Tag Archives: Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology University of Cambridge

Fitting the Pieces Together

Eleanor Wilkinson, Collections Assistant at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology writes:

As the Store Stories project winds up here at the MAA time is now being spent updating the online catalogue with all the new information that has been discovered over the past few weeks and cross referencing this with the images taken and the expedition report.[1] This itself is a long and time-consuming process.

As I have been making my way through the boxes and boxes of material from Matmar in our stores I have been making notes on what kind of information the database needs. This could be anything from adding full descriptions and appropriate terminology to creating completely new database records. What has emerged, from opening boxes, is that not all material from Matmar was classified as such when first being entered into the museum records. In such situations, what has been incredibly helpful is the use of excavation numbers written on or attached to some of the objects. The excavation numbering system used by Guy Brunton at Matmar is very distinctive: the year of excavation followed by the number of either the grave group or tomb, temple, or excavation area.

Spindles marked with a Brunton excavation number, 30/1000. This tells us it was excavated in 1930 from the temple area

It is with this excavation number that the object can then be crossed referenced with the distribution lists and photographs from Brunton’s expedition report. It is then possible to give the object more context. In the case of the wooden spindles above, this meant giving the object information regarding where it was found, the period it is from and a full description, as well as its correct name. Prior to this project they were simply described as pointed wooden sticks from Egypt. In addition, I am able to provide a reference so future researchers are able to follow up with further reading.[2] This does however mean there may be more objects that comprise the Matmar Collection that we have yet to come across.

In some instances, it is remembering images in the expedition report that has enabled me to link accession numbers to the correct object. For example, the copper hook below has no accession number attached nor does it have a Matmar excavation number. Without either of these the hook’s true identity may have been lost. Luckily, through researching the site report and archives as part of this project, I saw the image of the copper hook in the expedition report. This meant the hook could be reunited with the correct excavation number, accession number and be properly located within the museum store becoming part of the Matmar Collection once more.[3]

An unmarked copper hook from Matmar with its illustration from Brunton’s expedition report, the only way it could be identified

By the end of the Store Stories project it is hoped that many of these problems will be resolved and the Matmar Collection will become one of the most well documented collections at the MAA.


[1] British Museum Expedition to Middle Egypt 1929-1931 Matmar, Guy Brunton, (Bernard Quaritch Ltd., London: 1948).

[2] Plate image from ibid., Pl. LII.

[3] Plate image from ibid., Pl. LXIV.

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The Curse of the Cotton Wool

MAA blog week 5 picture 1

Eleanor Wilkinson, Collections Assistant at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology writes:

So, the Store Stories project at the MAA has not been completely plain sailing from week to week. A few hiccups have been thrown up that require addressing or issues that need further research. In my first blog I explained that it appeared many objects, which had been wrapped up in cotton wool for transport to Cambridge in the 1930s, were still in their original packaging. Why, you may ask, is this nice, soft, generally protective material such a problem for museums who want to carefully store objects that are thousands of years old? Well, have you ever tried to peel back the most fibrous material known to man from corroded metal? Or tried to untangle it from finely woven basketry? It’s a nice idea, but it really doesn’t work!

We’re also finding a growing number of objects that have unfortunately succumbed to the age-old conservation technique of ‘glue fragments back together and then place the object and still-wet glue back into the cotton wool packaging’. As you can see from our picture above this can have terrible effects on objects, causing not only the cotton wool to stick to the surface but being stuck between the fragments meaning the break does not fit back correctly, sitting awkwardly together where there should only be a small fracture line.

You can now see how something so benign as soft, fluffy cotton wool can cause such problems in museums. It is why the repacking of the Matmar material into proper conservation boxes and wrapped in acid free tissue paper is crucial for the preservation and conservation of these objects. As you can see below, each object then has its own little compartment, protected by acid free jiffy foam and tissue paper.

MAA blog week 5 picture 2

Once the Store Stories project is complete, all Matmar material excavated by Guy Brunton will no longer have to sit uncomfortably in their woolly boxes, but be better packed and easily accessible.

And don’t get us started on bubble wrap…


Not Just Objects

MAA blog week 4 picture 1

Eleanor Wilkinson, Collections Assistant at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology writes:

The Store Stories project here at the MAA is coming along nicely as more objects are found in our stores. However it isn’t just the physical material from Matmar that we are researching. This project is taking us into the museum archives too.

To learn a bit more about how the material came to the MAA we have been studying the correspondence of the museum over the period of 1929 to 1932. This time frame covers both seasons of Guy Brunton’s excavations at Matmar and the following year. As you can see from our picture above however, there were a lot of letters received during this time!

After trawling through a great many items we started to find letters by our man. In an issue of the magazine Antiquities a message had been sent out to any individuals or museums, who were interested in supporting Brunton, for contributions to his fieldwork in exchange for interesting pieces excavated from Matmar. We can see from documents in the archives that the curator at the time, Louis Colville Gray Clarke, saw great potential in this. Letters between Brunton and Clarke tell us that Clarke provided a subscription, of £20-25, to the excavation for each season and we have original lists, typed and handwritten, of the objects that Brunton had couriered to Cambridge.

MAA blog week 4 picture 2

This type of research helps us understand more about the process of the Matmar excavation than simply studying the objects and site reports. It tells us how the material came to the MAA and on whose suggestion, and who else was interested in acquiring the material that Brunton discovered – ‘The Victoria and Albert are nibbling’. It has provided insight into why the MAA has particular material types – ‘It was Green who told me you wanted beads; I always have a big supply of them’ – and how Brunton himself felt of some of his finds –‘I will do what I can for you in the way of the early stuff – the flints are not very good this year’.


The repacking begins

MAA blog post 2 image 1

Eleanor Wilkinson, Collections Assistant at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology writes:

 The repacking and reorganisation of Guy Brunton’s Matmar material is well under way at the MAA. It has been clear since opening the first box that these objects have not been properly looked at since they came to the museum in the early 1930s. However after only a few days, this collection has thrown up some stunning pieces of workmanship from throughout ancient Egyptian history. Our picture this week gives you an idea of the sort of material we are coming across as part of our Store Stories adventure.

 The objects in this collection show that the site of Matmar was an important place for settlers over thousands of years. Some of the flint implements, which you can see in our picture above, were used by the earliest inhabitants and date from the Badarian Period, roughly 5500 B.C to 3100 B.C.

 We have carefully repacked some stunning pieces of beadwork, jewellery and amulets made from faience, semi-precious stones and gold. The image below shows some of these examples that are from the First Intermediate Period, around 2181 B.C to 2055 B.C.

MAA blog post 2 image 2

By making our way through this collection we are able to add details to the online catalogue providing more information and in depth descriptions of the objects. And because of this further research will be able to be carried out improving our understanding of the outcomes of Brunton’s excavations.