“Dearer to me than all the rest of my curios are my Egyptian
antiquities: and of these… I have enough to stock a modest little museum,” declares the staircase as it leads you up to the reception. But to whom are these numerous curiosities precious to? Well, that would be Amelia Edwards, the founder of the Petrie Museum. On your way in you are greeted with a bust of her, so remember to say “Thank you” on the way out. It’s only polite.
Once again, the Front of House staff really helped to set the tone for the visit; friendly and knowledgeable we even indulged in a little playful banter, as our respective universities enjoy an infamous rivalry. We were encouraged to pick up a trail and a torch (“Because some bits of the museum are a bit dark and this will help you see the artefacts.”) Visibility issues aside, having to pick up a torch made me feel like Indiana Jones.
The museum itself has a bit more personality than the more-famous-Egyptian-collection-in-the-Big-Museum-nearby. In fact it felt a bit like a mad professor’s store-room. This is not a bad thing; the collection felt loved, well cared for and with a sense of a curator saying “Guys, look at this stuff! Isn’t it great!?”
It may not be as grand as the British Museum’s collection, but this collection still feels special, and perhaps a bit more personal than the grand sarcophagi. We often think that archaeology is all about digging up treasure, but there is more to it than that. “The treasure dug up is not gold but history, and every day there is a new light on the past,” said museum name-sake Flinders Petrie in 1886.
With that in mind, let’s explore some history.
To guide me around this amazing collection I chose the Miw,Mau, Meow: The Cat in Ancient Egypt trail, having accepted the fact that like the Egyptians, I too am likely to become a Crazy Cat Person in later life. Shaggy, the museum cat, guides you around the cat-themed artefacts in the way that only a cat can: “We helped humans to control pests” reveals Shaggy “Quite naturally humans started to adore our superior and enigmatic manner.”
Along the way, there were some things that we really weren’t expecting to see. A sleek monitor and some glasses I’ve only seen in the cinema. Could it be the Hollywood-gimmick-du-jour? 3D? In short, yes, it could be and it, in fact, is.
The odd thing is, that it wasn’t really out of place. It allowed me to look at objects at different angles and learn a bit more about them and really appreciate the depth and detail without having to pick it up. Perhaps it fitted so well because it was so low-key, I’m not sure.
But wait! The shiny, but understated technology continues!
Discretely dotted around the cabinets were the almost-ubiquitous QR codes. Like the 3D, this was a bit of a shock in this tiny museum, but you know what? Like the 3D, it worked. Maybe it worked because it was only used with a few select items, maybe it works because there really isn’t enough space to do really detailed labels for all the objects, who knows, but it worked.
All this technological wizardry aside, the Petrie does low-tech right too. To get a sense of what the Eyptian’s wore, you have the option of dressing up. I was sorely tempted as, having been caught in the torrential rain, I was dripping all over the place (but then, what to do with the wet clothes?) but perhaps best of all you could have a go at playing a Simsimiyya –an ancient Egyptian lute- amazing.
Where: UCL, Mallet Place, WC1E 6BT
When: Tuesday-Saturday 13.00-17.00
How Much? FREE
If you enjoyed this adventure and would like to see some badges from the UCL Museums, there are some at The Museum of Museum Badges.