Tomb in a Box

We began working with students in the Goulburn Valley in 2016. Because ancient civilisations feature on the Victorian Year 7 curriculum ancient Egypt became the focus of the hands-on activities featured in our program. These activities include a card matching game featuring ancient Egyptian gods and goddesses which assists the students identify the replicas available for them to handle. The knowledge gleaned from these simple activities encourage understanding of the ritual depicted in the Judgement Scene of the New Kingdom funerary text, The Book of the Dead. We understood the power of object-based learning (OBL) but wanted to amplify that power. With the assistance of technology supplied by London based ‘Museum in a Box’ we created our ‘Tomb in a Box’. We now had a multi-sensory strategy which reinforced the observational skills nurtured  by OBL. Speaking objects were able to elucidate concepts which some students, especially those who face literary challenges, find difficult to understand.

More about the Tomb in a Box

The box is decorated on the outside with images of the cliffs in the Valley of the Kings, and on the inside with an interpretation of tomb wall paintings. The objects inside the box carry a sticker on their base which is embedded with a voice file; when the object is placed on a small stage/speaker device, it talks. Objects featured are a 3D-printed pot and sarcophagus, a full set of stone miniature canopic jars, replica figurines of gods Osiris, Anubis and Horus, and the goddess Ma’at, a replica shabti, and the Book of the Dead judgement scene printed on papyrus. Students remove an object from the box, place it on the stage/speaker and listen to the story told by the object.

We wanted to create a connection between this suite of objects and Australia so the box is introduced to our students through a postcard sent by Edward Miller, a man who worked with English archaeologist Flinders Petrie in Egypt, to his brother Everard in Melbourne. A stylised tomb map and interactive worksheet present a series of multi-layered questions which assist in the students developing their observational, analytical and interpretative skills. Discussion between the students about the objects builds on information learned in other hands-on activities.

In recognition of colonial roots of the discipline of Egyptology we also use the box as a starting point to discussion considering decolonisation. The role of the Millers in extraction of cultural objects from their place of origin also facilitates discussions considering object repatriation.

At our first annual symposium Annelies gave a presentation introducing the Tomb in a Box. Check out the recording here.

If you would like to learn more about Edward Miller we can recommend ‘Discovering Egypt: Egyptian antiquities at the University of Melbourne’ authored by Christine Elias and published in 2010.