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Coffins in Context 22- 24 February 2024

2 minutes to read

In February 2024, the Fitzwilliam Museum and Christ’s College, Cambridge jointly hosted a conference, ‘Coffins in Context’, held over three days, from 22 to 24 February. The event was organized by Julie Dawson, Helen Strudwick and Alex Loktionov, with the assistance of Sara Abed, and took place in Christ’s Yusuf Hamied Centre, with 77 participants attending in person, and a further 61 participants registered to join online. The conference was open to members of the public to attend, who were also free to contribute to the discussion sessions.

The conference began at the Fitzwilliam where participants were welcomed over breakfast and then had a chance to visit the Egyptian galleries at the museum. In addition to viewing the Egyptian collection, including the coffins collection, they were also able to view a new model recreating the ancient Egyptian carpentry workshop made for Meketre (the original of which is in Cairo), made for the Museum by Geoffrey Killen.

Following this, participants moved to Christ’s where the conference commenced.

A wide range of research was presented through talks (some of which were online) and posters. The talks included full-length presentations (20 minutes, plus questions) and short-form talks (10 minutes, with no questions), which allowed participants to present studies of single coffins. Topics varied from conservation technologies, documentation and digitization of coffins, interdisciplinary practices, craftsmanship and making of coffins, techniques for identifying materials, to the social context of coffins and religious interpretation, as well as the processes of construction, decoration inscriptions, and questions about the usefulness of dating methodologies. Many more topics emerged during the discussion sessions, some of which continued during the tea/coffee and lunch breaks.

The diverse academic backgrounds of participants who came from different museums, institutes and countries engendered stimulating discussions and enabled the dissemination of research on objects that are not easily accessible, such as coffins in storerooms on excavation sites and provincial museums. The hybrid nature of the conference also allowed a wide range of participants from all over the world to take participate, through their own presentations or through comments and questions posted online. With the agreement of presenters, most talks were recorded and shared online with registered conference participants, to enable those who were unable to attend in person at the time of presentation.

Eight volunteers, mostly students in from the University of Cambridge Department of Archaeology, provided generous assistance in return for the chance to participate in the conference, meet a diverse range of researchers working on ancient Egyptian coffins and to contribute to wide-ranging discussions.

During the conference a selection of Fitzwilliam Museum publications was available for purchase at the conference venue and in Museum shop. Some other publications, of which there is an overabundance of stock, were also distributed free of charge.

The principal organisers were ably assisted by Sara Abed and she has written a personal account of the experience of the conference, which you can read here. She describes it as “an interesting experience not only to help behind the scenes and familiarize myself with the prominent names in the field and the diverse research topics, but I also enjoyed attending the sessions and listening to the discussions. It was an eye-opening experience that enriched my knowledge of coffins and the extensive research around it. It made me look at them differently, not as funerary objects of death but rather as an industry with a whole culture and logic, all interweaving to tell a story of people, craft, art, meaning and certainly life.”

A model made by Geoffrey Killen recreating the ancient Egyptian carpentry workshop made for Meketre

Conference participants at the Fitzwilliam Museum Egyptian galleries

More coffins discussions during lunch; Dr. Geoffry Killen with conservators Mohamed Ragab and Ahmed Tarek from the Grand Egyptian Museum in Cairo

A selection of Fitzwilliam Museum publications

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