Mould and jewellery pendant from excavations at Tell el Amarna (nos. 56.21.191 & 56.21.355)
The director of World Museum is working hard to create a Wildflower Meadow at the front of the museum. As I walked beside it today my eye was drawn to the bright blue cornflowers (Centaurea cyanus) and the pink to purple corncockle (Agrostemma githago) which reminded me of some of the floral jewellery we have in our Ancient Egypt Gallery. During the New Kingdom (about 1550-1069 BC) the ancient Egyptians were fond of bringing a bit of colour into their lives, especially in the form of flowers. This was very true for the people living out at the new city created by the pharaoh Akhenaten who chose a rather barren desert edge location for his new city at Tell el Amarna.
Cornflowers on the Wildflower Meadow outside World Museum
The royal palaces were livened up with floors and walls decorated with brightly painted flora and fauna. At parties large pots of wine (or beer?) were decorated with garlands of flowers and people wore floral collars. At the height of fashion during Akhenaten’s reign (about 1352-1336 BC) were imitation floral collars made from a ceramic material we call Egyptian faience. Imitation flowers were mass-made in pottery moulds and included thread holes so that that could be strung as a broad collar necklace. One of my favourites is a flower that is either a cornflower or corncockle (I think cornflower) but is now often confused for being a thistle. I can understand why it might remind people of the floral emblem of Scotland but this is ancient Egypt we are dealing with - if these are copies of genuine floral collars who would really wear a flowering plant covered in sharp prickles!
Corncockles on the Wildflower Meadow outside World Museum
Also, because Egyptian archaeology is so fantastic we actually have actual floral collars from over 3000 years ago! Those from Tutankhamen’s embalming cache contain flora identified as cornflowers. I often wonder what my Edwardian predecessor thought about this confusion with thistles. Percy Newberry helped curate the collections here in the early 1900s and as well as being a professor of Egyptology he was a botanist. He was part of Howard Carter’s team that excavated Tutankhamen’s tomb with the special role of recording the botanical specimens from the tomb. I’m sure he’d appreciate the Wildflower Meadow which is so close to the Ancient Egypt Gallery that was once his responsibility.