How the Scottish potato became an Egyptian artifact | November 21, 2023

In 1952, a student at a school in Fife, Scotland, dug up potatoes as punishment while helping the gardener on the school grounds. Unexpectedly, he found a “fruit”, which was later found to contain an Egyptian artifact created about four thousand years ago. It was the first of 18 Egyptian antiquities discovered by schoolchildren over about 30 years in a most unlikely place – Melville House, a former school and training ground. At the moment, most of them are in the National Museums Scotland (NMS).

In 1952, Melville House was Dalhousie School. The teacher brought the boy’s find to the then Royal Scottish Museum (now the NMS), where the eminent Egyptologist Cyril Aldred examined it as the head of a red sandstone statue from the mid-12th dynasty (circa 1922-1855 BC), made by royal craftsmen. Fourteen years later, in 1966, during a physical education lesson, an Egyptian bronze figurine of the Apis bull was discovered in the courtyard of the same school by another student. As it was later established, the artifact dates back to the late or Ptolemaic period (about 664−332 BC).

By a strange coincidence, the figurine was taken to the museum by the teacher who found the head in 1952. Aldred wanted to send the bull for examination, but the teacher disappeared with him after his first visit to the Egyptologist. Following the closure of Dalhousie School, Melville House was purchased in 1975 by the then Fife Regional Council, which used it as a boarding school for young offenders and children with behavioral problems until 1998. writes The Guardian.

In 1984, Dr. Elisabeth Goering, curator of the Museum of Mediterranean Archeology, received an ancient Egyptian figurine of a man from the institution’s students. The woman recalled how her predecessor Aldred told her about previous finds on the Melville site. The curator realized that all the artifacts were a hidden collection, but it remained a mystery who collected it and why they hid it in this way and here. Experts have determined that the figurine depicted a priest making offerings and was created during the 25th Dynasty (circa 747-656 BC).

After this, Goering agreed to formally explore the school grounds and over time discovered new artifacts: from the top of a faience figurine of the goddess Isis nursing her son Horus, to part of a porcelain plate depicting the Eye of Horus. In 1984 it was decided that the finds from that year should be treated as treasures, so they were transferred to the museum. The story of the archaeological discoveries at Melville House will be told by Goring’s successor, Dr Margaret Maitland, in a research paper due for publication on 30 November.

It, among other things, talks about the possible owners of the Egyptian collection. One of them, 24-year-old Alexander, Lord Balgonie, visited Egypt in 1856 with his sisters to improve his poor health after serving in the Crimean War. He returned to Britain and died a year after the trip. Perhaps the sad association of the antiquities with his early death prompted someone to get rid of them.

Recently, in the garden of a cottage near the center of the Scottish city of Stirling, archaeologists discovered remains of a Roman road which has been described as the most important road in Scottish history.

Olesya Mayevskaya

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