The Petrie Museum has a range of sound-making artefacts from Roman Egypt. These include bells, reed panpipes, pottery rattles, cymbals, and wooden clappers. The exhibition demonstrates how researchers used laser-scanning technology to create 3D virtual models. These models were then 3D printed in plastic to create replica objects. Some of the models were also used to create craft replicas in materials like ceramic, wood, and bronze. All these replicas form an integral part of this exhibition together with 3D digital models based on the laser scans.

Visitors can see the original Roman instruments displayed alongside the modern replicas, and learn about how they were used in the Roman period. The exhibition reveals how different instruments were used to create particular experiences, for instance the role of instruments within religious and ritual activities, in the Egyptian home, and in processions and performances. Sound-making objects were important not only for entertainment, but also had practical uses in everyday life, for instance as toys, protective amulets, and to make alert or alarm sounds.

Some replicas are also available to be handled and played, with additional sound recordings providing an evocative illustration of the sounds of Roman Egyptian life. The sound recordings have been created using computer software that mimics the acoustic qualities of specific interior and exterior spaces. Information about Roman-period buildings, from archaeological remains in Egypt, is used in the software to allow us to hear the sounds of the instruments as though they were being played within these ancient spaces. Further evidence from ancient sources, such as musical texts from papyri documents, has allowed authentic tunes, rhythms and scales to be replicated.

There will be a series of associated workshops based around replica instruments aimed at both families and the general public. The workshops provide an opportunity to try out the full range of replica objects, hear live demonstrations, and learn how to play some ancient rhythms. A Key Stage 2 schools learning pack with additional materials will be made available to download from the Petrie Museum website.

This exhibition forms part of the AHRC research project “Roman and Late Antique Artefacts from Egypt: Understanding Society and Culture". The project reveals the social and cultural activities and relationships from daily life in Roman Egypt, through the direct study of artefacts from the Petrie Museum’s collection. The artefacts under study are not just musical instruments, but range from weaving tools, to personal jewellery, figurines, shoes, toys, and domestic tools. By assessing details such as materials, wear, repair, and modification on these artefacts, the project seeks to demonstrate the role such objects held – both practically and in terms of sentimental value – in everyday experiences in Roman Egypt. The project also has its own blog where regular research updates are posted: https://blogs.kent.ac.uk/egypt-artefacts/blog/ 

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