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Egyptian Archaeology at the Haffenreffer: Meet Jen Thum

by on October 17, 2013

Today’s post is from Jen Thum, doctoral student in Archaeology and the Ancient World at Brown University’s Joukowsky Institute, and proctor at the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology this term.

Hello Haffenreffer Blog readers!

I’m Jen, a second-year PhD student in Archaeology and the Ancient World at Brown’s Joukowsky Institute. One of the features of my program is the “proctorship”: a semester-long term of service for the Brown community. The Joukowsky Institute’s close relationship with the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology means that I have the pleasure of working with the Museum’s collections several times per week this semester.

Photo by Jen Thum

Jen Thum, HMA proctor, climbing out of an Iron-Age oven at Tel Megiddo. Photo by Jen Thum

I am an archaeologist who studies ancient Egyptian culture, with ongoing fieldwork at the Roman Period site of Amheida (ancient Trimithis) in Egypt’s Daklheh Oasis, and at Tel Megiddo and an adjacent settlement in Israel’s Jezreel Valley. When I learned that I would be working at the Haffenreffer, my first question was: Does the Museum happen to have any Egyptian objects that need to be researched? The answer turned out to be yes — there are about forty Egyptian items in the Haffenreffer collection — and the rest is (ancient) history!

Photo by Jen Thum

Two of the Museum’s painted wooden funerary statues. Photo by Jen Thum

A few weeks ago I began researching and describing these objects, most of which are currently in the Museum’s research facility in Bristol, Rhode Island. Soon they will travel to Manning Hall on the Brown campus, where visitors can see them up-close. A wide range of materials are represented in this group: we have bronzes, wooden statues, faience (a glass-glazed ceramic made from powdered quartz) and the molds used to shape it, stone vessels and figurines, and even a piece turquoise incised with images of two Egyptian gods.

Photo by Jen Thum

An Old Kingdom limestone votive object, with an inscription identifying the man who donated it. Photo by Jen Thum


Brown senior Aida holds a piece of turquoise incised with an image of the god Horus. Photo by Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology

My goal is to get the public excited about the collections through hands-on activities. On most Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays through December you can find me in the CultureLab, explaining what some of the Museum’s Egyptian objects are and how they were used. Visitors who join me on these days have the opportunity to put the fancy object-handling gloves on themselves, hold the objects, and ask me questions. I can’t promise to have an answer for everything, but I like a challenge, and I am always happy to whip out the microscope for some in-depth investigation!


Our mold for a small rosette-shaped faience object, under the microscope. Note the ancient fingerprints we saw under the microscope! Photo by Tony Belz

sam mold

History graduate student Sam handles a small faience mold. Photo by Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology

Speaking of interactive activities, if you happen to be around campus on Saturday, October 19, you can join me at 11:30 am in Manning Hall for a demonstration of Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI). I will use this light-based technology to examine the Museum’s Old Kingdom relief block, and visitors will have the chance to help me out.

By the end of this term, the information I have garnered from my objects research will be available for visitors to the Haffenreffer and its website. In the meantime, stop in for a visit, and follow my progress on the Museum’s Twitter account at, with the hashtag #EgyptoloJen.

Ir Hrw nfr! (That’s Ancient Egyptian for Have a nice day!)

Thanks Jen, and good luck in your work this term!  Readers, be sure to come by to see Jen at Manning Hall this Saturday, October 19 as she examines the Haffenreffer’s Old Kingdom relief block — with your help! The event is part of the Haffenreffer’s programming for Brown University’s Family Weekend and for International Archaeology Day.

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