Petrie Museum to lose Manager in UCL staffing restructure

Petrie Museum to lose Manager in UCL staffing restructure
You may not even have heard of the Petrie Museum (UCL Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology). It's named after William Matthew Flinders Petrie. He's considered the 'father of modern Egyptology'. He accurately surveyed the Pyramids (he started out on Stonehenge at age 19). He excavated countless sites and taught other archaeologists including T.E Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) and developed a system to date pottery which we still use today. He was an oddball. He had some strange ideas, some of which are not considered appropriate today. But he was a pioneer whose approach to excavation was grounded in scientific method, and a horror at the damage being done to sites by treasure hunters and 'explorers'.
Unlike the man himself, who dominated dig sites, the Petrie Museum is small. It's pokey. You have to climb steps to find it. You won't see gold or massive statues ranged in drafty halls there. What you will see if you visit are dozens of old fashioned wooden cabinets jam packed with thousands of objects that can be accessed by researchers, students, academics and on the regular workshop and teaching days, the public.
Sooner or later, most Egyptology students and academics end up visiting this collection, myself included. It's truly a treasure house of knowledge.
One of the things that concerns me most about the proposal is the apparent complete lack of understanding by the 'powers that be' of the importance of the collection and its history. The Pertrie Museum has approximately eighty thousand objects.
80,000 objects.
"Approximately ten percent of the Petrie Museum collection is displayed in the museum. The rest of the collection is held in storage around the gallery, and is not securely accessible during normal opening hours. Anyone – from UCL students and staff, to external researchers, to general public – is welcome to contact the Museum for research access to examine an object from display or in the stored collections." [1]
This includes the oldest known woven clothing in the world, the Tarkhan dress (
Many of the objects are small: faience, pottery shards, amulets. But their size is deceptive, for it is these small objects, the broken fragments and minutiae of life in ancient Egypt that can tell us most about this intriguing culture. This is something Petrie understood when he carefully gathered up objects that treasure hunters had discarded as 'worthless'.
Egyptology today faces many threats. Vandalism, looting, encroachment of habitation and agriculture. Climate change. Budget cutbacks.
What the future holds for the museum if the proposals go ahead is uncertain. The response of UCL to academic stakeholders has been less than encouraging.
The Petrie Museum is worth fighting for.
You can read the proposals on this webpage which have been linked with permission from UCL for distribution.
Originally published by Jean-Baptiste Gouyon ( on Twitter:
Images: Aakheperure, Petrie Museum 2016


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