part of the project Continuity, Discontinuity and Change. Adaptation Strategies of Individuals and Communities in Egypt at Times of Internal and External Transformations. This international project, which was initiated by Dr. Filip Coppens, is funded by the Czech Science Foundation (Grant GA ČR 19-07268S). Over two days the eight team members (fig. 1) had a productive discussion on topics focusing on two distinct periods of ancient Egyptian history: the Amarna age, and the Ptolemaic and Roman periods. Secondly, there was the Seventh Ptolemaic Summer School, which took place in Prague for the first time. The event was an excellent opportunity to meet colleagues specialising in Graeco-Roman temple texts, as well as providing the forum for me to discuss my work on the Ritual of the Hours of the Night.

Fig. 1: Workshop participants, from left to right. Silke Caßor-Pfeiffer (Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen, IANES – Ägyptologie), Ken Griffin (The Egypt Centre), Filip Coppens (Czech Institute of Egyptology), Gabriele Pieke (Reiss-Engelhorn Museen, Mannheim), Dorotea Wollnerová (Czech Institute of Egyptology), Dana Bělohoubková (Czech Institute of Egyptology), Jiří Honzl (Czech Institute of Egyptology), and Nico Staring (Leiden Institute for Area Studies – Egyptology, Leiden University).

The visit to Prague also coincided with four temporary exhibitions, which I had the opportunity to visit. The first, which is housed in the recently refurbished National Museum (Národní muzeum) in Prague is entitled Tutankhamun RealExperience. Much of the focus of the exhibition is on the tomb and treasures of Tutankhamun, seen through the wonderful photography of Sandro Vannini, supplemented by a selection of original objects describing how the ancient Egyptians conceived the afterlife. The centrepiece of the exhibit is a statue of the young pharaoh from the Museum August Kestner in Hanover, on loan from the Fritz Behrens Foundation (fig. 2). The exhibit runs through 31 January 2020.

Fig. 2: Statue of Tutankhamun

To commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the death of the renowned Czech Egyptologist Jaroslav Černý (1898–1970), the National Museum is also hosting a small exhibit entitled In the Garden of Sennedjem. The exhibition traces the life and career of Černý, which was heavily impacted by the political events of the twentieth century. Not surprisingly, objects from Deir el-Medina feature heavily, including numerous ostraca. There are also more personal items, such as his diplomatic passport from 1942 (fig. 3), letters and drawings, and his Doctoral diploma dated to 1922. While the significance of the exhibition's name may not be evident to most—besides the obvious connection to the village of Deir el-Medina—it alludes to the words on the gravestone of Černý and his wife, "together now in the garden of Sennedjem".

Fig. 3: Černý's diplomatic passport. 

The third exhibit I visited was On the Banks of the Nile, which is located in the Náprstek Museum of Asian, African and American Cultures. This exhibition is dedicated to the nature of the ancient Nile valley, with showcases dealing with flora and fauna of the land, air, and water. Although many of the objects were small, they were particularly appealing. They include a faience hedgehog or porcupine (fig. 4) and an amulet in the form of a grasshopper. The exhibit concluded with some nicely preserved animal remains, including a bundle of snakes similar to that which we have in the Egypt Centre.

Fig. 4: Faience hedgehog or porcupine.

The final exhibition was Between Prague and Cairo: 100 Years of Czech Egyptology, which is housed in the Karolinum building of Charles University. As the title implies, the exhibition tells the story of the first 100 years of Czech Egyptology through a series of photos and a short film. It was in the summer of 1919 that František Lexa (1876–1960) delivered the first Egyptology lectures at Charles University. A large part of the exhibit is dedicated to excavations in Egypt, which commenced in 1959 with the work in the mastaba of Ptahshepses at Abusir. Many of the images shown related to the excavations at Abusir, including some of the wonderful treasures discovered (fig. 5). The exhibition concluded with a 15 minute film on the excavations of the Late Period shaft tombs of Iwfaa and Menekhibnekau.

Fig. 5: Swansea student John Rogers looking at some of the spectacular Czech finds from Abusir.

While the four exhibits are all quite different from each other, they are all wonderfully curated. The first three are accompanied by catalogues while the latter with a small booklet (fig. 6). I would highly recommend anyone visiting Prague before the end of the year to take in these exhibitions. I am most grateful to Filip for inviting me to join his project and I look forward to visiting Prague again next year!

Fig. 6: Exhibition catalogues
--   Sent from my Linux system.

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