Friday, October 09, 2009

"In European countries this use of boys is scarcely possible"

To the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology last night for a sneaky peek at the "Framing the Archaeologist" exhibition. It's a series of photographs and related notes and diary extracts from Flinders Petrie's excavations in Egypt at the end of the nineteenth century, with the emphasis on the workers who lived locally.

The photographs and notes are also handily available on the Framing the Archaeologist blog, where you're invited to leave comments.

Some of the photos might have been taken this week, others - and the accompanying notes - are from another world. They reveal attitudes to race, to child labour, to archaeological practice which seem startling from our lofty position looking backward.

But they also change our sense of the ancient relics on display in the museum, around which the photographs are displayed. They are not just art objects behind glass with puzzling, technical descriptions typed beside them. They are the possessions of people, unearthed and pieced together by diligent, long-dead hands.

I was surprised by Image 5 - Muhd es Said, Muhd Jafur, Muhd Timras, the notes explaining how Petrie chose his child labour - over 20 years-old, he explains, the workers get "stupid" and "lazy". He also laments that boys aren't available to work in England because in the school holidays they must collect the harvest.

Image 6 - Ahmed Hafnawi and Muhd Hassan describes a girl who gave her name as "Muhammad" (her father's name), thinking Petrie employed only boys. No, he was an equal opportunities sort of guy.

Another favourite is Image 18 - Amy (Petrie's sister-in-law) buying antiquities.

1 comment:

Le Mc said...

Interesting! I just finished a book on Champollion's diaries in Egypt in 1826.