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Happy Halloween: Myths and mysteries in the EES archives

The night of October 31 has been celebrated for hundreds of years with roots that can be traced back to ancient Celtic customs; Halloween or "All Hallows Eve" marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of a new year. Spirits returned to mix among the living to celebrate this mix between old and new, light and darkness – death became the protagonist of the day. Every year, around this time, symbols of Halloween are present around us; visions of the undead, skeletons, black cats, spooks and pumpkins are everywhere! 

In this short piece, María Rodríguez Rubín takes a light hearted look into the EES Lucy Gura Archive to explore these familiar symbols and their archaeological counterparts.


Warning: This post contains images of human remains discovered during excavations by the Egypt Exploration Society that may be distressing to some readers.

Happy Halloween everyone!

The symbolism of Halloween can be found everywhere in the Society's Archive; skeletons and mummies abound! Images reminding us of life and death, light and dark can be found lurking in all of our archival cupboards.


Figure 1: Skeletons lay dormant in the Abydos tomb cards.


Figure 2: Provisions for the life beyond in burials at Saqqara.


Figure 3: Desecration and discovery; records from Diospolis Parva.


Figure 4: Body bags at Saqqara’s Sacred Animal Necropolis

Careful! Mummies creep behind every corner of our Offices; their cold hands reaching out. A poem written by Emily Paterson entitled ‘On a Mummy Bead’ reminds us of the Egyptians and their beliefs – an afterlife from Deir el-Bahari, wished for in a blue bead net. Indeed, the Egyptians believed confidently in life after death and the interaction between those residing in ‘the West’ and the land of the living. An early example of the comfort one gets from knowing that loved ones retain a place in our lives even when gone.


Figure 5: The cold hand of Henhenit’s mummy discovered at Deir el-Bahari.


Figure 6: Thoughts of time’s past - ‘On a Mummy Bead’ written by Emily Paterson, published in Biblia in 1901.

Black cats spread fear when daylight disappears and are now the friends of many a mythical witch. Cats roam throughout Doughty Mews and our archive is no exception. Worshiped by the ancient Egyptians, this goddess appears in many a form through our archaeological records – as statuettes for veneration, or mummies for votives – they all share a part in the Egyptian view of sacred and profane.



Figure 7: A prowling ‘cat in the marshes’ by Howard Carter guards our conserved watercolours collection.

Pumpkins are a little more difficult to find in our archive – the ancient Egyptians didn’t seem to care much for jack-o’-lanterns. But using lanterns to communicate with the beyond finds a place in the recesses of our image collections.

Figure 8: An unusual lantern or burner discovered during the Graeco-Roman Branch surveys.

Who can say whether ghosts lurk behind the walls of 3 Doughty Mews, spectral figures haunt some of our early records!


Figure 9: A ghost depicted on an Amarna object card?

Okay, this was all a little fun, but next time you come along to the EES London Office, spare a though for the memories that hide in our archives – and the myths that remains to be solved!

Happy Halloween everyone!

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