Assistant Keeper, Ancient Egypt & Sudan, Ashmolean Museum.
When did you first become interested in Ancient Egypt?
I became fascinated with the civilization of ancient Egypt at an early age. I remember when I was nine or ten working on a school project about the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb, and I was completely enthralled. The new galleries of Ancient Egypt and Nubia opened last year at the Ashmolean.
How did you become involved with the project?
I had been a graduate student in Oxford for some time, researching objects in the Ashmolean, so I was relatively familiar with some parts of the museum’s collection. I did a brief stint as a curator at the British Museum, then I joined the team at the Ashmolean in 2010.
Isn’t being able to root through the stores one of the great privileges of being a curator?
Yes, it’s fascinating to explore the museum’s reserve collections and discover objects that can help bring new stories to life. Many pieces in the new displays have not been seen by the public for several decades.
Do you have any highlights from the new objects on display?
My personal highlight would have to be a pair of sandstone statues of King Akhenaten, whose religious ‘revolution’ around 1350 BC had a massive impact on Egyptian society, and his Queen, the famous Nefertiti. In the division of finds following their excavation in 1893, Nefertiti went to the British Museum while Akhenaten came to the Ashmolean. By borrowing the British Museum statue, we’ve been able to reunite the pair and so tell the story about their original context, excavation and subsequent division between museums.
How do the new galleries convey the original vibrancy of Egyptian art and culture?
It’s a popular misconception that objects in museums appear as they did in antiquity; ancient Egyptian monuments were actually rather garish and brightly painted. We have used the palette of colours favoured by the Egyptians to provide some sense of the original setting. For example, the gallery entitled ‘Life After Death in Ancient Egypt’ is painted a rich green, the colour of rebirth and regeneration. The Egyptians wanted to recreate an idealized version of Egypt in which to live for the eternity of the afterlife, so the colour of the gallery helps to tell this story.
What is your best memory from working in the field?
I remember excavating in the ‘C-Group’ cemetery at Hierakonpolis in the south of Egypt. We were brushing away at the buried skeletons and I came across an individual’s hand bones, including a finger wearing a ring. I think that’s when it really hit home that these were real people, with the same hopes, wishes and desires as people today. Ancient Egyptian culture was incredibly rich and it’s tremendously exciting to bring this to life for our students and visitors at the Ashmolean.