Ancient Egyptian antiquities
Associate Professor Colin Hope, 2 March 2016
OK. I know there's people still sort of coming in, but we might make a start. My name's Lindy Allen, for people who don't know me. I'm senior curator for-- in the indigenous collections here at Museum Victoria. And I'm very pleased to see so many people turn out for our first evening lecture in our history of collecting and- sorry. Deb, I've forgotten the title already.
Thanks. You all know what it is because you all come along. I first want to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which the museums sit. The Woiwurrung people and Boonwurrung people of the East Kulin nation. And it's my great pleasure this evening to introduce my colleague and friend Doctor Colin Hope, or Associate Professor Colin Hope, who everyone's come along to hear. I'm sure it will be a very entertaining lecture. Colin can certainly draw a crowd and certainly keep our attention, so I'm really looking forward to tonight's talk.
As a sort of point of introduction, I'll just give you a little bit of background to Colin, but I'm sure he doesn't need much of an introduction to most people here. Just in talking to Colin now, he's been working in the Middle East since-- and in Egypt since 1971, which I think is an extraordinary career to look back on. So I think it's a real great-- a real pleasure to have somebody with that sort of breadth of experience and insight on topics that capture the public imagination continuously, particularly Egypt.
Colin's currently Associate Professor at Monash University, and currently the head of the Centre for Antiquities at Monash Uni. His career has been in teaching, but he was actually a curator at Museum Victoria. We had an inaugural position in 1990 that was established with Monash University, and he was here as curator of Mediterranean antiquities. And that's something that saw a great lot of research, and uncovering the sort of the history of the collections, much of which Colin's drawing upon tonight. He's taught in archaeology and history and language of ancient Egypt at Monesh since 1990, and he's also the co-founder of its archaeological and ancient Mediterranean teaching programme. He's also, as well as being an honorary associate of the Museum Victoria since that period as a curator here, he's also an advisor to the National Gallery of Victoria.
So as I mentioned, Colin's been participating in field work and research over many decades, and in particular since 1978, has been a co-investigator on the Dakhleh Oasis Project, which has been responsible for the study of ceramics from prehistoric to late Roman periods. He's, as I say, got an excellent pedigree in this area. And I won't take up any more of your time and hand over to Colin. Thank you.
Well, I've made it. Well, thank you very much, Lindy, for that introduction. And it's a great pleasure to have been invited here to give this talk, which actually draws very much upon the work that I started in 1990 when I was a curator in the museum, as Lindy has mentioned, but which also goes back to my earliest days of arrival in Australia. I came out here in 1980, when I was privileged to be able to access the collection of Egyptian antiquities that is mostly now housed in the National Gallery of Victoria. So I wanted to thank both institutions, the National Gallery and Museum Victoria, for giving me access to this material.
And in the title of my talk, I deliberately refer to the Victorian state collection. And in discussing it, I'm treating it in that way, rather than institution by institution, because they have the same history. Now, in developing a title for the talk, Accessing the Ancient Past, the Egyptian antiquities collection-- it's inevitable that that's what I would talk about. But I want to focus upon the material culture of Egypt in this talk, and specifically, why do we have the collections in Melbourne? Who were the people connected with it, and how were they used, both when they were being formed and how we can actually use them now?
And in focusing upon this material culture, I'm very much influenced by one of the 20th century's greatest Egyptologists, a Professor Jan Assmann for the University of Heidelberg, who when studying the types of material that are left by ancient cultures, divides it into three major categories. He will talk about the memories of the culture, which ideas about it transmitted over the centuries, and which are subject to constant reinterpretation. And these are, in a sense, open, not only to reinterpretation, but mixing, distortion. And they take on a life of their own. They exist divorced from the data that they're supposed to be based on.
Then, we actually have the messages. And the messages, he says, are the inscriptions. The things written down by people in the past. And some of which have survived for us today. Now these messages, of course, are also problematic. We have to be able to read them in the ancient script. We have to be able to understand what these ancient peoples are saying. And from the point of view of Egypt, it's not just a case of translating the hieroglyphs into English. It's a case of then trying to understand what on earth these people were talking about. And of course, that body of data is subject to editing. It has been produced for particular purposes. And when we come to read it, we look into it, we read into it, we reinterpret it.
So this is my justification for saying, I focus on objects, which in Assmann's terms, are the actual traces of the culture. They're what's been left behind. And that they are, in a sense, unambiguous. We have to try and understand how they're used, but in themselves, they have no distortion. Because they're not written and they can't speak. And so we have this material. Now of course, in saying this, you probably realise I'm essentially an archaeologist, and so I deal with material culture. So of course I would think this is the best sort of data to look at. However, you can believe me or not, or you can develop your own ideas on that.
Now when we come to looking at the study of the material record of ancient Egypt, I have to pay a tribute here immediately to the museum. Because in fact, it's the museum that has housed some of the major exhibitions that have been brought to Australia of Egyptian antiquities collections, and which then place you in the position where you can confront this material record yourself. You can develop your own ideas about it, or you can read catalogues, or you can actually read other works to help you understand this culture. But essentially, the object is there in front of you.
And so of course, we have the Gold of the Pharaohs, an exhibition which alerted those of us dealing with Egypt in Australia to the enormous popularity of this culture. Because at the time when it travelled around Australia, one in every 15 people in Australia saw it. It's an enormous number of people. And then of course, more recently, to Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs. Now of course, there have been many others. And in fact, these exhibitions are, in a sense, the end of a long line of exhibitions that have been held in the museum and in the gallery that enable people in Victoria to examine ancient Egyptian culture.
Now because of the series in which this talk is, I'm not going to talk about Egyptian culture. I'm going to talk about why we have this material in Melbourne, and look a little bit at why the collection was formed and how it was used. And this is part of a new project that hopefully will receive Australian government funding, which is what it deserves. Just in case there's any diplomats here, or whatever. That will come to the museum to enable us to actually explore the history of the collections and how they were actually used. And the antiquities collection will form part of that.
Now you may not realise it, but one of the key figures in the development of the collection in Victoria is this man Redmond Barry, who of course you all know better as the Hanging Judge. Don't need to go into that at the moment. But who was also the first Chancellor of the University of Melbourne, and the first senior trustee of the library. Now he arrived in Melbourne in 1839, and within 15 years, he rose to the level where he really dominated many of the major institutions that we have-- that we know of today.
Now Redmond Barry, here you see him in his imperious manner. Now when he first came-- and I apologise for the fact that this is yellow on blue. I'll read it to you so you won't need to strain to look at the bottom. Now when he came, he delivered a series of lectures that reflected his own interests. He was a lawyer, but he also studied classics in Dublin. And when he arrived here, he was determined to promote both of these two strands of his interest. And he gave a series of lectures here in the 1840s. And I'm just going to quote from a couple, because they give an idea of his ideas about antiquity. And given that this is the man who became the first senior trustee of the library-- and the library was the institution that received all of the antiquities, they officially received them-- and it is the public librarian who acknowledged receipt of these, you can see that he is going to have played a pivotal role.
He wasn't overly impressed with Egypt. He would acknowledge a certain significance of its culture, but in the first one, you can see that-- this first quote here-- that he was a little bit reserved. "But while the travellers of Egypt, both of olden and modern ages, concur in detailing almost interminably, an almost interminable succession of ruins of temples and stately palaces until the mind becomes confused and the reader incredulous, we find no mention of walls or fortifications encircling cities. For the 100 gates of Thebes, so celebrated in poetry, not a vestige remains. And as ruins much anterior in date to that ascribed to them, I found we may doubt the authenticity of the accounts.
Now there's no allusion to, at least until the time of the Emperor Probus in A.D. 270"-- quite where he got that from I can't know-- "no references made to quays." So he's going to list the sort of structures major cultures should have. So they have to have quays, baths, bridges, theatres, hospitals for the sick, all houses of refuge for the aged and the infirm. "Nor do we discover anything to remove the impression that while her kings squandered so much human life and treasure on buildings, the ruins of which are still to be seen, they were inattentive to many of those matters which the polished nations of the present day consider of perhaps paramount importance. And they were indifferent about the comfort and convenience of their subjects."
So the Egyptians, of course, were a highly autocratic group. But if you don't have a bridge, you're not a high culture. Quite-- this link is very strange. However, as to the vestiges of 100 gates of Thebes, well, there you just see one of them. So quite why he said that these ancient accounts were not to be believed. Now of course, he'd never been to Egypt, and many of these monuments were obscured by modern villages. But this, the biggest temple in all of Egypt, the Great Temple of Karnak, could always be seen.
And further, from the same lecture. "It was not until Egypt was governed by Ptolemy Lagus, one of the lieutenants of Alexander the Great, to whose lot the country fell on the division of the Empire, that the polite sciences revisited their cradle." Haha! And I emphasise that, because apparently we're now talking about Egypt, and he's implying they were once there. "The polite sciences revisited their cradle, and found at the court of the Egyptian monarch protection and encouragement. He commenced the formation of a library, which ultimately contained 700,000 volumes, and which to the infinite grief of the learned, was destroyed by fire when Julius Caesar was besieged in Alexandria in 47 B.C. He gave up a portion of his palace to the use of a society of learned men, and established a museum, the first of its kind. The members of which, maintained at public expense, were employed in philosophical researches.
His son, Ptolemy Philadelphus, or brother over." And there's obviously a typo in this lecture there. He seems to have meant brother lover, which is also a misinterpretation of the name. And then he adds, "--as he was ironically called, having put to death two of his brothers-- was notwithstanding a liberal supporter of the institution founded by his father." So notice he is now praising the achievements of Ptolemy Lagus and Ptolemy Philadelphus, of course, of the family to which Cleopatra the Great belonged. Because of what? Foundation of a library, foundation of a museum.
And of course, that is exactly what Redmond Barry would argue for consistently until they were founded. In 1853, plans for the creation of a public library and university were announced. Barry argued energetically for both, and he was elected the Chancellor of the University of Melbourne and senior trustee of the public library. The library was to collect in all areas except modern literature, because he didn't like it. And so he immediately imposed a collection policy, both on the library, and he would do so in terms of the museum. He regarded both institutions as central to the intellectual life of the colony.
And here I quote Paul Fox, who did an enormous amount of work on the establishment of both-- of particularly the library. And this is his summary of what he thought Redmond Barry was aiming at. "The collection it"-- the library-- "houses reflects the concerns, aspirations, and knowledge of mid-19th-century Europe transferred to the edge of the wilderness. In colonial circumstances, which were perceived in 1853 as verging on civil anarchy"-- discovery of gold has prompted this-- "the library, by transferring and housing contemporary European thinking, played an integral role in perceiving and defining the nature of the colony." So a typical mid-19th-century notion there as to what the institution would do.
Now in this, he was assisted by the first public librarian, Augustus Tulk, who you see here. And he commissioned Tulk to travel around Europe actually purchasing books for the library. And as I've said, it was to collect broadly, except for modern literature, in the same way that the museum could collect widely. But he was a little bit worried about certain categories of objects, and initially thought it was safer if the Victorian public were exposed to replicas, and not the real thing. And so the first collections and the first displays were actually of casts. Now, I'm not sure what drives that idea.
And in fact, when the library opened in 1856-- and it had over nearly 4,000 volumes-- included in it were a series of extremely valuable works on ancient Egypt. These are works that can no longer be acquired. One of them is the work by Lepsius, the German scholar who you see here, his Denkmaeler. And this is a record that is absolutely central to the study of ancient Egypt anywhere around the world. And this was actually given to the public library by the King of Prussia. In addition, there were early photographs of Egypt. And the Description de l'Egpyte, which is the official record of Napoleon's mission to Egypt, and the group of academics who were taken who were to record all aspects of life in Egypt, both past and what was then the present. And I'll just show you two images. The frontispiece. But one of the wonderful ones showing Napoleon actually entering into one of the mosques of Cairo on his horseback.
Now the actual plans for the museum go back to 1854. And I'm-- please excuse me if you know this, but I'm just going to give you the outline. And Barry in this was supported by another great stalwart of the museum, Frederick McCoy. They suggested that they should purchase the casts of classical sculpture which had in fact had been on display in the Crystal Palace exhibition in 1851. Now casts were acquired and placed on display.
In 1859, plans were announced to extend the library, and this is where the casts, the medals, coins, and photographs, would be on display. In 1861, what was then called the Sculpture Museum, opened. So you can see different sections are being created. And herein lies one of the problems in the history of the collections-- as to who owned what when. And this was not really resolved, really, until 1968.
Now the first Egyptian antiquities go back to the very beginning of the museum's history. In 1856, Maximillian Wiedenbach offered a collection of antiquities to the museum. Now there was still this notion about real things are dangerous, but it does look as though the museum acquired this mummified human head. Now its origin is a little bit uncertain, but the early records described Wiedenbach as having a mummy's head with gold foil on it. Just so happens there is one in the museum. If this is the piece, then it goes back to 1856.
Shortly after that, other Egyptian antiquities were acquired. In 1880, and while this collection was not acquired by the museum, the Compte de Castelnau offered a collection of antiquities to the museum. It declined. But in 1869, that collection had formed part of an exhibition, and look at the number of people it attracted. 14 and 1/2 thousand people are recorded as going to this exhibition, which included antiquities and other material, in 94 days. Now that's a number that many people would really aim at these days. And this was way back. So it showed right from the beginning of the colony there was this great interest in antiquity.
One of the more bizarre episodes occurred in the exhibition building in 1893. And this was the unwrapping of a mummy. Now invitations were issued. We actually have, still, a copy of one of these. And I do apologise-- I don't have an image of it. There is one in the museum's archival collection. And the other thing I apologise for is I don't know how much you had to pay to get the invitation. I think it was a shilling, or something like that. So it wasn't really available to everybody.
And it was held in the exhibition buildings. And in the buildings, there was a small-- there's a-- a small room was created. And the exhibition buildings, actually the cyclorama, had acquired two mummies and their coffins that are said to have come from the Faiyum in Egypt. And of course, they were the mummies and coffins of princes and princesses. They weren't just your average Egyptian. And they were placed on display.
And for some reason, it was decided to unwrap one of them. Now this was very typical. It was occurring around the world. And it was done here in a grand, theatrical manner. It was hosted by the then-senior trustee. A very famous medic of the time, Dr. Edward Neild, was in attendance. And a historian called Dr. Meadowcroft gave a talk on Egypt. Then Dr. Neild, we're told, sliced into the mummy-- into one of the mummies, there were two-- removed the bandages, and with great aplomb, plucked out a lock of blonde hair. So of course nobody believed this was an Egyptian, because the Egyptians didn't really have blond hair. Somehow she had to be Caucasian.
At the end of this, the senior trustee then invited everybody in the audience to come and look at the mummy. So they all came up and we're told-- at least, the punch recorded it-- that one member of the audience asked the senior trustee, could she have a toe off the mummy? And he said yes, of course, why not take a leg? Yes. And so that didn't go down too well, you can imagine, in the papers the next day. This was the senior trustee being rather flippant about the collection.
Now these mummies and their coffins, well, they are housed in the museum to this day. And they form part of the collection. The mummies are in the museum, the coffins are in the gallery. I've put here an image that I'd just like you to remember. Because the mummies and the coffin would eventually be acquired by the state collection. And from this time, really, about 1899, Egyptian antiquities began to enter the collection more regularly. And largely associated with this man, Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie, the great grandson of Matthew Flinders. And I'll come back to him in a moment.
Now, here are the mummies. And you can see the one on the right is the young woman that was unwrapped. The other one was not unwrapped, but of course has suffered a fair amount of decay. They're not royalty. They're average Egyptians. And we did, actually, some years ago, instigate a project to actually have the remains scientifically analysed so we could get a great deal of information out of them.
The coffins. You can see two of them in the gallery's collection. They date the bodies to the period of about 700 B.C.E. There's one of the outer coffins. One of the inner coffins. And one of the other coffins still awaits reconstruction in the gallery's collection. So unfortunately, the bodies have got separated from their coffins. And personally, I would very much like to see that situation rectified.
Now following this exhibition-- in other words, the cutting open of the mummy-- the mummies were then placed in the mummy room, the Egyptian room in the exhibition building across the road. And there they stayed for quite a while. And they were quite an attraction. And here's an early photograph of them where you can see the coffins with the mummies beside them. And they were set in a display which incorporated other Egyptian eyes and elements.
Now as I've said, the person very much connected with acquiring-- or, Melbourne acquiring-- objects is William Matthew Flinders Petrie. Now of course, here, I don't need to draw your attention to the statue of Matthew Flinders. He's outside-- outside of the city square, down the old city square. You've got Flinders Station here. Well known. But Petrie was descended from him. And Petrie was a great one for drubbing up support of his excavations by writing around everywhere for money. And in exchange, if you donated to his digs, you got objects.
And this is exactly what happened here. And so some of these objects, and in fact they form the core of the state collection, they are extremely important because they come from well-documented archaeological excavations in Egypt. We know exactly which site, which tomb they come from. The records were all provided. And in fact, the Victorian collections contain perhaps the most important in all of Australia of well-documented material.
So most of this ceramic here dates to the period from about 4 and 1/2 thousand down to 3000 B.C.E. There were also these stone pallets for grinding up eye pigments. In addition, reliefs and texts were acquired from another site, Dendera. And these are extremely important. They come from the tombs of the late Egyptians, dating to the end of the pyramid age in Egypt. So the end of the Old Kingdom, roughly about 2100 B.C.
And also from Petrie, and we acquired material from his excavations over a period of about 30 years, comes this spectacular tombstone, or stela, where you have a very high-ranking official venerating the god of resurrection. And this comes from the tomb of a vizier, or prime minister, of Egypt. So we do have some really important inscriptional material. The collection of objects beside him, beside the stela, are the typical funerary statues that are placed in Egyptian graves. And so I'm just showing the diversity of the material that came.
And scarab seals. Now I do apologise, these images on the other side are not quite in focus. They're ones I've taken. But we also acquired small pieces of sculpture. And so there's a good diversity of artefacts that display different materials, industries of Egypt. There. Here you are. So it's a very nice collection.
Now the earliest pieces from Petrie's digs came in 1899. And it just so happened that in Melbourne was a man who would become extremely famous in Egyptology, Norman de Garis Davies. And he was here as a Unitarian minister for several years. And he fostered local interest in the Egyptian-- the work in Egypt, and tried to get people in Melbourne to support the work in Egypt. And in fact, he succeeded. And when the first antiquities came to Melbourne, he wrote to the Argus congratulating Melbourne on acquiring. Now once again, if I can read some of this to you, you will get a sense of why he was interested in this, and the purpose he thought this material would serve.
"So I was delighted to find a few days since that the committee of the Egypt exploration fund," for whom Petrie worked, "in apportioning to the various museums of Britain and America the relics of antiquity which were unearthed in the cemetery at Dendera this year, have generously made a small grant to Melbourne. I heartily congratulate the half-dozen subscribers whose practical sympathy I was able to enlist last year on having secured for their city a collection of antiquities which, as it is the first, will I hope not be the last of a series of objects representing at once the civilisation of Egypt, and the remotest life of man of which we can hope to have any considerable record." Well, the period he's talking about is only 2000 B.C.E., and yet he's claiming this is the earliest period that we could ever hope to be able to understand.
"I trust that the gift of these antiquities to the museum will do something to bind mother and daughter nations in yet another and not least noble of her enterprises-- that of scientific research. America is already our energetic co-worker in the labours of the fund. And I dare say that it is with the hope of awakening interest and enlisting workers-- or probably more important, financial aid-- in Australia that this gift has been sent from the region of the earliest civilisation to that of the latest." So you can see what he's calling civilisation. White settlement. That's what he's referring to.
Now Norman de Garis Davies went on to have a very distinguished career in Egypt, as I've said, copying ancient Egyptian reliefs and sculpture. And many of his drawings are now housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and they figure in all of the early excavation reports. But he succeeded in acquiring one very important item for the Melbourne collections, and that is the Melbourne head of Queen Nefertiti. Now unfortunately, it's the one on the right, not the one on the left. But Davis worked copying the inscriptions at the site of a manor where Nefertiti lived with her husband, the famous King Akhenaten, and they ruled Egypt from this site for 12 years. And when they established the ancient city where they lived, they delineated the area of the city with a series of boundary stelae. And in fact, this head of Nefertiti derives from one of these boundary stelae. And so you see the sort of position I'm referring to.
And it's one of the heads broken from this that we actually have in Melbourne. The heads of Nefertiti are very rare outside of Egypt and Berlin, so it's great to actually have one. And it reflects one of the major interludes in ancient iconoclasm that we know of-- when images of this king and queen were deliberately destroyed in an attempt to remove memory of the changes they made in Egyptian culture. That's a whole other different talk.
Now another Egyptologist who was in Melbourne-- and I sympathise with him greatly-- is a man Alan Roe. Now he's English. Came out to Australia. And he thought he would be able to walk straight into a job. Where? In the museum. Now we know this doesn't actually happen quite so easily. And for many, many years, he laboured in Melbourne. He did a catalogue of the collection, as it was, and we still have the handwritten catalogue. He also did a catalogue of the collection being formed in Adelaide. I think he would have done a catalogue of anything anywhere if they would have given him a job. Neither institutions did. And when he left Australia, he then went to work with American missions in Egypt. And in letters that he wrote afterwards, he tended to ignore his Australian sojourn.
However, you see him on the left, very tall man. And Alan Roe managed to acquire for the collection one of the most important pieces that we have-- the mummy and coffin of Tjeby the Elder, from Sheikh Farag, that came from the German excavatio-- the American excavations. He also acquired for the museum this very fine stela from Naga ed-Deir which dates to the period of about 2100. And it contains a standard inscription where this local governor is requesting offerings to be made. Unfortunately, historically it is of no value in the sense that there's no information. And it's typical of the sorts of tomb stelae the Egyptians erected.
Now Tjeby I'm going to come back to at the very end of my talk, but he was on display in Melbourne for many, many decades, and was the focus of the first exhibition I was ever involved in with the museum in 1984. So we're giving our age away here now. 1984, when there was an exhibition, Tjeby, Long May He Live, which was aimed at raising funds for the conservation of the coffin and the mummy. And as I've said, I'll come back to that later.
Now the last major acquisitions in the collection occurred in 1939 and 1940. And I mean of large groups of objects. Since then, smaller numbers of objects have been acquired. But in 1939, through the Felton bequest, a series of very important objects was acquired for the collections. And the objects were selected by Alan Roe, who I've just been talking about.
And some of these were actually, very strangely enough, bought from the Cairo Museum. And at that stage, there was an issue that if you had duplicates, well, you could sell them off to make money for the collections. And so there was a shop at the back of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, and you could go and buy things. Now very nice, but of course some of the things that were sold, and were thought to be duplicates, I can tell you were not duplicates. That we managed to have acquired objects that are actually better than some of their type that remain in Cairo. So quite who decided on this was a story I'm not quite sure we'll ever come to the bottom of, but I know from various directors of the Egyptian Museum who've come here they're rather surprised, let's say, at what was here.
So we acquired some really quite fine stelae. The one on the left refers to a very rare cult centre of the goddess Mut at [? Megbet ?]. The larger one refers to the cult of the god Sokar, god of resurrection, from Saqqara. The finest piece, and this is one that's unrivalled anywhere in the world, is of a figure of the composite god of the dead, Ptah Sokar Osiris. Belonged to a man called Jed Horne who ruled in the period that Redmond Barry-- who lived in the period that Redmond Barry admired. In other words, the period after Alexander the Great conquered Egypt. And he's quite well-known as a priest, and we have a variety of monuments for him. But this is the finest of these figures. You see the god is shown in mummy form. Gold to represent his divine status. The hair is blue to indicate his connection with fertility, and the base is covered with silver, a very rare metal for Egypt. And then there is a prayer to the god on the back.
Also series of other funerary objects, all of this late period in Egyptian history. The chest for the containment of internal organs removed during the mummification. A sculptor's model, possibly of one of the successors of Alexander the Great. It's probably a Ptolemaic king. And this object. That's my hand. So it's that big. And it's a rare early bulletin. It's issued by King Amenhotep the Third of the 18th dynasty, the father of Akhenaten, grandfather of Tutankhamun, and he was a great one at recording his deeds. And he publicised these by issuing a series of scarabs carved in steatite with his achievements. And this one records the fact that in the first 10 years of his reign, he killed 102 lions. And we have multiple copies of these. He also claimed how many bulls he'd killed. He claimed how big a pleasure lake was he made for his wife. Et cetera. And they really are like bulletins being distributed around the country to promote the king's achievement.
And then in 1940, the series of seven portraits were acquired again through the Felton bequest. And these objects, much debated in the history of Egyptian art because of their apparent classical tendencies, are produced really within a perfect Egyptian milieu, because they set into mummies. Now when these objects were arriving-- 1939, 1940-- I was much interested to find out that the museum was considering establishing a department of antiquities. Clearly didn't happen. And also, they had in 1938 a keeper of antiquities. And we have a letter from that keeper-- well it's not-- it's a report-- in 1938 written to the chief librarian, who was still in charge of this collection, talking about the progress which had been made.
"Excellent progress has been made bringing into being the new department of antiquities foreshadowed in the last report. The old records room, which in itself was extremely sepulchral in effect, was made available. It has been turned into a mummy room, officially designated the Chamber of Life, a title in accordance with Egyptian belief. The mummy of Tjeby and the limestone sarcophagus, so long in the entrance hall, was shifted there along with two mummies and a number of coffins acquired by purchase from the exhibition building." So there are the pieces I was talking to you about earlier.
"The old cloth from the original rotunda, which was painted to the order of Sir George Verdon in 1861, in the British Museum, and is an exact copy of part of the only papyrus of the book of the dead, the judgement scene, was obtained from the storeroom and found to be in excellent condition. This and some of the aquarium canvases cover the walls." Now, the aquarium canvases-- this is the part of the exhibition building where those mummies that were unwrapped were originally on display.
"The ceiling decoration in Egyptian motifs is in the capable hands of Mr. Murray Gryphon and his commercial art class at Melbourne Technical College. This room will be officially opened early in the coming year, and is expected to be a leading attraction in the institution for the young folk." I remember when attempting to instal an Egyptian collection here during my tenure, it was decidedly impressed upon me that it should be aimed at the young folk. Older people wouldn't be interested in this.
"The extremely valuable collection of Egyptian and Chaldean relics has been brought out of obscurity and form an attractive display, much appreciated by the visitors. This collection, pieces in which came into the institution over 70 years ago," so when it was founded, "now has the publicity it merits. It has been learnt that Sir Sidney Cockerell has made some important purchases in Egypt on behalf of the Felton bequest, and their arrival is eagerly awaited." Those objects are the ones bought in Egypt in 1939. So you could see then there was this expectation of the development of a whole department of antiquities, and presumably increasing the size of the collection. Now of course, this did not happen.
So these mummies, and the last objects to come in that I was referring to, those mummy portraits, this shows you the setting in which they occurred. Rather interestingly, in the archives of the museum, I came across reference to the fact that other portraits like this-- and these are extremely valuable objects-- were once on loan to the institution, were offered for sale to the institution and they were not purchased. So somewhere around Melbourne, there might be more of these wonderful objects. That would be nice if we could get our hands on.
Now other items to come into the collection laterally are the so-called [INAUDIBLE] coffin, which is currently on display in the Potter Gallery at Melbourne in their Mummy Mania exhibition. And there's a very fine piece, again dating to about 700 B.C. It was the one item from a collection that was offered to the museum that was purchased, a collection formed by a postman in northern South Australia. And it contained a wide variety of objects. We have a list of them. Where they've gone, we don't know. But fortunately, the coffin was bought.
And then these two items entered. The one on the left was the last major purchase by the gallery, and a very fine head covering of the Roman period in Egypt. And another one which is in the museum's collection. So items still come along. And I thought there was no better way to finish than to go back to what we started in 1984. So we will enter a little bit of the history of the museum. And that is Tjeby.
Now this is the oldest mummy and coffin that is anywhere in Australia. It comes from a nicely contexted tomb. And in fact, this man was a local official. Not a very high-ranking official. And he was buried in a tomb with another man, also called Tjeby, who was probably his son. That Tjeby is now in Virginia in America. So they're separated by quite a distance. The coffin gives us the standard prayer to the gods of resurrection, and tells us that Tjeby acquired the title of count. Now he actually acquired this after he died, so it was an honorary title given to him. The coffin is standard. The eyes enable the mummy within the coffin to see out for eternity, and they actually represent the eyes of the great creator god. They are the sun and the moon. And in the coffin, Tjeby's head originally was turned so his eyes aligned with these.
On the left, as he was, and on the right, as he became in 19-- or it was when we started work on him in 1984. Now of course the damage, possibly in shipping the mummy to Melbourne from Egypt. It's quite a long journey. But also from many, many decades, lots of young folk coming to see him and running around-- or, let's say, walking around-- or even us old folk walking around, produced vibrations which actually shook Tjeby to pieces. So he has now been conserved and restored.
But one of the most intriguing things we were able to do was of course to study his remains. Now you can decide whether you think this is what we should really be doing. I'm not going to go down that avenue. But what we've looked at was examining the body. The body-- he was not mummified. He couldn't afford that. That was an expensive technique. There was no immediate evidence that enabled us to determine why he died. He was in his early 30s. That was standard for ancient Egyptians-- you didn't live much beyond 40.
Looking at the skull, we could then attempt to reconstruct the facial appearances. And you see two attempts to reconstruct, one by a professional model maker who works with the police to do this in forensic cases, and the other one by a former conservator in the museum, Margaret Perkins. And the technique of building up the flesh, so that you can get an idea how much it was-- is shown in the image at the top. And of course, we can't be sure we really know what Tjeby looked like. But in examining his skull, we know that as with all ancient Egyptians, he suffered very much from carries. His teeth are worn down. And this is probably because of all the sand that got into the bread they ate.
And so in looking at Tjeby, we can, in a sense, access other aspects of the ancient past. You can look at the individual's life expectancy, disease, health. And this may be him. There was an attempt to make it look as though he had suffered for many years with toothache. I'm not sure we really succeeded. But it gives us an idea of another way of confronting the ancient past, and that's through this work on human remains. And with that, I thank you for your attention.
OK. We have time for questions now. We've got a roving mark on that side, and one up the back [INAUDIBLE].
What difficult question, Melanie?
Thank you, Colin, for such an interesting talk. I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit about how the decisions were made as to what came to Museum Victoria and what went to the Gallery and when was that-- when did that happen?
OK. It's not-- it's not always clear. I think, that in the correspondence that I've looked at, there seems to have been an ongoing issue, maybe that goes back to the beginning of the century. What you have to remember is that when the objects arrived here, they were received formally by the public librarian. They entered the collection. Now we have within that museum, we've got a picture gallery, a sculpture gallery, that were the origins of the National Gallery of Victoria. And then you have the other branches, which are what became Museum Victoria.
And for a long time, of course, the collections were all in the same building, so it didn't really matter. It was only then when the divisions the new, when the gallery is moving down to St. Kilda Road, but that it became important as to who owned what. And as you probably know, there was a decision made at that time that where certain items were at that time is where they would remain. But there is still an issue as to in the development of the collection, who was really displaying what? Who was curating it, who was looking after it? The archival material is separated between the Gallery and the Museum.
But I think the big issue is that at one stage, it was thought to be the state collection. And so I'm trying to sidestep any difficult question here, because in a sense, if it's thought in that-- thought of in that way, it should be possible for the two institutions to work together. I would say, quite straightforwardly, I would like to see the mummies that are in the museum in their coffins, or with their coffins. So I don't actually mind where they are. But I think they should be housed together. They are-- and I would suggest it is more appropriate if they were in the museum. And I'm not saying any more.
Thank you. Colin, what's your thoughts on the-- the push to have a lot of things returned to countries of origin, like the Australian indigenous things being returned and, you know, if experts come in out from Egypt and admire some of these things that were maybe acquired in unknown circumstances, how do you feel about if there was a push to have them returned?
You want a qualified answer, or do you want my personal opinion? I think they should stay in Australia. That's my answer to the question. Why? Most of them have been acquired under reasonably well-documented circumstances. That's the first thing. There's no evidence for anything being smuggled out or illegally brought out. The policies in Egypt have changed dramatically. And we can't then look at a policy that might prevail now and say, well, OK. 50 years ago, the government, the Egyptian government, allowed us to take this out. Now we're saying you can't have it. I find that it becomes problematic.
But also, the Egyptian government-- while I say that gilded figure is better than anything they have, they also probably have about 400 others of extremely good quality. So there is a huge collection there, and the Egyptians have major problems-- sorry, major problems conserving what they've got. And I would happily say to anybody, until they can look after what they've got, there's no point in sending anything else back. And they can't. So if anybody wants to argue with me about that, they're quite-- I'm quite happy for them to do so, but that's my own opinion at the present moment. If circumstances change, then it might be different.
But still, I think these collections promote interest in ancient Egypt around the world. And from an Egyptian perspective, an economic perspective, they encourage people to go to Egypt. And that's one of the major sources of revenue that the Egyptian government need. I know this is being recorded, but I hope you'll edit some of these answers out.
Colin, you highlighted that there were some pieces not bought. Is there some sort of register of other collections not state-oriented, shall we say?
In Melbourne? In Aus-- oh, there are lots. Yes, I've seen-- I regularly get asked to go and look at small private collections. And to authenticate them. Or, which I won't do, offer advice on how much it might-- the item might bring if they were to be auctioned. But there are, yes. One of the most famous belongs to Phillip Adams. Molly Meldrum has a few real things, and lots of very tacky, non-real things. But there are-- there are such collections, yes.
And in fact, one of the-- another collection in Melbourne, which I haven't mentioned, is at Queens College. And it's the collection of Dr. Sugden, who was very active member of the classical association of Victoria, and actually established an Egyptology branch. And so for a while there was an Egyptology society that Dr. Sugden promoted. And he was one of the people to give money to Petrie that enabled us to acquire that material in 1899.
And I'm sure there are pieces around. You know, lots of people, particularly connected with people who were stationed in Egypt during the wars, bringing back souvenirs. And in fact, one item I didn't mention which will come to the Museum, and should have been there, is a mummified head. It's on display in the Potter Gallery, the Potter Museum at the present moment. And it has set for about the last 15 years in a tin box on top of one of my shelves in my office. And it was brought to me by the police because they didn't know what to do with it. They found it in a house of an elderly gentleman who had died. They were clearing out the cupboards and there was this metal trunk with a head and a hand. So of course the police are called in. In their great wisdom they realised it was not modern. And they didn't know what to do with it. It was offered to the museum, who said no, no, no. Send it to Colin Hope at Monash. So Colin Hope at Monash said yes, yes, yes, and it's been in it's metal trunk. Now the metal trunk, actually, is the original trunk it was shipped out from in Egypt. And it was shipped out 100 years ago. And we even know the ship on which it was shipped. Unfortunately I don't know the name of the gentleman in whose possession it ended up. So there are intriguing things like this.
And when the museum-- I don't know, I shouldn't say when-- in the course of the museum really assessing what's in its collections, I really want to know where the mummified crocodile has gone. We supposed to have one. How do you lose a crocodile?
Hello Colin. Welcome back. My question follows on from the earlier question. In terms of institutionalised collections, you've mentioned the National Gallery, state library, and the Museum Victoria. Of course there are other institutionalised collections. Can you just outline some of--
No, in Victoria in particular.
In Victoria-- I don't know of any others. With Egyptian antiquities. In Victoria. Oh, Ancient [INAUDIBLE]. Sorry, yes. That's now part of La Trobe University, connected with La Trobe. So there is a collection there, yes. It's a mixture of casts and original pieces that are also connected with Flinders Petrie, because the bulk of them were acquired by the Australian Institute of Archaeology from Hilda Petrie, Petrie's wife.
There are other significant collections in Australia. The largest one is at the-- is the Nicholson Museum, University of Sydney, which is as old as the collections we have here. There's an important collection in Adelaide. And then smaller collections in Perth and in Brisbane. But I have information on those ones, but I've never really had time to go into the history of their collection. But I do know that an interesting thing in part of the Perth collection is the exchange of objects from Australia to England, where Australian indigenous material was sent to Liverpool, and in exchange, material excavated in Egypt by Liverpool University went over to Perth. So some of those exchanges are part of, of course, what we want to look at in this larger project of the formation of the collections.
Hi Colin. I was just wondering in regards to the unwrapping of mummies that occurred in the museum-- and obviously we have random heads that have appeared in private collections-- is there-- and we know that in England it was quite prevalent that they would have soirees and evenings, the upper class, where they would unwrap a mummy at the end of the night. Is there any sort of record of that happening here in Australia?
Well that is the example. There's only one that I know of, and that is this unwrapping that occurred in the exhibition building in 1893. It's the only time I know of one of those. And it-- it obviously was one of these. You have to pay to get into it. It was hosted by the senior trustee, and we're told that he was really a bit of a showman. And so quite a show was put on. But I don't know. I'd be interested to know whether there's records of any others around Australia, but this is the only one I know of. And if you want information on it, then I can give you more. And it's also reported in the official book that was produced to celebrate the exhibition buildings by David Dunstan. And in there, you'll actually find a three-page summary of what went on, but we actually have more details.
Oh, yeah. Hi.
The-- there's a big move around the world, I read, of digitising and making collections available. Is that happening to the state collection here?
My colleagues are the ones to answer that, but I think, in short, the answer to that is yes. Unless-- so I think, anymore-- if you want more detailed information, you should talk to Lindy. She would know. Or other members of staff who are here. But it is being digitised and made available, yes. It has been for a long time.
We have a programme of getting collections online, and this is a question that we-- I don't think there's any-- there are some pieces up now that we're now-- treasures book and featured on our treasures of the museum project in-- that was the 150th anniversary for the establishment of the museum. But over time, it will-- it's about having good images, and researching that documentation to put good information up. So it's coming.
Yeah. I think the [INAUDIBLE] coffin would be one of the pieces that's there, because it was in that exhibition. It may well be.
Yeah, I think that's right. Yeah. This is nodding your head, yeah. We had a question at the back? We've probably got time for one more question if there's a burning question somewhere.
Preferably not politically motivated.
OK. Well on that note, I want to thank Colin for a really stimulating and interesting talk, which I knew it would be, and thank everybody for coming along at our first venture for an evening lecture. The next in our series of the history, culture, and collections seminar series-- I got it right this time, I'm looking at my boss-- is also an evening lecture in April. And Caz'll be sending out the details very soon, or keep an eye on our website as well.
And on the [INAUDIBLE] e-bulletin, if you're signed up to that.
Yes. So thank you all for coming, and thank you very much to Colin.