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16.07.2015

Excavating Egypt review: Akhenaten and Nefertiti's Amarna, a lecture by Louise Atherton

by Susan Biddle

Louise Atherton gave an excellent talk illustrating the value of the EES's archives, using the example of the excavations of Amarna.  Her talk complemented the "Excavating Egypt" exhibition, by also looking at the 1930s excavation team: a cast of wonderful characters including the dig director and later war hero, John Pendlebury, the architect, film director and pith-helmet-wearing Hilary Waddington, and Mary Chubb, assistant secretary of the EES and subsequent author of "Nefertiti lived here" describing her experience of dig life. (For more on Hilary Waddington and John Pendlebury, see the EES YouTube channel.)

Louise linked her talk to objects in the exhibition: one of Pendlebury's highlight finds was a bust of Nefertiti - she explained how the original was retained by the Cairo Museum so Pendlebury had a cast made to be exhibited by the EES back in London in 1934.  In the exhibition, we could see the replica bust itself, together with the object card describing it, and a photograph of Pendlebury placing the replica in the annual exhibition.  Object cards "come alive" when you can see them with the objects, and know the story of those objects including their discovery and subsequent display.

 

 

The north dig house at Amarna in 1934

 

The 1930s team lived in the Northern dig house, built up from the mud brick remains of a house 3000 years old – luxury compared with the accommodation on many other sites.  The exhibition includes a booklet entitled "Tents and Tombs" describing this and some of the other types of accommodation at other sites.

The importance of the archive was revealed by the 1924 "lost season".  After the dig director Newton died on 25 December, Whittemore stepped in and closed the dig, leaving the area excavated but the finds unpublished.  However the EES archive includes object cards, negatives, and architectural plans etc, and together these make it possible to understand even these unpublished areas of the site.  Some of the objects can be traced from the distribution notes on the object cards but the whereabouts of other finds (such as the skeletal remains) is unknown.

 

The new pop-up Endangered Heritage website by Fahema Begum

 

The benefits of the archive were illustrated again more recently, following thefts from the Cairo Museum during the 2011 uprising.  Four of the stolen objects were recorded in the EES archive, and so their existence, appearance and history remain known – because of the archive, even if an object itself is missing, most of what that object can tell us is not.  In conjunction with the exhibition, the EES is displaying cards about each of these items in another display named Endangered Heritage, put together by the member-funded 2015 Lucy Gura Archive intern Fahema Begum.

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