Ancient Beings is arranged into four themes: Gods, Plant, Humans and Animals, and aims to demonstrate the wealth of insight and knowledge into Ancient Egyptian culture provided by these thirty-two objects. Displaying a variety of materials and techniques that span over 3,000 years, each theme explores the contemporary contexts, iconography and materiality of the objects within. The connections between these represented forms of life, both living and mythic, reflects the integration of the cosmic and spiritual with the quotidian characteristic to this culture.
Understandings of the visual and material culture of these objects has in particular been drawn out by the loan collaborations with the Barber Institute of Arts, University of Birmingham, and most recently, with Johns Hopkins University.
Rebecca Tessier, Curator, Ancient Beings.
Johns Hopkins University (JHU) is deeply grateful to Eton College for participating with us in a collaborative loan effort which brought the extraordinary Ancient Egyptian artworks now on display once again at Eton to Baltimore in 2012. During the four years that these objects were at the Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum, faculty, museum staff, graduate students and undergraduate students had the unique opportunity to study and learn from these objects in detail. Thanks to the Museum facility opened in 2010, JHU launched a curricular approach to our objects – including Eton’s magnificent loans – that combines art historical, cultural-historical, and imaging and scientific analyses for our courses.
Three classes, “Made for the Gods: Votive Egyptian Objects in the Archaeological Museum” (taught in 2012) and “Examining Archaeological Objects” (taught in 2014 and 2016), focused specifically on the study of Egyptian objects from Eton, to appreciate their artistic and cultural aspects and to pursue new technical and scientific evidence about these well-known objects. Students carried out analyses on materials, pigments, construction methods, and erosion and degradation effects alongside their research into dating, symbolism, and probable archaeological and cultural contexts. Such an interdisciplinary approach to research has proven valuable, as is demonstrated by the fact that over thirty-one students from different disciplinary backgrounds contributed to the 2016 catalogue. We are delighted to be able to announce that a re-designed digital version of this catalogue is now being developed, thus showcasing the research and analyses conducted by these students, and we hope, circulating far beyond both Eton College and Johns Hopkins University.
Given that our two institutions wish to foster the creation of new knowledge, and to do so collaboratively, we continue to appreciate the opportunity to work together as we learn from the objects in the Eton Collection in a way that deepens and develops the interest and scholarship of all our students. The Ancient Egyptians have much to teach us, and we—both faculty and students at Johns Hopkins—continue to learn from them.
Betsy Bryan, Director, and Sanchita Balachandran, Associate Director, The Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum
October 2016 saw the return to Eton of some thirty-two prize Egyptian artefacts from loan to Johns Hopkins University (JHU). The objects date from the third millennium BCE to the fourth century CE and constitute a diverse and fascinating assemblage: papyri from Oxyrhynchus, statues (in wood and bronze), faience bowls and chalices, a cosmetic spoon, a tubular receptacle for Ancient Egyptian eye-liner, a coiled basket with flowers woven into the decoration and a 4000-year-old walking stick. The objects now returned to Eton have, in important ways, been much enhanced by their American sojourn.
In the first instance careful conservation work was undertaken where appropriate to stabilise objects and prevent the threat of further deterioration; in some cases old repairs made with harmful or degraded resins were painstakingly undone and upgraded. The objects were then able to take centre-stage in an exciting programme of teaching and research led by Professor Betsy Bryan and Sanchita Balachandran. This included precise and comprehensive measurement and photography of objects as well as the application of cutting-edge techniques such as CT scanning, multispectral imaging and x-ray fluorescence. In many cases this has transformed and enriched our understanding about the way these objects were created. Alongside this scientific analysis further significant work was also undertaken to explore the position of these objects within their specific cultural, social and religious contexts.
This small exhibition, expertly curated by our Museums Officer, Rebecca Tessier, aims to synthesise and communicate some of the key elements of this new research (drawing also on earlier research undertaken by the Barber Institute and the University of Birmingham) and puts these world-class artefacts back on display in Eton for the first time in many years. This should, if it does nothing else, whet the appetite for the return from Baltimore in 2025 of the 2000 additional objects from our collection.
Rob Shorrock, Keeper of Antiquities, Eton College