This weekend, various museums across England are participating in a ‘Museums at Night’ scheme. This basically does what it says on the tin, museums open in the evenings, some with added drinks and mood lighting. When last year’s Museums at Night event happened I was living in Cambridge, and visited the Archaeology and Athropology museum and the Sedgewick Museum of Earth sciences to review them for Varsity Online (http://www.varsity.co.uk/reviews/2085). I really enjoyed the experience so I this year I decided to visit the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology at University College London.
The museum promised a special ‘Gothic trail’ for the night, and I was looking forward to spooky lighting at the very least and maybe some form of multimedia explaining the theme or pointing out how specific objects related to it. Alas, however the museum failed on the spooky lighting front. It’s concessions towards this gothic theme consisted of a rather bad black and white Egyptian horror movie playing on a screen and an unclear handout that talked a lot about Doctor Who.
However these shortcomings to live up to a Museums at Night event aside, the Petrie museum is well worth a visit anyway for the amazing objects that it houses. The website claims that it houses over 80,000 objects and given how stuffed the shelves were that does not surprise me. (Although decisions to bother displaying items such as a ‘ball of linen’ when they had some rather more interesting items cramped in beside them seemed a tad impractical to me.) There were: toy animals; jewellery (including a huge necklace that must have destroyed the posture of its wearer); intricately engraved wall carvings from tombs; delicate glass ornaments; the Fayum mummy portraits (panels painted with the face of the dead mummy that were attached to the head of the sarcophagus); a skeleton in a large pot and an Egyptian dildo, to name but a few.
There is so much to look at, and details to keep your eyes peeled for, which makes this museum a very engaging place. Look out for the remnants of paint left on some wall engravings, or the distinctly classical influences on some small statues and admire the shoes that make it seem like the ancient Egyptians had cloven hooves instead of feet!
As a museum at night venue, the Petrie failed to live up to my expectations. As a museum of Egyptian archaeology though, cramped layout and bizarre labelling aside, I do highly recommend visiting this relatively unknown gem of a museum.