The legacy of the early twentieth century

Hi everyone,

This past week I have been examining collections at UCL’s Petrie Museum. This museum, tucked away on the UCL campus holds over 18,000 artefacts collected from numerous excavations across Egypt and Sudan. All of these artefacts are from late nineteenth and early twentieth century excavations and were excavated by the likes of Flinders Petrie and Caton-Thompson. The museum itself is something straight out of the early twentieth century itself, containing an overwhelming number of artefacts from all of Egypt’s history (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Part of the prehistoric collections in the Petrie Museum.

Figure 1: Part of the prehistoric collections in the Petrie Museum.

These collections are important, particularly when studying the ceramics of the Fayum. What we find in the field now is mostly sherds, with little traditionally diagnostic features to interpret them by (e.g. rims, bases, decoration). So in order to interpret them, the examples of vessels we have need to be studied. These were all collected by Caton-Thompson and Gardner during their fieldwork in the 1920’s in the Fayum, and are currently held in museum collections around the world.

As of last Monday I have examined what I set out to from the Petrie museum and now I am in what I like to call bonus time, having two full Saturdays left at the museum. I am currently researching some other ceramic material housed in the museum which I can examine.

Not all of my research is based on ceramics, and some is reviewing archival material from the original excavations of the Fayum, Merimda, and Nabta Playa. This meant I needed to visit the Special Collections at UCL, as they hold material donated by Caton-Thompson. This collection reads like a whos-who of early twentieth century archaeology. There is correspondence between Caton-Thompson and Childe, Braidwood, and Leaky, amongst others. Among these letters is also the radiocarbon results from Libby sent to Caton-Thompson regarding material from the Fayum, some of the first archaeological material ever to be radio-carbon dated.

The archives also house numerous photographs from Caton-Thompson’s fieldwork, many of which have been published, but a number have not (Figure 2). What I am mainly looking for is notebooks, maps, and any other material from the fieldwork in the Fayum from the 1920’s. There are fantastic records from the Kharga Oasis fieldwork, which leads me to hope that something similar may exist for the Fayum. I have since been informed of a collection of archival material at the Griffith Institute at Oxford, which I will hopefully have a chance to review before I leave.

Figure 2: The box which the negatives and prints of the original photos from the Fayum are housed in.

Figure 2: The box which the negatives and prints of the original photos from the Fayum are housed in.

For the rest of my time in the UK I will mainly be based at the British Museum, examining their material from the Fayum and one of my comparative studies, E-75-8 at Nabta Playa.

– Josh

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