Open from 10 Nov 2023 to 8 May 2024

Ancient Middle East Gallery

In partnership with Curating for Change, and to coincide with Disability History Month at the end of 2023, we've highlighted some of the important objects in our collection to showcase how disability has been celebrated and depicted in Ancient Egypt and the Ancient Middle East.

Our Curating for Change Fellow at the Ashmolean & Pitt Rivers Museum, Kyle Lewis Jordan, is a disabled Egyptologist who studies disability in antiquity. This display incorporates his research, exploring how people have understood disability in the past.

Six intriguing objects and moulds will be showcased in the Fashioning Bodies in the Ancient World display. These two figurines below are from Ancient Egypt around 5,000 years ago.

Female ivory figurines

Female ivories with rippled hairstyles, Hierakonpolis, around 3000 BCE. AN1896-1908.E.333 & 340 © Ashmolean Museum

Both are women, one of whom has dwarfism. Both have been skilfully carved in ivory with equal care and attention. It’s just possible to see their intricately plaited hairstyles, suggesting they shared a high status at court. They were created as part of a group illustrating the King and his courtiers - a cross-section of a society that embraced those with disabilities.

'Do not laugh at a blind man nor taunt a person with dwarfism,
Neither interfere with the condition of a disabled man…' 
- The Instructions of Amenemope, around 1077 - 943 BCE

About Curating for Change 

Today, there are 10.4 million people in England and Wales who identify as disabled. One in four households include at least one disabled member and one in five people will probably be affected by disability during their lifetime. These conditions have been experienced by people across history, but how do we find them and tell their stories?

Curating for Change, an initiative delivered in partnership with Accentuate and Screen South, provides opportunities for D/deaf, disabled and neuro-divergent people, to pursue curatorial careers in museums.

Our Curating for Change Fellow, Kyle Lewis Jordan, is a disabled Egyptologist who studies disability in antiquity and is leading this programme of work for the Ashmolean and Pitt Rivers Museum to highlight these themes for Museum visitors and staff.

This programme of work marked last year's Disability History Month 16 Nov - 16 Dec 2023, which focused on the Experience of Disablement amongst children and young people in the past, now and what is needed for the future.

Find out about Disability History Month