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Chapple, R. M. 2012 'a Little Box Full of Egypt- Ancient Amulets and Victorian Fakes' Blogspot Post

Chapple, R. M. 2012 'a Little Box Full of Egypt- Ancient Amulets and Victorian Fakes' Blogspot Post

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Published by Robert M Chapple

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Published by: Robert M Chapple on Nov 24, 2012
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12/04/2012

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 A little box full of Egypt: Ancient amulets and Victorian fakes
Originally posted online on 11 April 2012 at rmchapple.blogspot.com(
) If you know me
either in real life or just through my activities online
 
 you’ll be aware(possibly to the point of exasperation) that I’m obsessed with archaeology. You’ll
probably also know that my main area of interest is Irish archaeology, especially prehistory, the Early Christian period, and post-Medieval gravestones
 
it’s just how Iam! What fewer of you may know is that I’m also pretty obsessed with Egypt and
Egyptology! What almost no one knows is that my family and I are the curators of asmall collection of ancient Egyptian artefacts. I say curators, rather than owners, as we believe that we can never truly own such items
we are merely their custodians for thenext generation.The collection was passed to me contained in a small Godfrey Phillips tobacco tin (Fig.1). I remember clearly the morning when I first opened the lid of that box. In its ownsmall way, it was quite like Howard Carter
s statement on opening the tomb of Tutankhamun and seeing ‘wonderful things’. There may not have been ‘everywhere theglint of gold’, but I was quite taken aback (Fig. 2). Unfortunately, the finds are without
any real provenance. The only consensus we can come to within the family is that they  were probably purchased in England as part of a job lot at a house clearance sale duringthe 1960s or 1970s. Regrettably, this is the extent of our knowledge on where they camefrom
and this is mostly speculation!
Figure 1. The Godfrey Phillip’s tobacco box.
 Godfrey Phillips Ltd. introduced the B. D. V. brand of  cigarettes in the early 1900s.  Although popular for some time, the line was finally discontinued in 1948. Within thistime frame, the style of the box may be more closely dated to the late 1920s to early 
 
1930s (pers. comm. Lee Towersey). Although not conclusive, this does provide asuggestion as to when the collection was boxed up in its present form. However, the
presence of various plaques/amulets with ‘X
-
decoration’ (see below) may be paralleled
on strings of beads made up for the Victorian tourist market (Dr. A. Cooke pers. comm.). As such artefacts are not thought to have been recovered from excavated contexts, it
may be that they are ‘fakes’ to fool the tourists and enliven an otherwise ‘dull’ collection
of  faience  beads. While disappointing to those seeking Egyptian antiquities, it may be a reliable pointer as to when the genuine items were discovered, sold and transported outof Egypt.Figure 2. The contents of the box as I first discovered them.Since they came into our possession I have wanted to write about them and make themmore widely known
the natural response of any self-respecting archaeologist.However, there have been a number of barriers to this, not least of which is the fact thatartefacts without their archaeological provenance are largely worthless. One of thecentral tenets of modern archaeology is that artefacts tell us about the people of the past,rather than just being things in their own right. Thus, archaeologists expend much timeand effort in accurately recording the context of their finds so that they may shed themaximum amount of light on past societies. Sites where the artefacts have beenremoved without full recording are vastly diminished, and artefacts without their sitesare similarly depleted of meaning. On top of this are the twin factors that I am neitheran Egyptologist, not a finds specialist
both of which are important in presentingmaterial of this nature. Finally, there is the problem that I felt it would be quite difficultto find a journal publisher willing to accept, even a well-written and researched, paperon this collection. Simply put, there are probably thousands of dusty tobacco tins andcigar boxes, stuffed full of small finds from Egypt, lodged in the backs of cupboards allacross the world. Other than the fact that these are in my care and that I like them, dothey have any other intrinsic merit? The short answer is: probably not. That is pretty much where I left the argument in my head for quite some time. However, since Istarted this blog in August 2011 it has begun to dawn on me that this may just be theperfect format for disseminating this kind of information. It is less formal than
 
conventional, peer-reviewed, print-based journals and has the advantage that furthercollaboration and correction can take place after publication to the blog. This form of 
‘open source’ publication also allows the data to be accessed by anyone with an internet
connection, making it potentially available to most of the planet
or at least thoseinterested in this topic! My aims in presenting this collection are as follows:1) To make the collection know on its own merits to the widest audience
both scholarly and amateur.2) To invite collaboration in adding detail or correcting inaccuracies in the descriptions.Please feel free to comment directly to the blog or contact me by email.In so far as possible, I will endeavour to make changes to the text and formally acknowledge any contributions made.3) I would love to think that this post may act as an inspiration to others to make thecollections curated by them and their families better known and available to a wideraudience. If you have inherited (and are in legal possession of) antiquities (of any culture, not just Egyptian) and would like to see them enjoyed by both specialists andenthusiasts across the globe, please consider photographing and writing them up. If anyone needs a platform to present their results, please consider submitting them hereas a guest writer on this blog!
CATALOGUE
 Figure 3. Necklace composed of faience beads.

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