The Ure Museum: The Nine Lives of A Mummified Cat’s Head

By Dr. Claudina Romero Mayorga, November 2020.

This year’s edition of Heritage Open Days (11-20 September) at the Ure Museum was a bit different. For the annual HOD we would normally host a talk and open the museum on a Saturday with free activities for families, but the pandemic forced us to step up and go virtual. What could we offer to attract people back to their computer screens during a time when families had already been online for 6 months!?

Since the theme for this year was “hidden nature” we chose to focus on the mummified cat’s head that is spending its afterlife in one of our cases. Our staff and some colleagues in the Department of Classics created a series of short videos under the title “The 9 lives of the Ure Museum’s cat’s head”. Each life of the cat – and each day of the festival – would be devoted to discovering a specific aspect of our feline. After all, the internet loves cats.

Dr Hana Navratilova started with Bastet and the wide range of powers that this Egyptian goddess displayed. Prof. Ian Rutherford then offered a refreshing and honest point of view: what we know–and don’t—about the ancient Egyptian custom of sacrificing cats. Dr Claudina Romero Mayorga gave us a gory insight into the mummification process and a step by step guide to mummifying a sardine (and to keep our cat well fed in the afterlife). Prof. Rachel Mairs provided us with an eco-friendly vision of ancient Egypt by focusing on how papyri were recycled into cartonnage.

The Ure Museum curator, Prof. Amy Smith and the assistant curator, Jayne Holly, then reminded us of their important “behind the scenes” work. By tracing back the cat’s provenance—where it comes from, when was it added to our collection, who gave it to us–we discovered bits of our own history. Lending our feline to another museum and running some tests in the lab to become part of the ancient Egyptian Animal Biobank also expanded our knowledge of this spooky artefact.

All videos were posted on our website and advertised on social media, enabling us to engage with people around the world. Our number of followers on Twitter and Facebook rocketed; international institutions liked our posts and we created a series of colour-in pages that accompanied each video for younger kids. In the end, our Heritage Open Days were more accessible than ever. If you missed the videos, you can still watch them at: https://collections.reading.ac.uk/ure-museum/whats-on/cat/.

Ure researchers show Cyprus in 3D

Through the “Cyprus: 3D” project Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology researchers are highlighting the Ure’s Cypriot holdings and investigation their research and pedagogical value. From among its 100+ artefacts from this Mediterranean island, 19 terracotta figurines of the Kamelarga style from Kition have been chosen for this project. The figurines, which date from the Cypro-Archaic period (750-480 BC), represent worshipers holding food, animals, shields and musical instruments. Such figurines have been interpretedTraditionally as ex-votos, but the loss of their archaeological context leaves many questions yet to be answered.

We captured these figurines through photogrammetry to get virtual 3D models, which we later edited and 3D printed. We printed them in different textures, sizes and colours, as some of the original terracottas were found fragmented, with and without traces of paint, etc. Our goal was to encourage the handling of these replicas and to analyse our audience’s reactions. Cyprus: 3D was the common thread throughout our calendar of educational activities for 2018-2019: we have incorporated our figurines in many events to promote the collection as part of our outreach programme and audience development, in which older teenagers and families had the chance to play with our prints as a way to have a better understanding of Cypriot ancient culture. We encouraged responses from the participants with questions about what the figures looked like, who they might represent, what genders they might reflect, what each figure was carrying, with follow-on questions such as why they might be carrying these attributes.

Claudina Romero Mayorga

Learners from different backgrounds, ages and learning abilities engaged with our resources in similar ways: they overlooked the printing quality in some of the replicas and embraced the opportunity to touch and “play” with copies of fragile artefacts that are usually safeguarded inside our cases. The sense of touch provide us with a “tactile reality”, sensations capable of generating mental images that are important for communication, aesthetics and concept formation. Audience interpretations of the artefacts —in terms of gender, status, attributes, etc.—largely matching the theories of the excavators and scholars that have been studying Cypriot material for decades. Learners “played” with the replicas, allowing us to create different slow-motion animations that tried to evoke ancient rituals and behavioural patterns from a civilisation now long gone. With these animations #TheVotives, our team of Cypriote musicians, has developed quite a following on twitter.

 

[i] Calendar of activities in a slide