Something for everyone – Come along and get involved on a ‘Gifts for the Gods’ event.

Science Week went down a storm last week at Manchester Museum with a whole range of activities for visitors of all ages. From specialist talks and demonstrations to hands on children’s activities like mummifying an orange, there was lots to see and do! As always, the school holidays are guaranteed to see an influx of younger visitors and their families, eager to take part in the activities on offer and see the galleries for themselves. Of course, this means that the museum is often much busier during these times, but it is such a lovely sight to see youngsters enjoying their visit.  One way of measuring this is with the guest book in the temporary gallery, where visitors can leave message about what they liked or didn’t like about the exhibition. We loved the messages from families about how the exhibition had sparked an interest in ancient Egypt, helped children with their school work, or inspired them so much that they came back more than once! The votive interactive area of the exhibition has proved to be very popular with hundreds of visitors leaving messages and pleas for their selected god.


Science Week may be over for another year, but that does not mean that the fun has ended! Gifts for the Gods has provided many opportunities for us to engage with the public over our research. It’s a subject that gets people talking every time. Steph’s Science Week talk looked closely at the post-excavation stories behind six key objects in the exhibition, helping to give them back some of their context and show how science can be used to tell us more. On Thursday this week, I will present a talk on how animal mummies came to be in Britain and introduce some of the key characters who have played their part in their stories.
On Thursday 26th November, the museum is hosting an after hours event where people can come and enjoy an evening in the galleries. The November event will be focused on animal mummies and will give visitors the chance to talk to myself and Campbell, curator of Egypt and Sudan, about the exhibition and the collections in more detail. We do hope that many of you will be able to join us for this unique event.

In connection with the Wellcome Trust, on Saturday 14th November the museum will host a special study day on animal mummies. We are looking forward to welcome some very special guests, including Chris Naunton (Director of the Egypt Exploration Society), Paul Nicholson (Professor of Archaeology at Cardiff University and Director of the current excavations at Saqqara) and Ashley Cooke (Curator of World Cultures at World Museum Liverpool) to come along and share their expertise with visitors. Campbell, Steph and I will also be there to talk about the role of animals in Egypt and how science can be used to learn more about animal mummies. The study day is being offered as a free event, but booking is essential. Please visit to book on to the event.
The learning and engagement team at the museum are constantly working on events to support the delivery of the exhibition, so please do keep checking the museum website for updates and be sure to contact us if you have any ideas or suggestions.

We look forward to seeing you at an animal mummies event soon!


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Come along and join us at Manchester Museum with a range of ‘Gifts for the Gods’ events!

Well, it’s been a week since Gifts for the Gods: Animal Mummies Revealed opened to the public and plenty of visitors have already come along to see what all the fuss is about! To mark the occasion, the Museum have compiled a series of public engagement events to entice visitors to come along and learn more about the fascinating topic of votive animal mummification.


Science Week will kick off with a talk by Steph on some of the stories behind key objects in the exhibition on Friday 23rd October at 1pm. During the following week there will be a range of activities for children based around the topic of animal mummification – including trying your hand at mummifying an orange and building junk animals.

On Saturday 14th November, the team will be hosting a dedicated study day where we will explore the subject further. We are very pleased to be able to welcome some distinguished guest speakers to the event – Dr. Chris Naunton on the early days of work at Saqqara, Prof. Paul Nicholson who will speak about the current excavations at the site, and Dr. Ashley Cooke, curator of the Egyptology collection at World Museum Liverpool. Campbell, Steph and I will be talking more about the exhibition itself and the research which underpins it, including lots on the science of animal mummification. The best piece of news is that the study day will be entirely free to attend! Registration is essential via this link – and the event is limited to 80 participants. Come along and join us!

On Thursday 5th November, 2-3pm, I will give a talk as part of the Collection Bites series at the Museum, looking into the role of British explorers and travellers who journeyed to Egypt and purchased animal mummies.

We look forward to welcoming you to an event in the near future! Check out the Manchester Museum website ( for up to date information and don’t forget to book on to avoid missing out!


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The future is looking very ‘green’ at Manchester Museum!


In eight days, Gifts for the Gods will open to the public! I can’t quite believe that we are just a week away, but it’s a very exciting time at exhibition HQ with lots going on. Seeing everyone coming to fruition has been amazing and we are all looking forward to seeing what the visitors think.

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Our designer Andrew has been here this week working alongside the workshop team and graphics producers to supervise the installation of the wall panels and the specially made plinths which will hold the objects. Special lighting and sound effects are being installed to aid the immersive atmosphere of our catacomb recreation. Luke has been a trooper finalising and installing the AV content which will display all the amazing scan images for the chosen mummies. We even had a visit from Paul Wells who has designed and manufactured our three interactive areas. It’s amazing just how quickly things start to come together.

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Aside from the last minute preparations for the exhibition, we have been working on the finishing touches for our education resource pack which will be available to teachers and families on the Museum website. Publicity and marketing are in full swing to ensure as many people as possible know about the exhibition and the research behind it. There’s no rest for the wicked!

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‘Gifts for the Gods: Animal Mummies Revealed’ – Press Release

The Ancient Egyptian Animal Bio Bank:

Read all about the upcoming exhibition ‘Gifts for the Gods: Animal mummies revealed’ which opens at Manchester Museum in October.

Originally posted on Egypt at the Manchester Museum:

Gifts for the Gods: Animal Mummies Revealed

8 October 2015-17 April 2016, Manchester Museum

Free Entry

This myth-busting exhibition will present and explore ancient Egyptian animal mummies, prepared in their millions as votive offerings to the gods. Gifts for the Gods will explain the background behind this religious practice in the context of life in ancient Egypt and the environment in which the animals lived. It will explore the British fascination with Egypt, the discovery of animal mummies by British excavators, and how the mummies ended up in the UK, as well as taking a look at the history and future of their scientific study in Manchester. The display will combine mummified specimens such as jackals, crocodiles, cats and birds with cultural artefacts such as stone sculpture and bronze statuettes, alongside 19th Century works of art and never-seen-before archives.

The exhibition will open with a reconstruction of the ancient…

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Eight weeks until Gifts for the Gods opens at Manchester!

This has been my first week back after my summer holiday and it’s been quite a week! On Tuesday we had a visit from our designer, Andrew Gibbs, where lots of elements of the design, colour scheme and object layout were approved. The panel text and object labels are just about complete now, having been sent around to all our partners for their comments. The fantastic workshop team have been making headway on the extensive list of cases, plinths and structural supports that we need to bring Andrew’s designs to reality. It seems that wherever you turn in the Museum at the moment, there’s something for Gifts for the Gods!

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Our museum registrar, Jamilla, has been extremely busy corresponding with all of the lenders to finalise arrangements for collection – in fact, quite a menagerie of animal mummies has already arrived at the museum! A few of our visitors require a little bit of TLC before they can go on public display, especially because they will be need to be stable for travel between the three venues and look their best at all times in-between!

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On Wednesday we met with our graphic designer who is busy working on the design for our posters, leaflets and invitations featuring some of the key objects from the exhibition. We are even going to have pennants on the lamp posts along Oxford Road so there really is no excuse for not knowing about the show! 

On Wednesday afternoon we met with Neil who has been employed to design our education resource pack which will be offered to schools and families visiting the exhibition. This is an important element of the show as it enables our younger visitors to engage further with the topic of votive animal mummies and will act as a means through which school groups and families of all ages can learn together. Designing this resource to satisfy all three venues and their visitors is no mean feat, but Neil has come up with some brilliant initial ideas and we can’t wait to see what the finished product looks like!

Thursday afternoon was spent either at the Museum assigning panel text to specific locations on the design, or, in my case, at the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital downloading the last batch of scan data from the server. This task never seems to run as smoothly as I hope, but I got there in the end and was rewarded with some lovely images!

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Sacred Spaces at the Sackler

On Friday I was lucky enough to attend the Sackler lecture at the British Museum with the topic being the sacred site of Abydos. Of particular note was the keynote lecture by Janet Richards from the University of Michigan who spoke eloquently about her fieldwork at Abydos and the ‘sacredness’ of the deposits being unearthed at the site. She introduced the concept of sacredness in terms of modern-day saints such as sports stars, who’s graves become sites of pilgrim activity in much the same way as their ancient counterparts.

The concepts of sacredness and cult activity are something we have been discussing (grappling with!) at Manchester in preparation for both the book and the exhibition. Explaining what a votive is to the general public is not easy, but by introducing modern examples of similar practices, we can ‘ground’ these complex concepts in a context that most people can understand. We often use the idea of votive candles. Most people know that they are called votive candles, but many do not appreciate that the connection runs deeper. Christians, upon entering a place of worship, light votive candles, either in memory of a loved one, in anticipation of divine assistance, or in thanks for something they believe god has already addressed.

Another example are tributes deposited at the site of a tragedy in memory of a loved one or celebrity. This is a commonplace act in modern society, not only in Britain, but across the world. In this case, the offerings are not left to a deity, but to the deceased – as a token of mourning or in memoriam for a life cut short.

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No trip to the British Museum is complete without a little jaunt upstairs to see the animal mummies! 

Modern day votive giving is based, not on a fixed price system, but on a sense of perceived worth and affordability. One gives what one can afford to give. I guess this is a little like buying a poppy for Remembrance Day. There may be a suggested donation per poppy, but in reality the giver offers an amount they are comfortable to give.

In the case of animal mummies, the votive of choice for many ancient Egyptians, we have often assumed that mummies carried a certain price tag and that the most beautifully decorated examples cost more than those that appeared ‘plain’. This is perhaps more of a modern construct where there is an expectation that quality costs money. I guess this could be likened to today’s liking for designer clothes – they are often made in the same places as the budget brands, yet their worth is perceived to be greater because of a certain appearance or ‘brand’. It is possible that mummies were the same and that certain embalmers or workshops had such a status. It is equally as possible that mummies were gifted based on notional value, rather than a financial price tag.

One thing is for sure, the Sackler Colloquium raised some interesting theories and questions that apply in animal mummy research. We may not have the answers yet, but attending such events causes us to think ‘outside the box’ and apply the same inquiring mind to our own research. The fact that Abydos was the resting place for many of our mummies is an added connection!


Modern day representations of Bastet in the BM shop

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Animal mummies hit the media and T minus 14 weeks for Gifts for the Gods!

Apologies for letting the blog go a little recently, but there’s been so much media attention on animal mummies, that some things have got a bit behind. The much awaited Horizon episode ’70 million animal mummies: Egypt’s dark secret’ aired on May 11th and since then, the world hasn’t been able to get enough of the subject (not that we are complaining!). The barrage of media hit on the 11th with newspapers, websites, TV and radio stations around the world asking for information, interviews and images at what felt like the same time!

I spent an incredibly stressful day at Media City in Manchester where I did 7 live radio interviews and appeared live on Newsround and the BBC News Channel (thank god I had the foresight not to turn up in my jeans!). It was certainly a day that I won’t forget in a hurry, but all the stress aside, that day really did launch animal mummies and Manchester research into the spotlight for the first time. We’ve even filmed experimental mummification for Canadian TV and filmed part of a documentary on cats in the ancient world for a German channel since then.

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Two and a half years have passed since the initial idea of an animal mummies exhibition was broached the subject  with staff at Manchester Museum. I don’t think anyone expected  those early mumblings, however good they might have seemed at the time, to come to fruition, let alone become what they are now. ‘Gifts for the Gods: Animal Mummies Revealed’ is due to open in early October and the whole project team is getting very excited (and increasingly nervous!) of the task that faces us.

A few weeks ago, and bang on schedule, we entered ‘detail phase’ in the design of the exhibition. The colour scheme, wall finishes, lighting effects and audio visual technology is being finalised. Drafting of the text for the wall boards and object labels is well underway. Our fantastic workshop team have even built the first of 29 modules which form the backbone of the design, specially created to be easy-to-tour to our other two venues.


There don’t seem to be enough hours in the day or enough days in the week at the moment for all the work, but it’s so enjoyable that no one seems to mind too much. I just hope we can say the same thing in a few more weeks when the opening night is looming ever closer! At least the third (and hopefully final) draft of the book has gone back to the publishers for final amendments now. Phew!

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