Friday 23rd February – ‘A “kind of exploration or antiquity-dealing-business”: Egyptian archaeology and the Antiquities Trade 1880-1939’

Egyptological historiography has often focussed on the apparent scientific heroism of archaeologists, obscuring the reality that many of the same heroes were also active in the antiquities market, buying, and selling objects freely. This lecture will discuss the results of research into the entanglement of archaeology and the market 1880-1939. It takes four archaeologists as it’s focus, each of whom took part in British-led excavations in Egypt and Sudan, engaged in the antiquities market and impacted the collections of museums across the world. Select transactions of curator Edwin Ward, collector-for-hire Charles Trick Currelly, and archaeologists John Garstang and Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie will be presented as a way of exploring the broader phenomenon. It will consider how these transactions were arranged and how they were viewed thically and financially. It will also explore how this side of the business of archaeology was seen by others, justified by these excavator-collectors and how a fuller picture of the symbiotic relationship of archaeology and the market impacts how we view the provenance of museum collections and of the history of Egyptology today.

Dr Dan Potter is Assistant Curator for Ancient Mediterranean National Museums Scotland. He joined the Museum in 2016 to develop the ‘Ancient Egypt Rediscovered’ gallery which opened in 2019. He has since curated the National Museum Scotland touring exhibition ‘Discovering Ancient Egypt’ and completed a collections review of Egyptian material in Scottish museums in 2020. In 2022 he was awarded an AHRC research, development and engagement fellowship to study and highlight how archaeologists involved in British-led excavations engage with the Antiquities market. This project is partnered with The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, The Egypt Exploration Society and The World Museum, Liverpool.