Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology
University College London
(011 44) 1 207 504 2886
This little-known museum languishes in an alleyway not far from its much better-known "competitor", the Egyptian collection at the British Museum. Located at the University College in London, it's a fascinating discovery. While we may not be able to share Petrie's discoveries in Egypt, discovering his museum can be an adventure in itself. As in a fairy tale, go to the University and then keep asking everyone you see. Eventually, you'll turn down a narrow lane between two buildings and, if you look up, see a small, colorful Egyptian banner announcing the museum. Check your umbrella, coats, and packages downstairs. On our visit, the hours had just changed, but we were so convinced that the museum was open that we completely ignored the shut door and small "Closed" sign and went barging in, cheerily setting off alarms. Fortunately, a very pleasant museum employee came forward, and instead of being hauled off to Old Bailey gaol, we pointed helplessly at our guidebook which said that the museum was supposed to be open, and without any additional persuasion we were allowed to wander through the museum at our leisure. A few scholars were actively looking at records and objects but paid no attention as we peered into the cases. The Petrie collection consists primarily of small objects, most clearly labeled. It's vast and crammed into small rooms which should be four or five times larger for the current displays, and those only comprise a fraction of the entire 80,000-item collection. The lighting, at least on the "closed" day we were there, is dim. Combined with the low ceilings and low narrow cases, it all contributes to a sense of being in a tomb filled with sarcophagi of glass. The dim lighting enhances the magic of many of the objects and encourages slow, careful examination of them. A visit can easily occupy an hour and a half, though the lack of air conditioning may drive the less intrepid through a bit faster on hot summer days.
Petrie was fond of scarabs and many are included here. One of the most charming discoveries is a case filled from floor to ceiling with bronze statues of Bast in various sizes and poses. A comparatively bright hallway displays numerous inscribed stones with representations of the gods and pharaohs. The cases are narrow, so the objects are only a few inches away behind the glass. A splendid collection of Greco-Roman funereal portraits can be observed in close detail. Don't miss the displays lining the steep stairway at the rear of the museum - just don't brush too close to the sarcophagus displayed at the top of the stairs.
At the close of our visit, the museum employee was kind enough to let us make purchases from the small gift counter. We acquired a hardcover edition of Petrie's "Scarabs and Cylinders with Names". Many of his other titles are available at the museum, which bears his name and holds the fruits of so many years of excavation in Egypt. The entire archive of Petrie's excavation notebooks is even available on a CD-ROM, "The Petrie Museum Archives", available at the museum store for 50 pounds. Admission is free but donations are requested (and certainly deserved) at this under-funded repository of ancient objects. Hours: Tues-Fri 1pm-5pm; Sat 10am-3pm.