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History: Making Music Like An Ancient Egyptian

Posted by Mark Cantrell on December 8, 2017 at 7:20 PM

Tuning-in to ancient artefacts

Archaeologists and historians are hoping to gain a fresh insight into ancient Roman and Egyptian societies, writes Mark Cantrell – by studying the mundane objects of everyday life...

A new research project is hoping that mundane artefacts will provide a fresh insight into the realities of everyday life in ancient Rome and Late Antiquity Egypt. In particular, the project aims to 'tune-in' on ancient instruments – recreating playable replicas using 3D scanning and printing techniques.

Funded by the UK Arts & Humanities Research Council (UHRC), the venture is a collaborative effort between Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU), the University of Kent in Canterbury, and the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology at UCL.

Led by doctors Ellen Swift (Kent) and April Pudsey (MMU), the two-year project is said to be the first time that everyday objects from the two cultures, from that time period, will be used as the principal source of evidence.

Museums in the UK hold significant collections of artefacts from Roman and Late Antiquity Egypt thanks to extensive 19th and 20th Century archaeological excavations, but most of these objects have never been studied systematically from a social perspective, according to the research team.

That's where this project comes in. It aims to transform our understanding of social experience, social relations, and cultural interactions among the populations of Egypt in this period.

“This research project is exciting in so many ways, not least because of the opportunity it provides us in examining such rich and understudied material,” said Dr April Pudsey, senior lecturer in ancient history at MMU.

“Much of my own focus will be on objects and texts relating to family and children, those voices from Antiquity which are rarely heard and rarely studied. The generosity of the AHRC also allows us to reproduce objects and create materials and recordings for future generations of scholars, students and the public.”

The Petrie Museum, situated in Bloomsbury, London, has over 8,000 objects dating to the periods covered by this study, and is said to be one of the best-documented collections in the UK. Researchers will examine the features of these artefacts, the materials they were made from, and evidence of modification that show how they were used and re-used in daily life.

Alongside the study of physical objects, the project will make use of papyrus texts to investigate how aspects of social behaviour and experience can shed light on everyday life in the period.

Doctors Pudsey and Swift say they are particularly interested in investigating how experiences may have differed between children, adults, slaves, women, and men, as well as people of different social and ethnic groups.

“Evidence of wear and repair will reveal both aspects of practical daily use, and personal and sentimental meanings that may have been attached to these objects, such as dress accessories, shoes, toys, and simple musical instruments,” says MMU.

The research will bring together specialists in a number of fields, such as those needed to interpret ancient Egyptian texts on papyrus. It will also make use of new methodologies and approaches, including the experimental recreation of objects.

Towards the end of the project, the Petrie Museum will host an exhibition, open to the public, to present research on the musical instruments in particular. Alongside the original artefacts, the prototypes and replicas created using 3D scanning/printing technology will be on display. Visitors won't just hear the sounds these instruments make, but will gain a real hands-on experience, being able to handle and play the artefacts themselves.


Image courtesy of the Petrie Museum, an example of an artefact from its collection


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