When you enter a museum and you’re greeted by a smiling, happy member of staff or volunteer who straight away tries to find out if there is anything that they think might make your visit extra special, you know you are on to a good visit. It’s so simple yet rarely actually achieved, so I’ve only ever has this happen at a number of places go that extra mile, the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology is one.
You enter the space with a big grin on your face, which only grows when you see the countless number of treasures on display. Ok, so countless is an exaggeration, they definitely have kept count, with 80,000 objects the Petrie Museum is one of the largest Egyptian archaeology museums outside of Egypt. Approximately 10% of that total is on display in the small museum space meaning that there is loads to see. Formed from the bequest of Amelia Edwards modest collection, which was enhanced and strengthened by items from Flinders Petrie (if you don’t know your archaeology legends, he’s one of the greats). The rooms are subsequently filled with, to quote Howard Cater, ‘wonderful things’.
I liked that the cases were organised in different manners, the first room divided by object type and location. A larger room of pottery organised by age and sequencing. The shelves are burdened with items, all with little brief labels, while introductory panels summarise each group. It’s simple and effective. It’s old-fashioned, but that’s half of the charm of this place. If you’re keen and need more detailed information the entire collection is online.
The cases are charmingly old-fashioned. There is nothing minimal about the displays, instead row upon row of examples of items are crammed in to give a true range and scope of the collection. Essentially what you are looking at is a visible storage space.
Something else that stood out was the detail that is given when explaining the conservation of objects. Even as someone who has been lucky enough to work alongside conservators, I love to hear about how they actually do things, as a visitor I really appreciate this sort of information and I find it makes you look closely at conserved objects while you work out where any stabilising has been done.
The cases also contain artistic interventions, creations made by people who has been inspired by the collection on display. I particularly liked a pottery person who sat admit Egyptian pottery, legs dangling off a shelf.
I had a lot of favourites, from brightly coloured shabtis, to the beautifully detailed mummy portraits, the gold mummy masks glinting from shelves and the cases of delicately strung beads. It’s an ancient Egyptian treasure trove where the more you look the more you see. In fact there is so much crammed into such a small space that it’s an immersive and overwhelming experience. It’s fair to say I was in Egyptian archaeology heaven.