On Tuesday 17th April 2012, the Archaeology and Ethics class visited The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, University College London. The Archaeology and Ethics course explores the ethical, legal, and practical dimensions of modern archaeology.
Our focus for this trip was to ethically consider the design of the museum galleries, engage with the concept of museum collections (how they are generated and subsequently presented to the public, for example), consider what kind of archaeological knowledge they are presenting and ethically evaluate the implications of these kinds of representations of the past.
The Petrie Museum is an extraordinary collection that houses an estimated 80,000 objects of Egyptian and Sudanese archaeology. It is named after William Matthew Flinders Petrie (1853-1942), appointed in 1892 as first UCL Edwards Professor of Egyptian Archaeology and Philology. The collection illustrates life in the Nile Valley from prehistory through the time of the pharaohs, the Ptolemaic, Roman and Coptic periods to the Islamic period. Its collection includes one of the earliest pieces of linen from Egypt (about 5000 BC); two lions from the temple of Min at Koptos, from the earliest known examples of monumental sculpture (about 3000 BC); a fragment from the first kinglist or calendar (about 2900 BC) and the earliest ‘cylinder seal’ in Egypt (about 3500 BC).
Our engagement with the collection is greatly enhanced by a presentation of the collection by the Head of Visitor Services, Tracey Golding, accompanied this time by Pia Edqvist who has just joined the Petrie in the newly created part-time role of Museum Assistant. Tracey Golding comments:
‘A large part of my working day is devoted to welcoming visitors (of all ages), assisting researchers (retrieving objects and archival material) and providing information about the 8,000 objects on display and the 72,000 (approx.) stored away in cupboards. Occasionally, I get to the opportunity to show these hidden gems to visiting groups of students. I am pleased to say that this experience has been become, over the years, a frequent event for international students studying Archaeology and Ethics at Notre Dame. During each visit, I guide the group around the museum collection and discuss some of the ethical issues of display, such human remains, repatriation and ownership.’
For an informative podcast audio introduction to the museum by Tracey Golding:
The Archaeology and Ethics class includes fieldtrips to Stonehenge, Bath, The British Museum, The Ashmolean Museum (Oxford), Pitt Rivers Museum (Oxford) etc. Through these trips, we are able to contextualise the thoughts, themes and ideas we cover and discuss throughout the duration of the course.
Photo: The Archaeology and Ethics class, spring 2012, Petrie Museum. With Tracey Golding (Head of Visitor Services) and Pia Edqvist (Museum Assistant) at the head of the table.
Image © Fay Stevens