About Meet an Egyptologist
This Nile Scribes series enables our readers to learn more about Egyptologists from around the world. From questions about their life and their career, we explore their research interests and perspectives on the field of Egyptology. We want to use this series to help strengthen the public’s awareness of the Egyptological community, and to illustrate the varied careers and on-going research projects within our discipline. This week we interviewed Dr. Anna Garnett from the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology.
Who is Dr. Anna Garnett?
Dr. Anna Garnett completed her PhD in 2017 at the University of Liverpool with a focus on the sacred landscapes in Egypt’s Eastern Desert in the time of the New Kingdom. Dr. Garnett has worked as a ceramicist for several projects in Egypt (Amarna, Gurob, and Tell el-Amarna) and Sudan (Amara West and Sesebi). In 2017, she was appointed as Curator of the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology in London, where she cares for a collection of c. 80,000 objects spanning the history of Egypt and Sudan. The wide range of Dr. Garnett’s research interests include the material culture of Sudan, Egyptian sculpture from the New Kingdom, the history of British Egyptology, and the important topic of reconciliation in Egyptian and Sudanese object collections.
Nile Scribes: Where are you from and where were you educated?
Dr. Anna Garnett: I am from Kendal, a small town in the southern Lake District, and I am a very proud descendant of generations of Cumbrian sheep farmers. I went to local comprehensive schools and followed a path towards Egyptian Archaeology and Museums from an early age. At 18, I was the first in my extended family to go to university and chose the University of Liverpool for their excellent Egyptian Archaeology programme.
NS: How did you become interested in ancient Egypt?
AG: There are two stories: I am still not sure which one is responsible! When I was about seven years old, I found a children’s book on Tutankhamun in a second-hand shop and begged my mother to buy it for me (still a prized possession!). I had no idea who Tutankhamun was—nor anything about ancient Egypt—but I just knew I had to have it. From then on, it was only Egypt, archaeology, and museums for me. The alternative story is that I was climbing a tree around the same age and I hit my head very hard on a branch, I still have a lump on my head as a result! After that, I caught the bug for all things ancient Egypt….
NS: Why do you think it is important to study the ancient world?
AG: For me, this comes down to the human connection and realising that the world is so much bigger than our own individual issues and concerns. When I’m having a rough day, I make sure I spend some time with the objects of daily life from ancient Egypt and Sudan – the broken pot sherds, the little mud figurines, the farming equipment – which always help me to see the bigger picture in any situation.
NS: What are your primary research interests?
AG: My research interests focus on the New Kingdom, particularly the late Eighteenth and early Nineteenth Dynasties. I am especially interested in how ceramics can inform our understanding of lived experience in Egypt and Sudan during this period. My Ph.D. thesis, undertaken at the University of Liverpool, focused on the development and use of sacred landscapes in the New Kingdom Eastern Desert.
NS: Where have you worked in Egypt?
AG: I am fortunate to have worked across Egypt and Sudan as a ceramicist and archaeological illustrator at Kom el-Hettan, Gurob, Tell el-Dab’a, Amarna, and Sesebi and Amara West in Sudan. I am definitely a ‘post-excavation’ specialist – excavation is not my strong point!
One season at Amara West, Dr. Anna Stevens and her Sudanese workforce revealed a group of intact in-situ ceramic vessels in an ancient house, as if just abandoned by the inhabitants. Anna kindly invited me to help with the excavation, knowing how excited and happy this would make me. Sadly, I was digging far too slowly and so was quickly (and politely) asked to vacate the room: I was more interested in studying all the pots and underestimated the effect of the imminent sandstorm on the excavation photography!
NS: Do you have research interests in any other countries?
AG: I have worked in the region of the second and third Nile cataracts in Sudan and I have spent a good deal of time in Khartoum. I am interested in the evidence for cultural entanglement at the so-called ‘temple towns’ constructed in Nubia during the New Kingdom, particularly how this idea can be observed though the ceramic repertoire.
NS: What is one of the biggest misconceptions about Egyptologists?
AG: I suppose that if you are an Egyptologist, people automatically think that you are obsessed with Indiana Jones! I didn’t actually watch the film series until I was at University and, even though I enjoy them, it can sometimes be tedious when it’s the first thing people say when you talk to them about Egyptology…
NS: You were recently appointed as Curator at the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology. What advice do you have for students who are looking into a career in museums?
AG: Gain as much practical museum experience as you can, as soon as you can. While it is of course useful to have a strong academic background as a Curator, ideally this should be balanced with a wide range of hands-on skills including documentation, exhibitions, and public engagement. Sadly, unpaid voluntary work will undoubtedly form the basis of your early museum experience, which then creates a biased system towards those who are able to work for free. Change is happening but it is slow: museums should always try to advertise paid entry-level museum positions where possible.
NS: Many of us might not see broken pots as important material for understanding ancient communities. Why are ceramics so essential for creating a holistic image of a community?
AG: I have dedicated my career to asking this question! I am biased but, as a ceramicist, for me pottery is the most important find from an archaeological site. Seemingly insignificant broken pot sherds can not only tell you the relative date of a deposit but, perhaps more importantly, they inform us about how people really lived: how they cooked, what and how they ate, as well as providing insights into national and international trade of ideas and commodities. For me, a bag of sherds can tell multiple stories and its significance should not be underestimated.
NS: What are you currently reading?
AG: I have been working on a loan of Petrie Museum objects for a forthcoming exhibition at the Freud Museum, London (‘Between Oedipus and the Sphinx: Freud and Egypt’) so I am currently refreshing my knowledge of Sigmund Freud and his ancient Egyptian collection.
NS: If you had to study something else besides ancient Egypt, what would it be?
AG: I have thought about this question a lot, and I find it very difficult to answer since, for me, it has always been Egyptology. In the past, I was also (very briefly) interested in a career in Art History and Architecture, so I suppose that is where I would be if I had not pursued Egyptology so single-mindedly!
The Nile Scribes are grateful for Dr. Garnett’s participation in our interview series. If you have any questions for Dr. Garnett, you may contact her on Twitter or leave a comment on the blog.
Follow Dr. Anna Garnett
Dr. Garnett is currently working on the following forthcoming exhibitions:
- From Gurob to the Getty: The Voyages of an Ancient Egyptian Ship-Cart Model – on display in June 2019 at the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology
- Between Oedipus and the Sphinx: Freud and Egypt – on display in August 2019 at the Freud Museum London
All images are courtesy of Dr. Anna Garnett.