The Petrie Museum might be somewhat hidden away between Tottenham Court Road and Euston and it might even be off the tourist trail and difficult to find by the first time visitor – but it is a rare gem. It hosts one of the largest, most inspiring collections of Egyptian archaeology anywhere in the world and shows life in the Nile Valley from prehistory right through Pharaonic, Roman and Islamic times.
Although most of the objects on display were actually excavated or purchased by Flinders Petrie, the initial collection was donated by the writer and Egyptophile Amelia Edwards, who funded the chair of Edwards’ Professor of Egyptology at University College London (UCL). Petrie’s own collection was added some twenty years later.
Among the many stunning artefacts at the museum is the world’s oldest preserved garment – a linen dress shirt from a First Dynasty Egyptian tomb at Tarkan, which dates from around 3000B.C. The shoulders and sleeves are pleated to give form-fitting trimness yet cleverly allowing the wearer room to move (they say there’s nothing new…).
The museum can boast of unusual number of firsts – the earliest example of metal from Egypt, the first worked iron beads, the earliest example of glazing, the earliest ‘cylinder seal’ in Egypt (about 3500 BC); the oldest wills on papyrus paper. And bringing the firsts up to date it was also the first museum in the world to put its entire collection on-line, with all 80,000 objects having both a photograph and a description.
The museum also has a series of fascinating trails based on themes where a simple museum map takes you around objects relating to, for example mummified remains, freemasonry, and even Sci-Fi Egypt. (and yes it does include Dr Who!)
The Petrie is difficult to find – but downloading the map on http://www.ucl.ac.uk/museums/visit-us should get you there. It is open from Tuesday to Saturday 13.00 – 17.00 (except over Christmas and Easter holidays) and admission is free. It is well worth a visit!
By Gerry Palmer