Past Events

Gurob Harem Palace Project Conference 2012

The 2012 Gurob Harem Palace Project Conference, which was organised jointly with the University of Liverpool Ancient Worlds Summer School, took place at the University of Liverpool on Sunday 29 July 2012.

Please see below for abstracts of all papers presented.


  1. The latest news from our 2012 fieldwork – Ian Shaw (University of Liverpool)
  2. Recording the 2011-12 looting at Gurob – Anna Hodgkinson (University of Liverpool)
  3. Gleanings from Gurob: Reinvestigation and Redisplay at the Manchester Museum – Dr Campbell Price (Curator of Egypt & Sudan, Manchester Museum)
  4. Gurob’s trade with the Aegean – Dr Valentina Gasperini (University of Bologna)
  5. Faience bowls and amulets at Gurob – Dr Tine Bagh (Curator, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen)
  6. Culture of Beauty in an Egyptian Palace – Dr Ole Herslund (University of Copenhagen)
  7. Queen Mary's Spoon? – Jan Picton and Ivor Pridden (University College London);
  8. Objects in focus in the Garstang Museum – studying Gurob-related objects.

A detailed report on the conference by Andrea Byrnes can be read on

The audience

The audience assembling
for the morning session

Ian Shaw on the Gurob 2012 fieldwork

Ian Shaw presenting the
2012 fieldwork results

Anna Hodgkinson on looting

Anna Hodgkinson speaking about
the looting at Gurob in 2011-12

The latest news from our 2012 fieldwork – Ian Shaw

Please refer to the SCA three-month report for the latest news from our fieldwork!

Recording the 2011-12 looting at Gurob – Anna Hodgkinson

This paper highlights the difficulties faced by the antiquities authority and archaeologists in the light of the recent Egyptian revolution.
Looting has been a well-known phenomenon in Egypt since the pharaonic period, and it often, unfortunately, occurs in modern times. During the fieldwork seasons in 2011 and 2012, a total of just under 200 instances of looting were recorded. These ranged in severity from a mere shovel scoop to fully-looted shaft tombs.
The team has done their best to record and digitally survey all instanced of looting, as well as to catalogue and conserve all objects and human remains left behind by the looters. This task was, and still is a challenge for the team due to the fragile nature of the artefacts from these burials.
Apart from the affected cemeteries, a section of wall belonging to the south-western part of the Palace enclosure was also exposed, allowing us to trace the standing architectural remains and to add to the known plan of the Palace.

Conversations over coffee

Conversations taking place
during the tea and coffee break

Conversations over coffee

More conversations taking place
during the tea and coffee break

Hannah's 3D presentation

Hannah Pethen and her demonstration on the
topographic survey at Gurob

The GHPP topographic survey continues – visual presentation – Hannah Pethen

The presentation, to be shown on a TV screen in the conference room during the morning coffee and lunch breaks, summarises the continuing process of topographic survey at the New Kingdom town and Harem Palace of Gurob in the Faiyum. The presentation shows how the existing 2011 topographic survey was extended to the north in 2012, producing a new ‘cloud’ of data points. The combined data is used to create a 3-dimensional model of the topography of the site, and the exterior wall and some internal parts of the Harem Palace complex are clearly visible when the resulting interpolation is compared to the plan of the palace produced by Kemp in 1976. A technique known as ‘hillshading’ can then be used to view the topographic model in a form more immediately understandable to the human eye, revealing many of the natural and man-made variations in the surface of the site. When the model is viewed under conditions of low light, more subtle variations become visible, revealing traces of the Harem Palace and the eroded tell to the east.
It has been thought that the location of the Gurob Harem Palace on the edge of the Faiyum was crucial to its foundation and development. To investigate this, the topographic model is integrated into a large digital terrain model of the landscape around the site, including the Gisr el-Bahlawan, the modern canal and the Bahr Yussef. Understanding the relationship between the site, the past history of the Bahr Yussef river and the purpose and date of the Gisr el-Bahlawan is crucial to developing an understanding of the impact of the site upon control of the water supply to the Faiyum. The combined topographic model indicates the potential value of such methods of investigation. In future, additional information will be obtained from satellite imagery and geoarchaeological boreholes in order to incorporate more detail of the modern and ancient topography into the model.

Gleanings from Gurob: Reinvestigation and Redisplay at the Manchester Museum – Dr Campbell Price

The Manchester Museum holds over 700 objects from Petrie’s excavations Gurob. Along with material from Kahun, many of these objects were the first to be catalogued, by Agnes Griffith in her museum handbook of 1910. The Gurob material remains at the heart of the collection because of the unique insight it gives into everyday life – rather than purely funerary beliefs.
Work on Manchester’s new Ancient Worlds galleries has provided an opportunity to reassess objects from Gurob. These will be used to illuminate aspects of life in a New Kingdom royal city. Along with comparable material from Amarna, objects from Gurob demonstrate the importance of motifs from the natural world in decoration. A rich selection of faience and glass illustrates the importance of these high status industries at both sites.
Ongoing research into Gurob material will be available on mobile web pages in the new galleries. A diverse and state-of-the-art range of work on bread, shabtis, imported pottery vessels, pottery coffins, wooden furniture, and the experimental firing of faience will feature in this freely-accessible digital content. In addition to a spotlight on the work of the GHPP itself, it is hoped that this information will contextualise our rich Gurob collection and life in New Kingdom Egypt for our visitors.

Please visit Campbell's curatorial blog for his own report on the 2012 Gurob Harem Palace Project Conference!

Campbell Price on the Manchester collections

Campbell Price on Gurob's presence
within the Manchester Museum

Valentina Gasperini on Trade in the Fayum

Valentina Gasperini talking about
imported pottery from Gurob

Tine Bagh on Fayence

Tine Bagh analysing the many
faience fragments found at Gurob

Gurob’s trade with the Aegean – Dr Valentina Gasperini

The eastern Faiyum region was probably a hub for commerce during the Late Bronze Age (1580–1065 BC). It possibly served as a crucial trading area from the beginning of the first half of the second millennium BC. Minoan imported pottery appears to have been the most prevalent kind of import during the first half of the second millennium BC. The highest percentage of Middle Minoan pottery ever found in Egypt has been unearthed at Haraga and Kahun. At the beginning of the New Kingdom, it seems quite clear that Gurob inherited the role of controller of commerce in the area. This can be assumed because of the large percentage of pottery imported from Cyprus, the Mycenaean area and the Syria-Palestinian coast discovered there.
The collection of the Manchester Museum houses some interesting vessels which have been traded from the Mycenaean world: an askos (MM 13892), two stirrup jars (MM 717 – MM 13893); moreover a faience Egyptian imitation of a Mycenaean flask (MM 659). They were discovered during the excavation campaign lead by Petrie in 1889. The askos (MM13892) was probably imported from Thessaly, while one of the stirrup jars (MM 13893) was imported from Beotia. All four vessels cover a chronological range of dating between the very end of the XVIIIth dynasty and the beginning of the Ramesside Period.
Following from the analysis of Petrie’s journals and publications, it is probable that all four vessels were found in the so called “burnt groups”, an archaeological “anomaly” which is characteristic for Gurob’s settlement. It is possible that these “burnt groups” were in relation with the presence of a Hittite community which was living in the royal town. Therefore, the presence of imported goods at Gurob is more likely to stand in relation with the economic and trading role of the town during the New Kingdom, and exist independently from the possible presence of foreigners.

Faience bowls and amulets at Gurob – Dr Tine Bagh

Many small fragments of faience bowls and amulets have turned up in the palace area and north of it during the survey and excavations of the Gurob Harem Palace Project. This confirms the fact that this kind of material is not only connected with tombs and chapels as otherwise known from Egyptian sites. The old Gurob excavations by Petrie and Brunton & Engelbach published examples of faience bowls from tombs as well as from the palace area. For the latter cf. Petrie (KGH 1890) ”… One bowl is nearly completed from pieces found scattered in several rooms; …”. This was a fine bowl now in the Manchester Museum decorated inside with monkeys picking dates. Like the Mycenaean vessels studied by Dr Valentina Gasperini faience bowls also occurred in the so-called burnt deposits in the palace. In tombs faience bowls are part of the tomb material and in one instance it is described how the bowl was placed next to the hip of the deceased.
More complete bowls in various museum collections make it possible propose reconstructions of the fragments. Two rim fragments from the 2011 season were for example decorated with the common lotus motive. Other fragments from the 2012 season may be from bowls with more elaborate designs such as one with a man and a monkey now also in the Manchester Museum and a larger part of a bowl in the Ashmolean Museum with a gazelle mother and her kid.
Faience amulets from 2012 include a nice example from the North Town area of a crocodile and Bes and Tawaret from the South Palace. The future work in Gurob will surely produce more fragments of bowls and amulets from the palace area that will shed light on the use of this type of material. A line of future research would be to investigate further the connection of decorated faience bowls and women.

Culture of Beauty in an Egyptian Palace – Dr Ole Herslund

This paper explores the meaningful relationship between the ancient Egyptian elite's conception of beauty and the many kinds of toiletries found at Medinet el-Gurob. For more than a century the archaeological site of Gurob have yielded numerous objects from the New Kingdom material culture of beauty that give an anthropological insight into what it meant to be "beautiful".
By tracing the core meaning of "beauty" in the lexicon, texts and art it is shown how the ancient Egyptian elite's concept of personal beauty was closely related to that of youth, and secondly, to the idea of enhancing ones beauty so as to appear more youthful. When archaeological objects from the material culture of beauty like toiletries, make-up, ointments, textiles, jewellery and wigs are placed back into this conceptual frame we can begin to understand not only their function and the belonging practices, but also how they encapsulate a whole range of meanings pertaining to elite life, production and consumption, the human body, roles, identities and sexuality.

Ole Herslund on beauty

Ole Herslund speaking about the
Culture of Beauty in an Egyptian Palace

Jan on the swimming girl spoon replica

Jan Picton presenting the
swimming girl spoon replica

Ivor on the swimming girl spoon replica

Ivor Pridden elaborating on the
swimming girl spoon replica

Queen Mary's Spoon? – Jan Picton and Ivor Pridden

A 'swimming girl spoon' held in the Petrie Museum collection for many years was listed as a gift from Queen Mary following a visit to the museum in 1927, but was identified as a modern piece although based on a known type. The on-line publication of an album of Petrie's photographs by the Griffith Institute (sponsored by the Friends of the Petrie Museum) helped to identify the spoon as a copy of one excavated at the site of Gurob during Petrie's 1888/9 season.
The paper presented the story behind the spoon as it is presently understood and identified questions that remain to be answered as to whether the spoon was received from Queen Mary or has been wrongly identified as that gift; and if so, how the replica comes to be in the collection, how and why it was made, and who made it. The paper demonstrated the work still to be done in museum archives to round out object stories that bring to life the people of Gurob.

Handling session

Tine Bagh during the
Glass and faience handling session

Handling session

The Glass and faience
handling session

At dinner

Some of the team and friends
at dinner after the conference