The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology in London is one of the world’s leading collections of Egyptian and Sudanese material but it has a modest entrance, easy to miss down a small London street.
Containing over 80,000 objects, it has a tiny square footage, with objects literally lining the stairs to the fire exit.
I had never seen a museum so tightly packed with objects, as everything is in open storage. The sheer amount of pottery, jewellery and everyday objects on display is mind-blowing and take visitors on a trip through every period of Egyptian history. There is also one of the earliest pieces of linen from Egypt housed there, as well as some really unique costume items, such as a fascinating beadnet dress for a dancer.
Labelling is sporadic, with many possessing what looks like original, typewritten labels. In some ways this gives a really unique sense of seeing the objects as they could have been displayed during the time period when Petrie and his contemporaries were discovering them. Yet, it does mean there’s very little context or analysis to share.
However, the huge collection is laid out in a logical manner, which in itself is quite a feat. The objects are catalogued online so they can be explored that way for more detail.
There are some clear and informative panels on Petrie himself and some other up-to-date conversations on complex subjects, such as the emotive topic of whether we should have real human remains on display.
To see so much history for free is a real honour. I only came upon it while visiting my sister who is studying at UCL and it is well worth taking the time to seek out.
A quick jaunt around UCL’s buildings revealed other unusual exhibitions. An exhibit on ‘What Does It Mean To Be Human’, centring around the preserved heads of Jeremy Bentham and Flinders Petrie, two scholars heavily associated with the university, was unexpected but incredibly interesting. It looked at how we react to death and the human body, and how human remains can be used to inspire critical discourse and reflection.
All in all, a very impressive exploration of an unusual topic.