Message in ancient bottle ?

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Could Cleopatra have used these ancient glass bottles? Were these 3,000 year old figures ‘servants’ in the afterlife?

Questions which excited staff at Swansea University Egypt Centre are hoping to solve when they study a valuable collection of over 30 ancient Egyptian objects which has travelled from Surrey to Swansea, and arrived at the centre today.

Egyptian glass bottle

The artefacts, donated by Woking College, includes two glass bottles (perhaps for scent or make-up) from late in Egyptian history (c100BC-AD200), around the time of Cleopatra and several shabtis (servant figurines) which the ancient Egyptians believed would do work for their deceased owners in the afterlife.

One of the shabtis is an ‘overseer shabti’. Shabtis, mirroring real life work teams, were organised in gangs of 10. Each gang would be overseen by a foreman, or overseer. The shabtis are around 3,000 years old.


Other objects include amulets, including an amulet of Sekhmet (a fiery, female goddess with a feline head) and another amulet of Shu (who separated heaven and earth); a head of the god Bes (protector of children and women in childbirth); a pendant in the shape of a lotus or papyrus sceptre; several pottery vessels and a Sokar hawk (Sokar was a god associated with rebirth).

Artefacts from Woking College

The ancient artefacts were donated to Woking College in the 1970’s and were re discovered by Martin Ingram, Principal of Woking College who sought the advice of the British Museum to ensure that the valuable collection would be put to best use to encourage current students to pursue their studies in Ancient History. The British Museum suggested that the Egypt Centre, because of its innovative educational work, might be a good place to donate the artefacts.  The Egypt Centre is very grateful that British Museum staff suggested the Centre.

The Egypt Centre will borrow the artefacts from Woking College initially for 10 years. In exchange, the Centre will organise educational activities for Woking College which will revolve around the loaned artefacts. In this way we both hope to encourage more 6th formers to attend university, and hopefully even to study Egyptology at Swansea. The Centre already works with schools and colleges in Wales and parts of England but is keen to further develop its work with Secondary Schools and 6th form colleges.

Woking College is a very successful sixth form college, from which the vast majority of students progress to university. Martin Ingram commented ”I am delighted that the  the objects will be made available to learners and academics and hope that our connection with the Swansea University will encourage more students to aspire to higher education”.

The Centre’s curator, Carolyn Graves-Brown, said: “ We are absolutely delighted that Woking has allowed us to borrow these objects. Because of the finite number of legally acquired ancient Egyptian objects available to museums, it is extremely unusual for a museum of Egyptian antiquities to acquire new objects. We hope that these exciting new acquisitions will both delight the museum’s visitors and encourage more students to attend University.”

The artefacts are on display in the Egypt Centre and the plan is to put all of the items on the website by the end of the summer. 

See more pictures of the new collection on