Swansea plans for jewels of the Nile

March 15, 1996

A 3,000-year-old wooden coffin, built for a female musician from Thebes, lies in a dusty storage box, locked away in Swansea University.

Alongside it is a limestone offering table, inscribed with hieroglyphics. It belonged to Paneb, one of the overseers of the Valley of the Kings. He was a notorious figure in antiquity, reckoned to have helped himself to the contents of many a pharoah's tomb.

The items are part of the Sir Henry Wellcome Egyptology collection, acquired from the Wellcome Trust 25 years ago by the university. Swansea University has just received Pounds 282,000 from the European Union to establish an Egyptology centre and mus- eum on its campus. It means that the priceless collection, to date accessible only to researchers, will go on show to the general public.

But before the centre can be built, Swansea will need a further Pounds 500,000 from the National Heritage lottery fund. Swansea has already submitted a bid, and is optimistic that its plan will be supported. The intention is to construct an extension to the university's Taliesin Arts Centre so that the 2,000 Egyptian artefacts, Wales's largest Egyptology collection, can be properly displayed and viewed by the public.

Therefore, as part of its 75th anniversary celebrations, it hopes to begin construction of the new museum this spring. If all goes according to plan it will be open to the public next summer.

Some of the oldest artefacts date back 6,000 years. They include pieces of pottery that date from 4,000bc, before the pharoaic dynasty assumed the Egyptian throne.

Later treasures include wall paintings from Queen Nefertiti's city of Amarna, mummies and the contents of various tombs, plus exquisite pharoanic jewellery.

According to its curator, David Gill of Swansea's classics department, this is one of the six best Egyptology collections in the United Kingdom.

Most of the artefacts were brought to the UK by Henry Wellcome, founder of the Wellcome pharmaceutical empire. His enormous wealth and considerable interest in Egyptology enabled him to amass a priceless collection of antiquities.

He also sponsored many archaeology expeditions to Egypt.

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