Watch the dramatisation of Jess' story below, or download the text of all story summaries as a Word doc.
Background: Jess is a curator at Leeds Discovery Museum. Her favourite object is the Shabti of Seti I. Jess receives a mysterious and exciting email offering some Egyptian objects to the Museum. What will she discover and how will she respond?
It is modern day and we see Jess cycling on her way to work. She is asking for our help and begins to recount the circumstances leading to her request.
As she walks into the building, she tells us that it has been a year since she got her dream job as a curator at the Discovery Centre. She walks down the corridor, looking at the display cases and remembering her childhood experiences of visiting museums. She describes the craft sessions she and her brother did, the picnics they ate, how her mum was calm and happy and how she used to make her own museums once she got back home.
As she walks towards the main store, her phone pings in her pocket signaling that an email has been received; she ignores it and carries on into the store to say ‘Good Morning’ to Mok, the skeleton of a western lowland gorilla. Her phone pings again, and slightly annoyed at the interruption, she heads to her office to check her emails.
Taking off her cycling gear, she scans her emails, before sitting to read one from Mrs Susan Bletherswick. She is contacting Jess about three artefacts she has found in her loft that she thinks might have belonged to Reverend Aquila Dodgson – a mummy’s hand, a grave mask and a cuneiform letter. Attached to the email are photographs of the three objects and old handwritten labels to accompany the mummy’s hand and cuneiform letter, both mentioning the names Flinders Petrie, Tel-El-Amarna, and the date 1892. Mrs Bletherswick wants to know whether the objects might be of interest to the museum.
Jess is intrigued; she jumps up from her desk and heads back into the store, all the while reflecting on what she knows of Aquila Dodgson. She recalls him taking a trip with his wife to meet up with Flinders Petrie in Amarna in 1891, and how he had brought back artefacts for his private collection, some of which were donated to the museum by his son, Walter, and more bought at a later date, including one of her favourite objects in the centre, a shabti.
She arrives at the aisle where the shabti is stored, locates it and takes it out of its box. Using a magnifying glass, she looks at its label and asks whether the handwriting matches the other labels photographed by Mrs Bletherswick. Jess is convinced that it does, and starts to believe that the three artefacts really could be from Aquila Dodgson’s personal collection.
Jess then walks around the store looking at the thousands of artefacts housed there, reflecting on what she should do in response to Mrs Bletherswick’s offer. She thinks about how the museum has to know the provenance of any item before it can be accepted into the collections, and that a strong connection to Leeds might make an object of greater interest, but then she questions whether an object, such as the cuneiform letter, might have more meaning for the people in its country of origin. She rules out accepting the mummy’s hand, as it illegal to take human remains, but remains undecided about the grave mask. She shares her admiration for the Egyptians and their achievements but worries that the mask could be stolen property and thinks about how the idea of a stolen artefact is not straightforward anyway. She questions how you can decide who owns anything that‘s been buried for thousands of years, and deliberates on where such treasures should be held. By this time her thoughts have run their course, she has walked a complete circuit of the store and is standing back by Mok.
She returns to her computer and starts to type her reply to Mrs Bletherswick.
Finally she pauses with her fingers on the keyboard to ask what she should write.
Cuneiform – a form of ancient writing
Linen – a smooth strong cloth made from the flax plant
Hoax – a trick in which someone tells a lie
Artefact – an object made by humans that can give us information about life in the past
Collections – a group of objects brought together to be seen, studied or kept together
Provenance – the history of something, where it is from and who has owned it
Evidence – facts and information to prove that something is true or false
Geometry – a kind of mathematics that deals with shapes and figures
Plough – a farming machine that prepare the soil for planting seeds
- Write Jess’s reply to Mrs Bletherswick. This can be done either individually or in a group. When you have drafted your final version read it out to the rest of the class.
- Create a character profile for Jess, starting with what you have learnt from the film. What other detail could you add using your imagination, further research and drama work you may have been doing?
- What are your best memories of visiting a museum? What did you do? What did you think? How did you feel?
- How do we decide who owns anything that’s been buried for thousands of years anyway? Is it the archaeologist who finds it – or the person who’s paying the archaeologist to dig? Is it the person who owns the land, or the whole country where the dig takes place? Or simply the person who can offer the most money for it?
- Genuine or Fake – how can we tell whether a museum object is real or not?