Dr Margaret Mountford (whose doctorate is in Papyrology but who is better known as a television personality) and Egyptologist Prof Joann Fletcher admire a gilded mummy mask in the new Bolton's Egypt gallery.

Bolton's Egypt opens

Bolton Museum's £3.8 million refurbishment, which began in December 2016, has now been completed and its new Bolton's Egypt exhibition has opened, with more than 2,000 artefacts and, at its centre, a full-scale recreation of the tomb of Thutmose III – the first of its kind outside Egypt.

The tomb of Thutmose III was discovered in the Valley of the Kings in 1898, and its recreation makes a stunning home for Bolton's famous mummy. Acquired in the 1930s, it is believed to be a male in his twenties. It has a bone structure similar to that of Rameses II, so is thought to be of royal descent. Also on show are richly decorated funerary masks, carved stone columns and reliefs, ceramics, jewellery, clothing, figurines, tools, coffins and weapons.

Bolton's Egypt has been designed to be bright, vibrant and welcoming. Its themes include: fashion, beauty and lifestyle, with sections on travel, trade and the natural world.

A background soundscape runs throughout many of the displays and there are a number of installations, including Egypt for the Many, a video-wall of film and television clips that reflect the public's enduring obsession with mummies, pharaohs and the pyramids. The Bangles' 1987 hit single, Walk Like An Egyptian, Batman star Adam West's infamous Dance for King Tut from a 1966 episode of the series, and excerpts from Disney cartoons, Hollywood blockbusters and other popular Egyptian memes, all feature.

Bolton has a long-standing association with Egyptology, as the museum's considerable collection came about thanks to Annie Barlow, the daughter of a local mill-owner. Her father, James, founded a successful mill company, Barlow and Jones, which imported Egyptian cotton. With a fortune built on a global business, James Barlow became Chair of the museum, while his youngest daughter, Annie, who was fascinated by Ancient Egypt, joined the Egypt Exploration Fund (EEF) and, in 1883, became one of its first regional secretaries.

Established in 1882, the EEF (later the EES) sought to raise money from private donors and large institutions in the UK to help fund British-led excavations in Egypt. Annie became the EEF's top fundraiser and, in return for her efforts and to reward local donors, artefacts from EEF digs were sent back to Bolton. In 1888, she went to Egypt herself, met the most famous Egyptologists of the day and visited EEF-sponsored digs. Thanks to the relationship between Annie, the EEF, Egypt and her home-town, a collection of over 12,000 well-documented objects was built up in Bolton.

Cotton also played a key role in making Bolton home to one of world's most important depositories of Ancient Egyptian fabrics. Another local self-made man, William Midgley, was the museum's first curator and, in 1895, his son, Thomas, became co-curator. Being at the heart of the north west's booming cotton industry, both the Midgleys were fascinated by textile production. This led to an interest in the woven materials of Ancient Egypt, and the pair became recognised as leading authorities on both modern and antique fabrics. As a result, many textile fragments excavated by the EEF were sent to the museum for analysis and safe-keeping, and it began to amass a collection of rare fabric samples. They include a fragment of cloth now widely regarded as the earliest example of mummification bandaging. When recently analysed by specialists from the University of York, it not only shed light on embalming methods but also proved that mummification was practised as early as 3,500 BC, and far more widely than had previously been thought. So it was that Bolton and Egypt became inextricably linked.(www.boltonlams.co.uk/museum/collections-overview/the-egyptology-collection)

Lindsay Fulcher

 



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