Roman and Late Antique Artefacts from Egypt: Understanding Society and Culture

Lead Research Organisation: University of Kent
Department Name: Sch of European Culture and Languages

Abstract

The research project will be the first in-depth study of the society and culture of Roman and Late Antique Egypt that uses everyday artefacts as its principal source of evidence. In this way it will transform our understanding of social experience and social relations in Roman and Late Antique Egypt.

UK museums hold significant collections of artefacts from Roman and Late Antique Egypt (c. 30 B.C. to A.D. 700) as a result of archaeological excavations carried out in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Yet because scholarly interest has focused on the Egypt of the Pharaohs, and on evidence about Egypt from ancient texts, most of these objects have never been studied. This situation is likely to continue, since most UK museums and universities do not have any specialists with relevant expertise.

We will focus on the collection of UCL's Petrie Museum, one of the largest and best-documented in the UK, designated by the UK govt. in 1998 as of 'outstanding importance'. The collection contains more than 8000 objects dating to the periods under study, most of which have not been the subject of any research. Moreover, the collection includes many objects that rarely survive elsewhere, and so is very important in terms of our overall understanding of Roman artefacts across the empire.

By examining the features of artefacts, the materials they were made from, evidence of modification that shows how they were used in daily life, and associated texts that provide further information, we will investigate aspects of social behaviour and experience and shed new light on daily life in Roman and Late Antique Egypt. We are particularly interested in investigating how experiences may have differed among people with varying status in society (children, adults, people of different social class), which can be investigated by examining objects that can be associated with these particular groups. By examining aspects such as wear and repair, we will also investigate the personal and sentimental meanings that may have been attached to objects. The categories of objects that we will study will comprise ordinary everyday artefacts such as dress accessories, shoes, toys, simple musical instruments such as bells, clappers and rattles, and other domestic items.

The potential of the material to transform understanding is amply demonstrated through pilot studies of selected artefact categories from Roman and Late Antique Egypt (baskets, dice, reed pens, and feeding bottles) already undertaken by the investigators and researcher on the project. These studies show that the research value of Roman material culture from Egypt is immense, and that similar approaches to a much wider data-set of everyday artefacts are likely to yield extremely significant results.

The research will bring together specialists in the interpretation of ancient Egyptian texts, and archaeological artefacts, drawing on new methodologies and interpretative approaches including the experimental recreation of objects using new technologies. It will result in a co-authored book that will be a significant departure from extant previous studies of the social history of Roman and Late Antique Egypt in its focus on artefact evidence. Further outputs will include a journal article on the 3D scanning and recreation of objects, online teaching and research resources for schools and universities, a workshop for museums and academics, and a museum display at the Petrie Museum open to the general public.

The museum display will present our research on the simple musical instruments in particular, displaying the originals from the Petrie collection, prototypes & replicas made via 3D scanning/printing technology (which may be handled and played by visitors), the sounds that can be made using the replica artefacts, and our interpretation of how the artefacts would have been used to create particular experiences, for instance in religious and ritual activities.

Planned Impact

In addition to academic beneficiares (see separate section) the following groups will benefit from the research project: Petrie Museum, other UK museums, UK schools and the wider general public, university students.

Petrie Museum
The project will contribute to the Petrie Museum's documentation of objects through the new research on the collections. Additional information will be added to the museum's current online database of artefacts. Most of the objects in the database have not been the subject of any research, and the current information generally comprises only basic identifications. In some instances one record covers 50+ individual objects. The research project will transform our knowledge of many objects, and thus the quality and quantity of information available on the online database.

The project will also facilitate a new display on artefacts from Roman Egypt which will take place at the museum and address the remit of the museum to present its material to the wider public and encourage public engagement with research. Associated web materials will enhance the Petrie Museum web site. A number of replica objects will also be donated to the Petrie Museum for future use in educational and outreach activities. The museum will therefore benefit from considerable enhancement of its records, from the opportunity to showcase materials from Roman Egypt in its collections in an innovative museum display and from additional project-generated impact activities and materials.

UK Schools and General Public
Since Dynastic Egypt is dominant in public perceptions of the region, the general public has very little knowledge or understanding of Roman and Late Antique Egypt. The museum display and associated online materials that are part of the project will foster greater understanding and knowledge of the period and region, for instance illuminating similarities and differences with the wider Roman world, and enhancing understanding of the complex cultural interactions of the period. The museum display will also provide information that will educate visitors on the history of musical instruments and the diverse contexts in which music was used in the ancient world. Schools will additionally be provided with a Learning Resource Pack with material related to coverage of the Roman period and of Egyptian civilization at Key Stage 2. The project will thus directly bring benefits to schools teaching the national curriculum by providing appropriate teaching materials.

University Students
Students across the UK will benefit from resource materials available via the Petrie Museum's Digital Egypt pages, aimed at students in higher education, which can be used in their studies. The enhanced information on the Petrie Museum online database of artefacts will be also useful to undergraduate students researching their dissertations, and to research students as a resource for M.A. and PhD. level research, who will have access to more accurate and complete information than previously available.

Other UK Museums
UK museums with collections pertaining to Roman Egypt will benefit from the increased documentation of comparable material in the Petrie Museum online database, and from a workshop presenting project results and the innovative methodologies used for the study of Roman/Late Antique Egypt. The workshop and associated exhibition private view will encourage future museum displays on artefacts from Roman/Late Antique Egypt at other UK museums by setting out new approaches, making clear the value of UK Roman/Late Antique Egypt artefact collections, and transforming research information available on artefacts from the period and region.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Title replica musical instruments 
Description Using 3D scans of ancient artefacts in the Petrie Museum collection, technicians at the University of Kent have created a number of musical instrument replicas as part of the project research and impact activities. 
Type Of Art Artefact (including digital) 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact The impacts are yet to be realised and will take place at a later date during the project, although we have posted a couple of blog posts about the replicas. 
 
Description Our research on the artefacts and associated archives in the Petrie collection has been able to significantly improve fundamental research information about where many objects were found, what period they date to, and in some cases, where they were made. As well as identifying the sites where objects were found, we have also been able to re-associate objects with particular excavated tombs in about 50 instances. We have been able to show that some objects found in Egypt came from north-western Europe, Iran, and Sri Lanka. As regards dating, we have been able to show that a large proportion of the objects studied are Late Antique in date, rather than Roman as previously identified, an important correction to previous dating. This kind of information is very scarce for material from Egypt in UK collections and thus makes an important contribution to new knowledge. It will considerably enhance future research on artefacts from Egypt which has been very limited, in part because of widespread problems with the dating and provenance of artefacts.
Exploitation Route The new research information we have provided will be essential to future scholars researching the Roman and Late Antique objects in the Petrie collection, enabling better understanding of, for example, contact between different regions, long-distance trade, people travelling in antiquity, and social changes through time.

At our project workshop, museum curators confirmed they will use ideas or content from the project in museum education, and academics that they will use ideas or content from the project in university education. Museums have also expressed interest in using our data to create further replica artefacts for use in museum education.
Sectors Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL http://blogs.kent.ac.uk/egypt-artefacts/
 
Description We are beginning to have an impact on both public perceptions and knowledge, and on the museum sector with regard to the use of ideas and knowledge from the project in future museum education.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

 
Title datasets 
Description Each researcher on the project (PI, Co-I and RA) has been recording information gathered in museum study visits using a custom-made database in Excel or Access. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact The databases will facilitate ongoing research. 
 
Description 'Sounds of Roman Egypt' exhibition 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Sounds of Roman Egypt exhibition at the UCL Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology 22 January - 22 April 2019

c.150 people attended the private view on 21 January

Data collection is ongoing re. visitor numbers and further impact
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Archaeology Day Kent 20 Oct 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Talk by Ellen Swift for day of public engagement activities 'Archaeology Day' at the University of Kent, 20 October 2018
Title 'Recreating the Sounds of Roman Egypt through experimental Archaeology'

The talk is also available as a podcast (internal) via the University of Kent website
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Donation of replica artefact to Ure Museum Reading 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Following networking with the education officer at Ure Museum, University of Reading, where an exhibition on ancient music was taking place, a replica object created during the project (set of panpipes) was donated to the Ure museum for use in their own public engagement activities.
I await updates from the Ure museum on use of the artefact in their public engagement programme.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Folkestone and Hythe Express newspaper article 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Article in Folkestone and Hythe Express local newspaper on the 3D scanning of ancient artefacts undertaken for the AHRC project, April 4 2018
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description KM Extra newspaper article 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Article in KM Extra local newspaper on the 3D scanning of ancient artefacts undertaken for the AHRC project
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Museums Association Website Entry 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact The project exhibition at the UCL Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology 'Sounds of Roman Egypt' was featured in the 'New Practice' section of the Museums Association Website.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.museumsassociation.org/museum-practice/new-practice/07022019-Petrie-Egypt-musical-instru...
 
Description Petrie Friends Handling session 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Supporters
Results and Impact Artefact handling session run by Ellen Swift for Petrie Museum Friends Group, including original musical instruments from the Petrie Museum collection and artefact replicas made during the AHRC project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Petrie Museum General Public Workshops 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A series of 5 two- hour workshops for the general public relating to the AHRC project exhibition 'Sounds of Roman Egypt' at the UCL Petrie Museum. The workshops took place between Jan and April 2019 while the exhibition was on.
Project team members provided information about musical instruments in Roman Egypt, showed visitors the full range of object replicas made as part of the project, and with musician Alan Bryant, demonstrated the instruments for visitors, and taught visitors how to play the instruments including the use of authentic ancient rhythms.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Public Engagement Vindolanda Roman Fort 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Public Engagement day of Experimental archaeology activities for the general public, part of a 2-day workshop on experimental archaeology. Project participants Ellen Swift and Jo Stoner ran a stall on musical instruments with replicas for the public to play with and further information provided.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://trac.org.uk/tracamp-2018/
 
Description Schools Short Story Competition 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Short Story competition for Schools. Entrants are invited to write a short story inspired by one of the artefacts featured on the AHRC project's blog. The deadline is 5 April and resulting impact will be assessed in due course.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://blogs.kent.ac.uk/clas/2019/01/17/schools-competition-2019/
 
Description Specialist workshop for museums and academics 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Specialist workshop 'Society and Culture in Roman and Late Antique Egypt: artefact research and museum education', attended by 6 museum curators, 8 university academics, and 1 independent scholar plus the 3 AHRC project team members. The workshop presented some results from the project research, promoted the Petrie Museum's online database of artefacts (including c. 700 updates to text on catalogue made by the project team), and brought together university and museum professionals to discuss how they could work together more effectively in the future on both research projects and museum education.
15 questionnaires were completed following the workshop:
14 participants confirmed that they were more likely to use the Petrie Museum online database after the workshop
4 participants had not previously used the Petrie Museum online database but would do so in future
13 participants confirmed they would use ideas or content from the workshop or wider AHRC project in future research
9 participants confirmed they would use ideas or content from the workshop or wider AHRC project in future teaching
5 participants confirmed they would use ideas or content from the workshop or wider AHRC project in future museum education
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description University of Kent Blog 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A blog was set up in September 2017 to provide monthly updates on project activities. Data on audience views are being collected and each month is usually around the 200 mark, with a greater number in the first month of the blog, around 750 maximum
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018,2019
URL http://blogs.kent.ac.uk/egypt-artefacts/