UC5699 is a small black-topped pot found in a tomb in Naqada, a town nearly 400 miles south of Cairo on the west bank of the Nile.
It’s also the name given to the prehistoric archaeological culture that existed in Egypt circa 4400-3000 BC.
Named after William Flinders Petrie, a 19th century archaeologist who sold his extraordinary collection of Egyptian artefacts to UCL in the early 20th century, the museum is tucked away in the heart of UCL’s Bloomsbury campus in London.
Barely half a mile away, the British Museum draws in millions of visitors every year; only a tiny percentage of those will also go on to explore the Petrie.
All three contributed to Petrie’s revolutionary breakthrough in prehistoric dating, but the most important was Naqada, which has given its name to the chronology for the Predynastic period in Egyptian archaeology.
Naqada turned out to be a prehistoric cemetery of about 2,000 graves.
But there are compelling stories to be told at the fascinating museum, stories that go beyond the Ancient Egypt of pyramids, sphinxes and pharaohs.
Experimental archaeology has revealed how the black-top effect was created (by placing the vessel upside down in the kiln, so the ashes of the fuel prevented oxygen from reaching the slip glaze), a process that curator Alice Stevenson calls “a real achievement for prehistory”.Petrie made a special study of pottery from 900 selected graves at Naqada, Ballos, and Diospolis Parva – a quarter of the total assemblage – and used it to create a new dating method and a chronology for Neolithic Egypt.The discoveries Petrie records in his autobiography, Seventy Years in Archaeology (1931), his youthful horror at the way in which a Roman villa was uncovered on the Isle of Wight by early excavators: ‘I protested that the earth ought to be pared away inch by inch to see all that was in it, and how it lay.’ A methodical and meticulous approach to excavation, recording, and analysis – ‘to see all that was in it’ – was to be a hallmark of Petrie’s pioneering work over 40 years in Egypt.By winter, when the sap finally stops flowing, a smooth dark ring marks the end of the tree’s annual growth.By counting the dark ring segments, scientists can tell a tree’s age if the cross section of the trunk is complete. Based at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Douglass wanted to know how sun spot activity affected climate, and his research soon led him to pioneering tree-ring analysis.