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Seshepenmehyt’s coffin

I have written previously about visiting Heiroglyphs at the British Museum. The exhibition includes the coffin and mummified remains of Bakt en hor, which are normally on display at the Great North Museum. In return for the loan, the British Museum has sent the inner coffin of Seshepenmehyt up to Newcastle.

After my discomfort at the Hieroglyphs exhibition, I was keen to see whether a British Museum artefact displayed elsewhere would feel any better.

As you can see, the coffin is strikingly beautiful. The absence of crowds meant that I could take some time to contemplate the coffin, and to view it closely from all four sides.

The interpretation text concentrated on the imagery of the afterlife carved into the coffin, which is appropriate as it is on display in a part of the museum dedicated to cultural and religious responses to death.

It was slightly strange that the interpretation was given in The British Museum’s house style and colour scheme rather than that of the Great North Museum—the same certainly didn’t apply in reverse for the loan of Bakt en hor.

But the oddest thing of all was that the display was labelled prominently, in large logos on every side, as being from The British Museum. The word ‘British’ appears more frequently and in bigger letters in the exhibit than the word ‘Egyptian’, which is baffling. Why should the country that holds the artefact be more boldly highlighted than the place where the coffin’s occupant lived, and from where the coffin was pilfered?

Even the museum’s webpage mentions the British Museum ten times, and Egypt only seven times—and two of the mentions of Egypt are referring to parts of the museum.

I can’t help but feel that we’re overdue for a proper reckoning with our country’s past, and a reconsideration of how we treat treasures we’ve stolen from other countries.

Seshepenmehyt is at the Great North Museum: Hancock for just a few more days, until 19 February.

This post was filed under: Museums, Post-a-day 2023, .

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