Sheffield's Weston Park Museum takes fresh look at Ancient Egypt

A new gallery at Weston Park Museum in Sheffield is dedicated to ancient Egypt, with more than 300 objects going on display.

Thursday, 13th February 2020, 12:00 pm

The permanent gallery opening on Saturday, February 15 replaces the Arctic World display, which was looking a bit tired after 14 years, said curator of archaeology Martha Jasko-Lawrence.

The museum’s much-loved polar bear Snowy, who even has her own Twitter social media account and a range of souvenirs in the gift shop, has now moved to a new display in the What On Earth natural history gallery.

“We wanted to refresh this gallery with something new,” said Martha.

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Martha Jasko-Lawrence installing the coffins and mummy of Nesitanebetasheru at Weston Park Museum
Martha Jasko-Lawrence installing the coffins and mummy of Nesitanebetasheru at Weston Park Museum

“This subject was one of our most popular schools workshops. People are always interested in ancient Egypt.

“We had a collection of ancient Egypt objects as soon as we opened the museum in 1875.”

She said that the entire collection, which totals more than 1,000 objects, came from 12 donors, which shows how popular Egyptology has always been.

Martha added: “We’ve tried to bring that through in the display by having labels talking about the contributors.

Martha Jasko-Lawrence hpolding a Canopic jar lid dating to 1950-1069BC

They include John Garstang, who worked with one of the most famous British Egyptologists, the archaeologist Sir Flinders Petrie, in 1899.

Five years later John Garstang founded the Liverpool Institute of Archaeology and a museum in the city is named after him.

Another prominent collector whose objects are on display is William Bragge, who was Master Cutler in 1870.

Sheffield vicar the Rev Greville Chester, who sold lots of artefacts to the British Museum and the Ashmolean in Oxford, had been advised to go to Egypt for his health.

A faience glazed seal in the form of a scarab beetle, 664-30 BC © Museums Sheffield

He got interested in the country's ancient history while there and became a prominent 19th-century Egyptologist and collector.

Two mummies and other objects on display will be familiar to visitors to the museum’s Treasures gallery, which has also closed.

However, Martha said that setting up the new gallery has allowed many items that have been in storage for a long time to go on display.

Painted coffin face of Nesitanebetasheru, 720-664 BC © Museums Sheffield

The previous display was more about mummification and the after-life. We’re trying to show life and the after-life to make it more rounded.

“We’re trying to talk about the lives of the people in the sarcophagus – their dress, jewellery, make-up and life at home, as well as religion, mummification and burial.”

One of the mummies on display in her coffins is Nesitanebetasheru, who died as a middle-aged woman.

Visitors can now walk all the way around her highly-decorated outer coffin and see that even the foot of it was ornately adorned.

Martha said that it is better for the preservation of the mummy for the coffin to be displayed horizontally, rather than upright as before.

The gallery will include some fun, interactive elements such as a chance to build your own pyramid and to spell out your name in hieroglyphics.

An image on a coffin lid of a mummy being carried to the afterlife on the back of a sacred Apis bull, 664-332 BC

Some items come from other collections such as a stuffed ibis from the natural science collection.

The large wading bird with its long, curved beak was sacred to the ancient Egyptians and was associated with Thoth, who was the god of writing and wisdom.

Just one group of tombs in the Nile Valley where new discoveries have just been revealed was found to contain thousands of mummified ibis.

There is a lot of anticipation about the new gallery, said Martha. “People have definitely been very excited about it and asking when it’s going to open. I think it’s a really popular subject with a lot of people.”

A hollow cast bronze statue of a cat, 664-332 BC © Museums Sheffield
Dice with engraved circles for numbers, 30 BC-395 AD, bone © Museums Sheffield