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British Archaeology and the Antiquities Market in Egypt and Sudan 1880 - 1939

This research project will investigate how archaeologists involved in British-led excavations in Egypt and Sudan engaged with the antiquities market between 1880 - 1939.

Last updated: 28 July 2022

About the project

The role of archaeologists in the antiquities market in Egypt and Sudan has often been underplayed or ignored, with narratives choosing to focus on the scientific achievements of archaeological 'heroes'. However, it is apparent that many archaeologists were involved in the market, as both buyers and sellers. The movement of objects through the market to museums via archaeologists was complex, and involved both sanctioned excavations and illicit activities, opportunistic sellers and licensed vendors.

This project is the first to focus on how archaeologists involved in British-led excavations in Egypt and Sudan were entangled with the antiquities market and how this impacts what we see today in museums across the world. It will examine how and why archaeologists bought and sold objects, how they viewed these transactions financially and ethically. This will enable museums to share fuller object histories with visitors, highlighting colonial collecting practices, allowing for a more open conversation about archaeological collections from Egypt and Sudan.

The project, which is led by Dr Dan Potter (National Museums Scotland) will initially focus on the activities of a small number of archaeologists, whose work, donations and acquisitions shaped the collections of National Museums Scotland: curator Edwin Ward, collector-for-hire Charles Trick Currelly, and archaeologists/academics John Garstang and William Matthew Flinders Petrie. These men were each involved in excavations in Egypt and/or Sudan during the height of British involvement in the field 1880 - 1939, a period when the public and museums clamoured to see more objects from these ancient places.

  • Archaeologist Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie (1853 - 1942). © National Portrait Gallery, London

    Archaeologist Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie (1853 - 1942). © National Portrait Gallery, London

  • Curator Edwin Ward (1880-1934). © National Museums Scotland

    Curator Edwin Ward (1880-1934). © National Museums Scotland

  • 'Collector-for-hire' Charles Trick Currelly (1876 - 1957). © University of Toronto

    'Collector-for-hire' Charles Trick Currelly (1876 - 1957). © University of Toronto

  • Archaeologist John Garstang (1876 - 1956). © Garstang Museum of Archaeology, University of Liverpool

    Archaeologist John Garstang (1876 - 1956). © Garstang Museum of Archaeology, University of Liverpool

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It is the hope of the project that by examining these very different individuals, we may gain an insight to how prolific archaeologists were in the antiquities market, if their motivations differed and how their choices impact museum collections to this day. It will not only highlight this untold story but lead the way for future research into archaeological collecting. In depth collections and archival research hopes to identify new object histories and track objects over time as they moved from person to person and country to country. The project will also result in greatly improved information that can be shared on public databases and greater numbers of images of objects and archives, so that visitors can see more of the collections which are not on display.

Keep an eye on this page for updates, news and events!

Project details

Project title

British Archaeology and the Antiquities Market in Egypt and Sudan 1880 - 1939

Project active

2022 - 2024

Research theme

Colonial histories and legacies, Provenance Research

Research sub-theme

Colonial histories and Legacies

Strategic priorities

Developing, preserving and increasing access to the National Collections; Strengthening and sharing collections knowledge and research; Reaching out to people across Scotland and the world; Valuing, supporting and developing our people and empowering them to work together in new ways

Partner information

Funder

Arts and Humanities Research Council - Early Career Research, Development and Engagement

Learn more about AHRC's funding of this project here.

Fellowship Partners

The Egypt Exploration Society 

The World Museum, Liverpool

The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, University College London, London

Egyptian figurine of a sarcophagus upright and facing forward. Hieroglyphs and figures are drawn across the front. Plain white background.

Limestone sarcophagus lid of Paamunnesutawy, son of Horiru, c. 221 - 180 BC (A.1908.288). This object was purchased from an unidentified dealer in Cairo, Egypt by Edwin Ward on behalf of the Museum in 1908.

Email icon Dr Daniel Potter

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