On The Trail Of The Ancient Egyptians In UK Museums

By Narelle Doe | 11 December 2007
A photograph of a replica of Tutankhamun's famous golden mask.

A replica of Tutankhamun's famous golden mask. The Tutankhamun Exhibition, Dorchester.

With the return of Tutankhamun’s treasures to London in 2007, Britain was gripped by a new wave of mummy mania.

But if you didn't make it to the 02 Arena or you haven't visited the Land of the Pharaohs itself, a visit to a local museum will open up a wealth of ancient Egyptian treasures. Venues all across the country are not only chock full of mummies but also have enough scarabs, amulets, canopic jars, jewellery, pottery, and textiles to make even the Queen of the Nile happy.

So slip on your sandals, kohl your eyes and walk like an Egyptian to some of the best permanent collections and exhibitions the country has to offer.

A photograph of an Egyptian sacred cat statue with a ring through its nose.

This statue of a sacred cat is one of the most popular Egyptian exhibits at the British Museum. Courtesy Trustees of the British Museum.

British Museum, London

First stop for any serious Egyptology lover, inevitably, should be the British Museum, which, after the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, has the largest and most diverse collection of ancient Egyptian artefacts in the world.

Highlights include a stunning selection of mummies, coffins and canopic jars, and colossal statues like the bust of Ramesses II and head of Amenhotep III, plus, of course, the Rosetta Stone, which paved the way for understanding hieroglyphs.

Remote visitors can take the online tour of the Egyptology collection at www.britishmuseum.org/explore/online_tours/egypt.aspx

photo shows linen tunic

This linen tunic is over 4,000 years old. The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology

Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, London

Although it’s perhaps not so well known as some other museums, the Petrie Museum houses one of the world’s largest Egyptology collections, with some 80,000 objects, ranking only behind Cairo’s Egyptian Museum, the British Museum and Berlin’s Agyptisches Museum.

It covers artefacts from prehistory, through the times of the Pharaohs, to Egypt’s later Ptolemaic, Roman and Coptic periods. It has lots of ancient Egyptian costumes and textiles, including the ‘oldest dress’, colourful tiles, carvings and frescoes, plus the world’s largest collection of Roman-period mummy portraits.

The collection is full of 'firsts': among its treasures are one of the earliest pieces of linen from Egypt; a fragment from the first kinglist or calendar; the earliest example of metal and the first worked iron beads; the earliest example of glazing; the oldest wills on papyrus paper, and the only veterinary papyrus from Ancient Egypt. www.petrie.ucl.ac.uk

A photograph of three Egyptian mummy coffins and one child's mummy coffin.

Courtesy The National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh.

National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh

The Royal Museum, currently being transformed in the National Museum of Scotland, has coffins and mummies galore but a wealth of other treasures too, including statues, poems, toys and a 4,000-year-old gold fish pendant - a ‘magical’ charm to protect a child from drowning.

Every object in the collection tells a story or opens a mystery. For example, who were the young woman and child buried with magnificent gold and luxurious finery about 1550 BC? Evidence suggests the woman may have been a queen, if so this is the only complete Ancient Egyptian royal burial to be seen anywhere outside Cairo.

Buried with beautiful jewellery and pottery, even their ancient bread and fruit for their journey to the afterlife has survived over the ages in the dust of the desert. www.nms.ac.uk/ancientegypt.aspx

a photo of a stone carved head in a gallery

Courtesy Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery

Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery

This permanent gallery display features over 600 genuine artefatcs, most never displayed before, in the best Egyptian collection in the south west. It covers belief, life, death and the afterlife in Ancient Egypt and explores the people of Egypt based on the objects in Bristol's collection.

The stunning collection includes painted coffins, human mummies, animal mummies, figurines, offerings, amulets, statues, funerary masks, a painted funerary couch, toys, tools, and jewellery. An art installation by Mariele Neudecker is also in the gallery, which visitors become a part of.

Divided into two spaces, you can explore Belief and Life in ancient Egypt and the peruse the displays covering Death and the Afterlife. In addition there are "satellite" areas offering thought-provoking areas on 'Unwrapping a Mummy', ‘Egyptian Identity’, ‘How do we see Ancient Egypt?’, and 'The Ethics of Displaying the Dead’.

A photograph of a mummy mask with a golden face.

Courtesy The Egypt Centre, University of Wales, Swansea.

Egypt Centre, University of Wales, Swansea

The Egypt Centre has more than 4,500 items, most donated by the Wellcome Trust, covering all aspects of ancient Egyptian life and ritual, from pages of books of the dead to coffins and even ancient earplugs – metal discs with grooved edges worn in a hole in the earlobe.

a photo of a coffin lid with a portrait of young man with curly hair

A coffin from the Ashmolean Museum. © Ashmolean Museum

Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

The Ashmolean houses one of the most extensive Ancient Egyptian collections in Britain, including several mummies, a fine double-sided mummy portrait, a hippopotamus statuette and the mysterious ‘Scorpion King’ mace head.

Did a ‘King Scorpion’ ever exist? It is a mystery that has confounded experts for years and recent tomb excavations unearthing jars and packages labelled with the scorpion sign have only added to the debate.www.ashmolean.org

A photograph of two standing mummy cases with painted decorations.

Courtesy Manchester Museum.

Manchester Museum

Budding Egyptologists should not miss the Manchester Museum, which, with 20,000-odd items has one of the country’s largest and most important collections from Ancient Egypt.

Monumental stone sculptures from the temples of Bubastis in the Nile Delta greet the visitor in the museum’s entrance hall, and there are further daily life and funerary galleries and an atmospheric mummy room in a collection that boasts artefacts from prehistoric times (around 10,000 BC) to the Byzantine period (c600 AD).www.museum.manchester.ac.uk

A photograph of a reconstruction of the antechamber in Tutankhamun's tomb, with golden seats, statues and decorated caskets.

A reconstruction of the antechamber in Tutankhamun's tomb. The Tutankhamun Exhibition, Dorchester

The Tutankhamun Exhibition, Dorchester

The Tutankhamun Exhibition has attracted worldwide acclaim since it opened in 1987, as the then successor to the Treasures of Tutankhamun Exhibition at the British Museum in London.

Fantastic handcrafted replicas of the original treasures mean that this is the only exhibition this side of Egypt where it is possible to see Tutankhamun’s magnificent Gold Mask, the Golden Throne and an exact anatomical recreation of Tutankhamun’s mummy.

Children will particularly enjoy the atmospheric replica of the infamous Boy-King’s tomb, where the dramatised audio presentation and recreated oil smells of the tomb transport visitors back to 1922 to join the English archaeologist Howard Carter when he first entered the tomb in the Valley of the Kings.www.tutankhamun-exhibition.co.uk

You want more? There are literally dozens of places in the UK where you can find Egyptian Treasures - here are some of them.

Sir John Soane’s Museum, London

This quirky and much loved treasure trove contains several Egyptian artefacts. The most impressive by far is the fantastically preserved sarcophagus of Pharoah Seti I from around 1370 BC.

The Hunterian Museum, Glasgow

Features an Egyptian exhibition including the mummy of lady Shep-en-hor, ‘mummiform’ figures, statuettes and figurines of the god Osiris, scarabs, amulets and fertility figures.

The Burrell Collection, Glasgow

Mainly stone sculptures, reliefs and vessels, along with finely worked bronze, glass and ‘faience’ tin-glazed pottery.

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow

Kelvingrove’s Ancient Egypt room has plenty to see, with religious objects, sarcophogi and more, describing everyday life and the cult of death.

Torquay Museum

Includes a mummified boy from about 500 BC, a painted wooden coffin, a figure from the tomb of Seti I, as well as pottery, jewellery and textiles.

Egypt Centre, University of Wales, Swansea

The Egypt Centre has more than 4,500 items, most donated by the Wellcome Trust, covering all aspects of ancient Egyptian life and ritual, from pages of books of the dead to coffins and even ancient earplug – metal discs with grooved edges worn in a hole in the earlobe.

Birmingham Museum and Gallery

The museum’s Egypt gallery is closed until late 2008 while essential repairs to the roof are carried out, but an elaborately bandaged mummy is still on display.

Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford

As you would expect the excellent Pitt Rivers boasts some Egytian artefacts covering animals, religion, animal cults, mummified animals - amongst other things...

Leeds City Museum

Nesyamun – also known as The Leeds Mummy - is the centrepiece of an impressive display that reveals a fascinating history around the ancient Egyptian, who was a priest in Thebes before his second life as celebrity exhibit.

New Walk Museum, Leicester

The museum’s atmospheric Egypt room features mummies, coffins and many other artefacts.

Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology, Reading

Despite its name, this museum doesn’t just have Greek artefacts, and contains many ancient Egyptian objects, including a funerary boat, jewellery, grave offerings and a mummified cat's head.

Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

Stone and wooden coffins, painted pottery, papyrus and stelae – slabs of inscribed stone placed over coffins.

Weston Park Museum, Sheffield

Weston Park has a popular mummies display in its Treasures gallery.

Dorman Museum, Middlesborough

This small museum has several interesting Egyptian artefacts such as a funery boat and some Romano-Egyptian lamps.

Durham University Oriental Museum

Durham University has a collection of some 6,700 Egyptian items, including an impressive large red granite obelisk of Amenhopsis II.

Hancock Museum, Newcastle

The Hancock Museum is closed until 2009 but its Land of the Pharaohs exhibition, which chronicles everyday life in ancient Egypt, with items of farming equipment, jewellery and religious artefacts.

World Museum Liverpool

World Museum Liverpool new Egyptology gallery showcases the venue’s fantastic collection, full of mummies, amulets, statues, coffins and jewellery plus everyday items like makeup trays and gaming boards.

The Garstang Museum of Archaeology, University of Liverpool

Although the museum has limited opening hours, it contains many interesting artefacts from Egyptian burial sites.

Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery

Blackburn has a small Egyptology collection, which includes a female mummy with its original ‘encaustic’ hot wax portrait.

Bolton Museum

Bolton’s collection of Egyptian and Sudanese objects numbers around 10,000 objects covering all phases of Egyptian material culture from the Neolithic times to the coming of the Arabs in the seventh century AD.

Ulster Museum

The mummy and case of the lady Takabuti is the highlight of the museum’s collection of 2,000-odd ancient Egyptian artefacts.