Egypt's Dispersed Heritage: views from Egypt

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Institute of Archaeology


The ARHC-funded Artefacts of Excavation project revealed the expansive legacy of British fieldwork in Egypt and its distribution of archaeological finds to around 350 museums, in 27 countries, across 5 continents. No other area of world archaeology has a material legacy on this scale and 'ancient Egypt' remains one of the most popular types of museum exhibit worldwide. Yet that colonial history of dispersal is little known in Egypt itself and Egyptians have largely been disenfranchised from it. In Western museums, Egypt is rarely a specific modern country. If it is, it is generally seen as a place from where objects are taken, rather than a place populated with living communities also engaged and interested in these finds. Little attention has been given to the impact of these colonial legacies on modern Egyptian communities and how they feel about this history today. The removal and export of ancient Egyptian objects from Egypt by foreign archaeological missions, and the continued disenfranchisement of local communities from the production of the country's ancient history, has led to negative perceptions of archaeology and museums hosting Egyptian collections. There is, however, a demonstrable interest and demand in Egypt for better information about how artefacts excavated by foreign countries were exported and where they are now. This impact project is to ensure that Egyptians benefit from our UK-based findings on the dispersal of their heritage, to foster and increase capacity for international dialogue and knowledge exchange about these collections and histories, and to transform and empower Egyptian narratives around them. At the same time we wish to transform awareness in the UK of modern Egyptian interest in its heritage.

Our programme of dissemination, cultural events, artistic responses and museum exhibitions - co-developed with community partners - will increase understanding in Egypt about the conditions of export and what happened to artefacts once they had left the country. To achieve this we will translate and make accessible our key findings into Egyptian Arabic and tailor it for specific audiences. These audiences include the Ministry of Antiquities and Ministry of Tourism officials, museum curators, university staff and students, as well as school children, families, the general public and lower economic status communities. Moreover, these activities will provide a more participatory platform for Egyptians themselves to articulate their own thoughts and responses to this history. This will include a professional museum manual published by the International Council of Museums (ICOM) Egypt, press briefings for journalists and specially commissioned education packs for Egyptian schools (through Egyptian charity EducateMe). It will encompass social media activity, through Q&A live sessions, blogs and online comic narratives. Partnerships with Egyptian cultural NGOs, including El Sawy Culture Wheel, Mahatat for Contemporary Art and Tawasol, will allow us co-develop innovative creative responses to reach and enfranchise those audiences that might not traditionally visit museums. These cultural events, in turn, will help to inspire independent Egyptian artists who we will commission to produce small artistic works that can accompany a mobile temporary exhibition that will be designed for easy installation and transport in Egypt and the UK. The latter will challenge assumptions regarding modern Egypt by partnering these Egyptian artists with UK Museums (the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, National Museums Scotland and Liverpool World Museum), which will provide them with the opportunity to travel to the UK to exhibit and share their works.

Planned Impact

We have identified 3 areas through which engagement would be achieved:

(1) Communities of Practice: professional heritage practitioners, such as curators, antiquities inspectors, and tour guides for whom we would offer guidance on accessing information about Egyptian antiquities now in foreign countries and possibilities for linking that to contemporary heritage discourses in Egypt;
(2) Communities of Interest: journalists and visual artists through which information can be interpreted and disseminated for targeted audiences;
(3) Communities of Place: NGOs and museums located within particular cultural hubs that are well-placed to engage a range of established local audiences.

We have co-developed a programme with our partners to share information, develop people-centred engagements and transform dialogues around Egyptian antiquities in foreign museums. Beneficiaries will be:

- Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities: Knowledge exchange workshops and provision of published information in Arabic will provide a context and guide to identifying material that left legally, facilitating the formation of clearer policies and practices.
- Egyptian university staff & students: Knowledge exchange workshops and published information in Arabic will inform new curriculum design to allow for the development of local knowledge economies and increase capacity to engage confidently with Egyptian heritage in a global context, enhancing opportunities for staff and students.
- Egyptian museum professionals: Knowledge exchange workshops, published information in Arabic and opportunities to participate in creative exhibitions will facilitate engagement with collections abroad, helping to make connections between material in Egypt and material in foreign institutions.
- Egyptian tourism sector: Workshops will provide opportunities to make international connections more easily, broadening and developing tour guide narratives around sites and artefacts.
- Egyptian primary & preparatory state education learners & teachers: Learning outputs can inspire young learners to see themselves as part of a global community beyond the limited resources of their surroundings. Training through EducateMe Professional development programme will help teachers develop alternative classes transforming how history is taught within Egyptian state school
- Egyptian heritage reporters & activists: Baseline information and knowledge exchange through our workshops will build journalist capacity.
- Emerging Egyptian street performers & visual artists: Site visits and activities will complement current efforts to embed Egyptian heritage within contemporary art. Responses will promote the unique performative and street art genre within Egypt at an international level allowing artists to gain from having their work showcased through our UK/Egypt partners
- Socially & economically marginalised groups in Cairo: Through Tawasol a marginalised youth can be encouraged to seek employment or training in tourism, heritage, performing art sectors. Female handicraft artists can benefit economically by having new inspiration and opportunity to develop their products
- Egyptian general public: Exhibitions, events and accessible information in Arabic on collections abroad, in a diverse range of media, will facilitate public expression in their preferred modes of expression (online / street events).
- UK museum sector & general public: By introducing Egyptian voices and Egyptian artistic installations we will challenge assumptions around relationship between ancient and modern Egypt, offering opportunities for UK museums to partner with Egyptians. Two UK workshops will form a means of sharing our experience with academics/museum professionals.
- Project partners: Opportunity to work with an international research institution (new for Egyptian partners) and form partnerships around archaeological research
- Project team: learn new ways of making research relevant


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Abd El-Gawad H (2021) Egypt's dispersed heritage: Multi-directional storytelling through comic art in Journal of Social Archaeology

Title Comic series 
Description The project commissioned cartoonist Mohammed Nasser [@Nasser_Junior] (based in Alexandria, Egypt) to respond to the findings of the 'Artefacts of Excavation' project in a series of comics for social media in order to engage Egyptian audiences in some of the issued raised. Three have been released to date. The first on 7 February 2020, the second on 14 February 2020 and the third on 28 February 2020. 
Type Of Art Artwork 
Year Produced 2020 
Impact AwaitinThe three releases garnered some 128,977 impressions, 20,486 engagements (interactions with tweets) and 1,833 likes. The comments indicated that the initiative had impact in sparking discussion of issues as we had hope, in being a model of engagement and as something to emulate, and in bringing more Egyptian voices into interaction with UK museum collections. One of the comics featured a mummy looked after by the Horniman Museum in London, an institution that has on the basis of seeing the artistic product expressed interest in developing a temporary exhibition to bring these voices, themes and ideas into the same space as their Egyptian collection. We are currently looking at making a formal exhibition proposal. 
Description Initial conversations with communities in Egypt have revealed that many examples of Egyptian heritage prevalent in museum collections in the UK are more familiar to the UK museum-visiting public (especially school children) than they are to Egyptians themselves. When we shared images of Scottish museum collections (linked to our partnership with the National Museum of Scotland) with Egyptian communities most artefacts were not recognised. This will inform future planned events linking school groups in the Egypt with school groups visiting the National Museum of Scotland, a well as the educational packs we are designing for EducateMe in Egypt. Equally, our initial discussions with education teams in UK museums suggest there are many opportunities to expand the provision of learning materials provided by museums on ancient Egypt to include more modern Egyptian perspectives.

We have found that the general public in the UK are interested in learning about modern Egypt in the context of learning about ancient Egypt which challenges assumptions made in recent designs of UK galleries.

Our use of locally-meaningful forms of engagement in Egypt, despite being at an early stage, is already demonstrating the value of the approach. The use of comics has initiated discussions about colonial histories of archaeology in Egypt with a non-specialist audience in Egypt, particularly young professionals in Egypt. The use of forums like WhatsApp and Twitter are proving far more engaging than communications via email or other dissemination means, eliciting free-flowing discussions and organic dialogue.
Exploitation Route - New approaches in designing educational resources and activities for school children in the UK and Egypt on museum collections of ancient Egypt
- New approaches to narrating museum displays and incorporating more aspect of Egyptian heritage and modern Egyptian voices
- New models of public communication surrounding the collecting histories of Egyptian antiquities
Sectors Education,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description Please note that the start of this project was significantly delayed by two factors: the PI's maternity leave (until July 2019) and the appointed research assistant's passport being held by the UK Home Office (Brexit related visa issue) until the end of December 2019 (bearing in mind the majority of the project is to engage Egyptians in Egypt). As such the main delivery of all impact was only directly begun in January 2020 when the RA was finally able to travel to Egypt. However, what this delayed deployment has meant is that the foundations for the project are exceptionally well advanced with all partners secured, events in the diary (most occurring after March 12 2020) and extensive resources created. Moreover, we have been approached by new museum partners in the UK interested in participating: the Horniman Museum and Manchester Museum, who we are able to include easily within the remit of the project. Dialogue is evolving with these new partners with plans for influencing exhibition proposals and events long after the end of the award. We expect to be able to report on the majority of project events and outcomes in the next researchfish submission in 2021. Our RA's first month in Cairo has been very productive with several artists commissioned in the production of resources such as educational packs for schools, visual resources for public engagement activities and museum displays. We have held one formal event at the the National Museum of Scotland (reported in other sections). This was recorded and will be the basis of a podcast to be made available in the coming weeks. The publicity and social media discussion has led to interest in the project, most recently with an invitation to record a podcast with Dr Sushma Jansari of the British Museum for her acclaimed 'Wonder House' series (recording set for later in March).
First Year Of Impact 2020
Sector Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

Description Public Panel Debate National Museum Scotland 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Free public panel debate at the National Museum of Scotland chaired by journalist Samira Ahmed entitled 'Egypt Past and Present in Dialogue' on Saturday 22nd February. Panel members included: Dr Margaret Maitland (Senior Curator), Dr Alice Stevenson (Project lead), and Heba Abd el-Gawad (Project research assistant). Each panelist present short 10-minute think pieces based on the project, followed by a group discussion led by Samira Ahmed, and opening up floor to general public to ask questions. The panel was professional recorded by the NMS for an official podcast which will be posted to the NMS soundcloud for longer term impact and engagement (

The event was 'sold out' with 210 tickets secured. All ticketholders were sent the agenda on Tue 18 Feb. This included a request that ticketholders advise if they are unable to attend, so that their place could be allocated to someone else. Following that, 34 tickets were returned and 15 tickets were issued to new enquirers / walk ups on the day. In total, 120 attended on the day.

For the general public, the written evaluation responses were overwhelmingly positive with comments confirming that the panel was 'thought-provoking', 'Very interesting and informative'; 'Insightful', 'challenging'; 'Enjoyable, stimulating', and 'gives a whole different look on it'.

For the National Museum of Scotland the event has provided a model of engagement for the institution. Two curatorial team members that attended the event commented that the event was a valuable indication of the interest in the public realm of the histories behind the collection and that the NMS could hold more challenging event that engage with contemporary issues that tackle head-on the sorts of scrutiny museums are under in the decolonising rhetoric currently visible across media and popular culture. Dr Margaret Maitland who participated in the panel noted that 'I think the event will have a real legacy in how the Museum considers its responsibilities towards communities outside Scotland in the future' and has suggested further dates for impact activity in the coming months based on the success of this event.

Social Media report from the NMS: The Facebook event created on the National Museums Scotland page had a reach of 6.2k, with 195 responses and this led to 22 ticket clicks. Although it is likely that other clicks on the link in the main event description have not been counted in this round-up. From the main National Museums Scotland accounts, there were three tweets sent, gaining 13,486 impressions and 144 engagements. There was two Facebook post sent, gaining a reach of 14,311 reach and 119 engagements.There were 1169 page views of the Event page on the NMS website, with the average time on page being much longer for those linked through with the shortlink and a high percentage of traffic for this coming from the Marketing email. This would indicate this is a more engaged group and the targeted promotion has worked well.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
Description Training workshop for Scottish Museum sector 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Workshop organised in partnership with the National Museums Scotland 'Ancient Egypt and East Asia National Programme' held at the National Museum of Scotland, Friday 21 February 2020. Free training attended by curators and collections staff of the following organisations: University of Aberdeen, McManus Museum Dundee, East Ayrshire Leisure, Perth Museum & Art Gallery, The Hunterian University of Glasgow, Glasgow Museums, Dumfries Museum. The full day's programme included presentations on how to use the project data produced by the 'Artefacts of Excavation' project (what 'Egypt's Dispersed Heritage' is a follow-on for) and discussion of modern Egyptian attitudes to their heritage. Ahead of the workshop the museums had sent examples of objects in the collection for the RA to show in Egypt to generate discussion and these views were shared back with the museums.
Written evaluation forms at the end confirmed that the impact of the engagement for many museum professionals:
- one attendant noted 'the greatest benefit has been deriving a sense of the current discursive and ethical framework in 21st century Egyptology',
- another welcomed the opportunity to see the other side of prominent personalities linked to their collection like Amelia Edwards.
- Other impacts include comments that they will 'make use of the [Artefacts of Excavation] website to match up further sites with their collection and be able to add more background and history of collection to their documentation of the collection.
- Another museum practitioner who attended said that after the workshop they would 'suggest the use of social media posts in Arabic relating to our collections in order to reach out to indigenous Egyptian living in the UK'
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020