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The pitfalls of recreating a pit burial

30 May 2017 by Alex Blakeborough

The final put burial display.

The final pit burial display.

What colour should the sand be? This was just one of the many things we had to think about when installing the pit burial case for the new Ancient Egypt gallery.

Laying out the remains and objects before installation.

The display shows an example of what a very early Egyptian burial looked like, with the remains buried directly into the ground and surrounded by their possessions. Our original case mock up involved laying the remains and objects out on a table but it’s a different story when you have to do it in a confined space (inside a glass display case) whilst fighting with sand. Not to mention the puzzle that is the human skeleton. How many of you have had to figure out which order vertebrae go in or make sure a hip bone is the right way around?! Dealing with human remains is a sensitive issue and it’s a matter of basic respect for the dead to get it right.

The sand helped to recreate an excavated grave whilst at the same time we used it as a tool to hold the objects and remains in place. We tested it to check for the presence of salt (damaging for the objects and remains) and then dried it in a fan-assisted laboratory drying oven for over 24 hours to remove any moisture

Even before installing any of the objects we had to make sure the display case glass was thoroughly cleaned on the inside as once the objects and remains were inside, it would be impossible to reach the finger prints we had missed. A little known fact – a majority of the time spent on a gallery installation goes on glass cleaning!
By the way, to answer the original question ‘What colour should the sand be?’ – we mixed pale yellow sand with a red sand to achieve the perfect shade of Egyptian desert.

You can see the pit burial in the newly opened Ancient Egypt gallery at World Museum. View more of the Ancient Egypt collection online and find out what else went on behind the scenes!

  1. Andie Byrnes says:

    Do you mind me asking which cemetery this came from and what the date is? I loved the post, thought that the recreation of the grave was incredibly useful (always excellent to see objects in their original context) and would like to share it on the PREGYPT Facebook group with a few details about it. We have a Museums theme running at the moment, and this would be perfect to include.

    • National Museums Liverpool says:

      Hi Andie,

      We’re glad you enjoyed our blog!

      The burial is from the Late Predynastic Period (about 3200 BC) and was excavated at Kostamneh (Nubia) by the University of Liverpool in 1906.

      Kostamneh is an A-Group and C-Group cemetery in Nubia (near el-Dakka). Excavations in 1906 were directed by John Garstang of the Liverpool Institute of Archaeology on behalf of the Edfu Excavation Committee in 1906. The site is about 6 miles north of Quban (ancient Egyptian ‘Baki’; Greek ‘Contra Pselchis’) but is now beneath the waters of Lake Nasser.

      We’d be happy for you to share our blog on your Facebook group. World Museum can also be found on Facebook at facebook.com/worldmuseum.

      Thank you!

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