Our first full day in England began with a visit to the Petrie Museum. The Petrie museum was originally set up as a teaching resource for the Department of Egyptian Archaeology and Philology at University College London (UCL). Both the department and the museum were created in 1892 through the bequest of the travel writer Amelia Edwards (1831-1892)probably most known for her 1877 book "1000 miles Up The Nile".
Amelia Edwards donated her collection of several hundred Egyptian antiquities, many of historical importance. However, the collection grew to international stature in scope and scale thanks mainly to the extraordinary excavating career of the first Edwards Professor, Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie (1853-1942). Petrie held the first chair of Egyptology in the United Kingdom, and excavated many of the most important archaeological sites in Egypt. Some consider his most famous discovery to be that of the Merneptah Stele. Petrie is most noted, though, for the development of the system of dating excavation layers based on similarities between pottery production methods. I had learned about his important contribution when I studied the "Great Courses" series, "The History of Ancient Egypt' presented by Bob Brier.
Most of the monumental finds on excavations directed by the Petrie Museum, however, were given over to The British Museum so now most of the Petrie's 80,000 objects are small yet immensely interesting artifacts. Of course I was particularly excited to discover that they hold the largest collection of Fayum mummy portraits in the world, among my favorite ancient art forms. I was able to photograph about ten on exhibit then the curator brought out a couple of more from the archives. The Petrie also holds the oldest intact linen garment in the world. I was surprised it was just in a simple plexiglass case with no environmental control at all. Sadly, the Petrie, now that non-Egyptian controlled excavation has stopped, has become sort of the forgotten step child. It's objects are crammed into glass cabinets often with little more identification than hand scrawled slips of paper. During WWII the collection was moved from its original facility for safekeeping then after the war transferred into a cramped old building supposedly for a short time until a new museum could be constructed. But that was in 1953 and they've been there ever since. They have practically no staff. A curator and a couple of assistants that I'm not sure are even paid. Nevertheless I found some fascinating objects. It was sort of like a treasure hunt! Our trip coordinators also arranged a special activity in which we were allowed to actually handle some of the antiquities - with gloves on of course. But this was my first time actually holding things that ancient so I was thrilled!
After a lunch of a jacket (baked potato) topped with BBQ Pulled Pork at a nearby pub, we all walked over to the Egypt Exploration Society. There we learned about the past excavations they had sponsored in Egypt then about their current activities. The most exciting thing for me there was to be able to photograph some of Howard Carter's original watercolors of Egyptian tomb murals.
One of our number knew about a great Turkish restaurant nearby so four of us hiked over there and had a wonderful homecooked Turkish meal. Even though it was only 6:30, they had been so busy that day that they only had one each of four entrees left. One of us took the roast chicken, I took the stuffed pepper, and the other two took different versions of a dish called borek, sort of a flaky pie filled with cheese an spinach or meat and mushrooms. The meals were served over rice with some wonderfully creamy garlic sauce, green beans with sweet red peppers (I think) and salad. It was really delicious!
When I got back to my room I couldn't reach Joe with Skype. It kept telling me the party called would not accept blocked calls. I'd been having trouble with it since we checked in to that hotel and seemed to be related to a weak internet signal. So, I spent 4 1/2 hours online with Skype, Apple and Century Link trying to troubleshoot the problem. Mostly they just pointed fingers at each other. I finally gave up about midnight and decided to just go buy an international SIM card tomorrow during my lunch break at the British Museum.