Wadi Sarga. Rock-church, watercolour, signed and dated, ‘C. O. Waterhouse ’20’ (AES Ar. 716). Image: Reproduced from E. R. O’Connell, “Campbell Thompson’s 1913/14 excavation of Wadi Sarga and other sites,” BMSAES 21: 121–92.
British Museum Studies in Ancient Egypt and Sudan (BMSAES), issue 21 (July 2014).
From the issue editors, Elisabeth R. O’Connell and Amandine Mérat
This issue presents new work on Roman, Late Antique and Medieval Egyptian collections primarily in the UK, Germany and France. Several of the articles presented herein have their origins in aspects of presentations delivered at a workshop held in the British Museum Ancient Egypt and Sudan Department and entitled, ‘Egypt in the First Millennium AD: Roman, Late Antique and early Islamic collections in the UK’ (London, 11 July 2012) or on a panel at the International Congress of Coptic Studies entitled, ‘Archaeological approaches to museum collections’ (Rome, 17 Sept. 2012). Other contributions dealing with related subjects and already scheduled for publication in BMSAES were included in this issue. Using a variety of sources and methods, each contribution aims to recontextualise objects in museum collections.
C. Fluck and Y. Petrina seek to identify findspots for unprovenanced material in museum collections today. Fluck provides a history of the Late Antique Egyptian collections in the Museum für Byzantinische Kunst, Berlin, usefully giving a site-by-site evaluation of objects from excavated contexts that can now be studied together. Petrina uses jewellery from recent archaeological excavations to evaluate the probable production place of objects with unknown provenance.
Both F. Pritchard and A. Mérat undertake close study of textiles derived from excavated contexts and now in museum collections. Whereas Mérat’s corpus derives from excavated graves, the more common sources of ancient textiles, the material examined by Pritchard was excavated from rubbish heaps. As part of her larger project to study textiles from the 1913/1914 excavation of Antinoupolis now in UK collections, Pritchard focuses here on fragments of soft furnishings of a type that has remained relatively unstudied, given its rare appearance in funerary contexts. Mérat identifies embroideries among the textiles from the 1923/24 excavation of a Medieval cemetery at Tell Edfu. Radiocarbon analysis undertaken on some of the pieces from the site has yielded dates of 13th–15th century AD, indicating that these objects (and by extension, this part of the cemetery) are much later than the original excavators supposed. These studies complement the results of British Museum Research Projects at Antinouplis and Hagr Edfu, respectively.
Contributions by R. Smalley and A. De Moor, C. Fluck, M. Van Strydonck and M. Boudin take different approaches to the study of ancient headgear. Smalley’s corpus of recently catalogued Medieval headgear now in the V&A Museum is largely unprovenanced; her type-series thus represent a first step in their classification and study. De Moor et al. present the results of radiocarbon dating for twenty-one hair-nets in seven international collections, a project undertaken as part of the Dress ID Project: Clothing and identities, new perspectives on textiles in the Roman Empire (2007–2012), concluding that the fashion peaked in the mid-5th to 7th centuries AD.
E. R. O’Connell and R. I. Thomas use a combination of archival and archaeological resources to investigate sites represented by British Museum collections. As part of the British Museum Research Project, Wadi Sarga at the British Museum, O’Connell draws together unpublished fieldwork reports, notebooks, maps, architectural plans, tracings, negatives, photographs and other archival materials to provide an illustrated history of R. Campbell Thompson’s 1913/14 excavation at Wadi Sarga on behalf of the Byzantine Research Fund. As part of the British Museum Research Project, Naukratis: Greeks in Egypt, documentation in c. 70 international museum collections and new fieldwork at Kom Geif/Naukratis has provided substantial evidence marshalled by Thomas for the periodic prosperity of Naukratis in the Roman period and into Late Antiquity (30BC–AD639).
Together, these articles illustrate the potential and challenges of studying museum collections in relationship to their archaeological contexts.