Petrie Museum review
The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology is a bit of a weird one. It's right inside the grounds of University College London so you have to stroll past all the students to get to it. There are millions of them! It is student central around there and you feel a bit out of place amongst all the scruffy kids with bags and books. And being a university museum, it keeps very strange opening hours. I'm guessing that it must be staffed by the students themselves because it doesn't even open until 1 PM (they are probably all still drunk and in bed). I walked up to the door at noon and pressed the buzzer by the window, and I think I must have disturbed his sleep -- because he snoozily said that he doesn't open for another hour. So here I am, sitting waiting for the place to wake up.
This could have been me living here, and studying here, because believe it or not I actually won a place at UCL to study Egyptology. But being a dumb idiot, I quit the course before it even started. I wonder what job I would have ended up with? If I played my cards right I might have had my own pyramid by now. That's why I'm still sitting here, waiting for the place to open, because I've still got a lingering interest in anything Egyptian.
One hour later... Well... that was a waste of time!
When you read the website they give you the impression that the shelves are all dark and dusty, stacked with magical artefacts, with dark and gloomy corners like you might find in a Hammer House horror movie. I quote: "Lighting within the museum is less than ideal, and we offer the visitors the loan of torches". Well, it's not like that at all... it is all brightly lit with rows and rows of tall glass cabinets.
They've got two wooden sarcophagi at the far end, but that's about it for the big stuff. We are not talking Tutankhamun's tomb here. There is nothing on show that Indiana Jones would want to steal. It's the kind of stuff that you'd find on an ancient Egyptian skip -- cups, pots, bowls and other bits of broken pottery. And it's all the same as well -- if you've seen one pot then you've seen the other five hundred too. Unless you're an Egyptian scholar then forget it. I'm sure that they must have lots of interesting objects if you're a student, but for everyone else it's just a load of odds and sods -- the every day kind-of stuff that the lowlifes would buy. Imagine that they had a Woolworths in Cairo, four thousand years ago, and they've dug it up. That's the kind of level that we're at. They've got some funerary stele (I think that's what they are called), and quite a lot of stone slabs with carvings and hieroglyphs on, but nothing that's going to knock your socks off.
They've also got piles and piles (and piles) and piles of delicate pieces of jewellery... amulets and brooches and bangles and beaded necklaces. They've got some game boards and pieces too, and some stone ducks and seashells. A lot of combs and bone cutlery, and the inevitable collection of stones and broken bits of flint.
My favourite part of the collection was a cabinet full of death masks... people's portraits painted on crumbling shaves of wood. Some of the colours are so fresh it looks like they were painted last week. It's quite interesting to see a lifelike face from two thousand years ago staring back at you, complete with a dodgy beard and tache. I don't think us humans have changed much in the meantime. We still have a short back and sides at the barbers, and are too lazy to shave our stubble off.
So to sum up: don't bother going unless you're a scholar. But don't get me wrong... I'm not having a moan. This museum is clearly meant to be an educational place for the university, and not a stop on the tourist trail. So if you come with that in mind then maybe you will like it. And of course it's free as well, so you can't be too critical. But if you're a tourist then you should definitely head for the British Museum instead.
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