As the first visitors take in World Museum Liverpool’s new Ancient Egypt gallery, Laura Davis explores the city’s long-standing fascination with the Land of the Pharaohs.
It was every bit the up-standing Edwardian tea party, with the brew sipped from bone china cups and the table decorated with a fringed cloth and a vase of rose s.
Despite the heat, the women were tightly buttoned up to the neck and the men wore waistcoats and smoked cigars.
But the setting was far from conventional. No sumptuous drawing room for these intrepid types, but the inside of an Ancient Egyptian tomb. These burial places had many uses. When he wasn’t breaking for tea, University of Liverpool professor John Garstang could be found carefully cataloguing his archaeological finds in the rock-cut tomb he used as his headquarters.
A photograph from the time reveals him boater-hatted, at a wooden trestle table – a selection of artefacts laid out on a cloth, draped over a sarcophagus. Another shows Garstang practising his golf swing in the middle of the desert, proving that a Edwardian gentleman could create a little corner of Merry Old England in the least likely of places.
Some of the items he found are among those on display in World Museum Liverpool’s new Ancient Egypt Gallery; others, given as gifts to his benefactors, have become lost among their other handed down possessions; but many of them are on display in the tiny Liverpool University museum that bears his name.
“Garstang was relatively unique in terms of British archaeologists because he came out of a university background,” explains Dr Steven Snape, the university’s director of Archaeological Collections.
“There were other people carrying out digs in Egypt, such as Flinders Petrie, of the Egypt Exploration Fund, but, because Garstang dug at so many sites and found so much stuff, he was really important in our understanding of the burial customs of ordinary Egyptians.”
While some archaeologists focused on the grand tombs of Pharaohs, filled with treasures, the Liverpool expeditions (from 1900 to World War I) were concerned with the anonymous masses. Garstang would spend several months at a time in the field, uncovering and labelling finds that, while less monetarily valuable than the items in the Royal tombs, were equally as illuminating.
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