Like most museums with ancient Egyptian collections, the Royal Pavilion & Museums has a mixture of donated and excavated material. The unusual aspect is the strong connection to one of the leading figures in Egyptology, Professor Francis Llewellyn Griffith who lived in Brighton.
Griffith was able to join William Matthew Flinders Petrie’s excavations in Egypt as Petrie had secured funding partly through the support of Henry Willett, a founder of Brighton Museum & Art Gallery. Through subscription to the excavations, Brighton Museum & Art Gallery continued to receive objects from British-led expeditions until the 1920s.
Today the collection is one of the largest held in a regional museum in the United Kingdom. It is significant both for its close ties to the history of Egyptology through its connection with Griffith, and for its high proportion of excavated objects spanning much of the history of British expeditions in Egypt during this key period.
The collection also contains a number of key pieces from private donations. These include a cartonnage coffin with the only known ancient Egyptian representation of a three-headed god, and a small statue of Min-mose, the royal scribe of the Pharaoh Ramesses II.
In addition, only about two dozen museums in the UK hold excavated Sudanese artefacts. Fewer still contain material from Griffith’s noteworthy excavations at Faras and Sanam.
Francis Llewellyn Griffith
From a Brighton family and with a brother who was an alderman and a solicitor, Francis Llewellyn Griffith’s heart was in Egyptology, particularly in the study of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. He was torn between pursuing his love and the more pragmatic choice of interning with his brother’s law firm. Through Petrie’s persistence, funding was eventually found from Willett and Brighton Museum & Art Gallery.
Griffith was appreciative of the support given by the museum. He ensured it received objects spanning his entire field career, from his first work with Petrie and the Egypt Exploration Fund to his own expeditions for the University of Oxford. In turn, the museum demonstrated a long-term commitment to supporting expeditions to Egypt, sponsoring not only the work of Petrie but also of the British School of Archaeology, an institute Petrie set up when he became professor of Egyptology at University College London.
Both Petrie and Griffith are recognised today as leading figures in the history of Egyptology. Griffith went on to endow what is now the internationally recognised Griffith Institute of Egyptology archives at the University of Oxford. The Institute has become a major repository for Egyptological archives, including Griffith’s own.
Ancient Egypt galleries at Brighton Museum
The main gallery explores the excavation and background of artefacts, and displays the collection focusing on the lives and beliefs of the ancient Egyptians. In the smaller gallery, visitors can delve more deeply into the environment and technology of ancient Egyptian life, and learn more about the excavation of some of the objects.
The displays focus on daily life, the afterlife, technology, environment and the wider world, which encompasses Graeco-Roman Egypt and Nubia, an ancient area located in modern times within the southern part of modern Egypt and northern Sudan.
The museum worked with freelance Egyptology specialist Margaret Serpico to develop the two galleries.