Flinders Petrie pot from 19th century Egyptian grave discovered in Cornish garage

By Ben Miller | 10 June 2014

A pot found in a Cornish garage has become one of the first discoveries in a quest to find egyptological artefacts in collections across the world

A photo of a large brown and black pot from Egypt
A black-topped, 15-centimetre high vessel has linked Cornwall with Egypt© Courtesy Petrie Museum
A black-topped pot, used to pay a taxi fare more than 50 years ago and found in a Cornish garage by a couple inspired by the television documentary The man who Discovered Egypt, has been matched to an excavation held by Flinders Petrie – the archaeologist known as the “father of pots” – in a large cemetery in southern Egypt in 1894.

The base and a yellowing label on the now-broken vessel contain a number, 1754, used to identify the records of a large set of graves excavated by Petrie, who established the first ever timescale for Egyptian prehistory, in Naqada during the 1890s.

Its note states the sculpture is a work of Libyian Pottery from the Predynastic era discovered by the explorer’s research.

“We don’t know what the pot was originally used for but it may have had a different function in daily life, such as holding a liquid like beer, before being re-used as a tomb offering,” says Alice Stevenson, a curator at the Petrie Museum in London, who is about to embark on a three-year effort to find more Petrie artefacts hidden in museum collections across the world.

“Petrie’s discoveries were widely distributed to museums across Europe and the US, but some items found their way into private hands.

“The fact that effort was put into printing and designing a label suggests that this was not a one off, so it’s possible that many other artefacts from prehistoric Egypt might be unknowingly concealed in garages, cupboards and attics.”

The previous owner of the pots – a grandfather of one of the finders – was a taxi driver in the High Wickham area during the 1950s. He is believed to have been offered the subterranean reimbursement by a mystery passenger in lieu of a traditional fare.

“The pot is particularly significant as it marks the discovery of a new era in Egyptology – not really known about at the time of excavation,” says Stevenson.

“The unusual nature of such pots such as this one led Petrie to be the first to define the Predynastic Egyptian era – the period before the pharaohs.”

Shells and a fragment of rock crystal are also known to have been recovered from grave 1754, as well as a red polished P-ware bowl housed in Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum

The conserved pot is on display alongside objects from the same grave as part of the museum’s current Festival of Pots exhibition and events programme.

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