Sunday, September 15, 2019

Egypt Centre Collection Blog: "So intense but so cool" - a journey across campus with an Amarna vessel

Monday, 9 September 2019

"So intense but so cool" - a journey across campus with an Amarna vessel

The blog post for this week is written by Molly Osborne, an Egypt Centre volunteer and third year student of Egyptology and Classical Civilisation. 

From the 27th August until the 21st September, six students, including myself, are doing a third year practicum module at the Egypt Centre. On Wednesday 4th September, Ken Griffin asked for one of us to help with something, without giving any indication as to what this would entail. I offered to help and it turned out that this involved moving a decorated Amarna storage jar from the old storage room to the new one (fig. 1).

Fig. 1: The moving team (L to R) of Jiayun Zhu, Sam Powell, Ken Griffin, Molly Osborne

When we arrived at the old storage facility, I saw W193 for the first time. It is a large storage jar with beautiful decoration on it of lotus plants and fruit. The neck of the jar is decorated with big, blue lotus petals, and separates the neck and the body with a red band. The body of the jar is separated into three sections; the first and second sections have the same pattern of overlying blue lotus petals, which are separated by red bands. The third is decorated with white lotus flowers (fig. 2). This type of decoration is typical of vessels dating to the late Eighteenth Dynasty, which are often referred to as "blue painted ware" or "palace ware" (Rose 2007).

Fig. 2: Decoration of W193

On the side of the vessel is what appears to be a manufacturer's mark, in the shape of an upside down bow (fig. 3). I plan look at this further in the hope of finding parallels—perhaps some readers who have worked on Amarna pottery are familiar with it?

Fig. 3: Manufacturer's mark on the side of W193

It is evident looking at the jar that the cracks were fixed with a putty-like substance, with the object file for W193 stating that the jar arrived in Swansea in twenty fragments. It was subsequently pieced back together again by the Chemistry Department at Swansea University. The vessel was accompanied by a Wellcome label giving the number as 153449. This has allowed us to trace the flimsy slip in the Wellcome archives (fig. 4), which shows that it was part of the distribution of finds from the Egypt Exploration Society, most likely from their 1930–1931 excavation season at Amarna (Frankfort & Pendlebury 1933). In fact, the Egypt Centre has large quantities of Amarna pottery, some on display and even more in storage!

Fig. 4: Flimsy slip from the Wellcome archives for W193

The jar was originally on display in the old Wellcome Museum between the 1970s–1990s. At some point it seems to have been exposed to direct sunlight, which resulted in the paint flaking off one side of the vessel (fig. 5). A chemical agent that had been applied to the surface of the jar during the conservation process in the 1970s may have accelerated this process. W193 will eventually be treated by the conservation department at Cardiff University, whom the Egypt Centre works very closely with.

Fig. 5: W193 showing the flaking to the surface on the right side

The process of transporting W193 to the new storage facility was done very carefully. The object was placed on a trolley, which was very intense to watch. I certainly wouldn't have wanted to move it myself because the jar is so fragile! The trolley was slowly moved by Ken, Jiayun Zhu (a Museum Studies placement student from Leicester University), Sam Powell (Egyptology Masters student at Swansea University), and myself. We had to remove all lanyards and jewellery before moving the object and we had to wear gloves so that we could hold the top of the jar firmly (fig. 6). We also wrapped the trolley and the top of the neck of the jar with bubble wrap to protect it from the wind. Thankfully, the journey from the old store to the new one was only a distance of about 100 metres!

Fig. 6: Transporting W193

On the following day the other practicum students assisted in transporting more objects and I think they would agree that doing this was so intense but also so cool. After writing this, I realised describing this experience sounds mundane and normal, but to me it meant a lot. This was the first object I had transferred and I hope in the future to have more opportunities like this. The practicum module at the Egypt Centre has provided me with real experiences that I wouldn't usually get through other modules. I would like to thank Ken and the Egypt Centre for this opportunity as it is certainly something I'll never forget (fig. 7)!

Fig. 7: Me with the pot following transportation

Frankfort, H. and J. D. S. Pendlebury (1933) The city of Akhenaten. Part II: The north suburb and the desert altars. The excavations at Tell el Amarna during the seasons 1926–1932. MEES 40. London: Egypt Exploration Society.
Rose, P. J. (2007) The Eighteenth Dynasty pottery corpus from Amarna. Egypt Exploration Society, Excavation Memoir 83. London: Egypt Exploration Society.
--   Sent from my Linux system.

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