University of Cambridge Museums

Projects, events and news from the University of Cambridge Museums

Throwing the light on Egyptian coffins

As the last few rays of sun sank behind the horizon, the gentle glow of flickering torchlight illuminated the glistening surface of the ancient Egyptian coffin panels.

It sounds like something out of a movie, but last night that is exactly what over 40 volunteers witnessed as part of a unique collaborative experiment between the Fitzwilliam Museum and the University of Cambridge Museums Division of Archaeology. The project aims to understand the interplay between the yellow painted surfaces of ancient Egyptian coffins and artificial illumination from recreated torches. Collaborators on the project include Helen Strudwick, Associate Curator of Egyptian Antiquities Fitzwilliam Museum, Elsbeth Geldhof, historic paint conservator, and Meghan Strong, PhD student in the Division of Archaeology.

The experiment asked participants to view panels painted with combinations of yellow pigments and varnish which would have been used on ancient Egyptian coffins, such as the coffins of Nespawershefyt which are part of the Fitzwilliam’s Egyptian antiquities collection. The experiment was unique as it combined a public perception study with experimental archaeology and research in material science. The initial results will be presented at an international colloquium in Lisbon in September, in addition to forming a part of Meghan Strong’s PhD thesis research. The experiment also contributes to the Fitzwilliam Museum’s Ancient Egyptian Coffins Project.

Find out more about volunteering and different ways to get involved with the University of Cambridge Museums on the website.

It was a fabulous event and we couldn’t have asked for a better group of volunteers. Everyone was genuinely interested in the research and played an invaluable role in the overall project. This will not only greatly inform my own research, but hopefully lead to more collaborative projects like this in the future.

Meghan Strong, Division of Archaeology

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