An Egyptian puzzle

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Curator of Egyptology, Ashley Cooke, tells us about a student project he's working on.


Carolyn (antiquities curator) and myself have been working with three students as part of a museum work experience the department offers to archaeology and Egyptology students. Rebecca Cessford, Nicola Davies, and Michael Fairclough are students in the School of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology at Liverpool University. As part of their degree course they need to gain some experience of museum work and have been working on a variety of projects including help piece together hundreds of pottery sherds.

photo of pale blue pottery pieces

Group of sherds showing hieroglyphs including the ankh (sign meaning 'life')

Painting on Egyptian pottery is not very common before the New Kingdom (1550-1069 BC), but appears often in the late 18th Dynasty. Painted vessels can be colourfully decorated with floral motifs using cobalt blue and other mineral pigments mined from the deserts of Egypt. These vessels were not your everyday containers and would originally have contained luxury liquids such as wine.  This blue-decorated pottery was first recognised on a bigger scale at the palace of king Amenhotep III (1388-1351/50 BC). The painted pottery in the Liverpool collection comes from the palace site at Tell el-Amarna, built by Amenhotep III’s son, king Akenaten.

The museum has an extensive collection from Tell el-Amarna – ranging from gold rings from royalty to reed sandals worn by residents of the town.  Like many large museums, World Museum Liverpool gave financial support to British archaeologists working in Egypt in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The museum sponsored excavations at Tell el-Amarna in the 1930s and in return, the museum received a share of the artefacts that were found.