The Manchester Museum’s Big Saturday event on 9th February was about skills in archaeology. My job was to show visitors how to draw Roman pottery, whilst Jamie Skuse and Suzanna Haddow from the Archaeology Department (who both kindly gave up their Saturday to help) talked to visitors about flints and obsidian.
Meanwhile in the foyer area Rachel from the Botany Collection had arranged for Geoff Killen to do a wood-turning demonstration. This is part of a project to explore trees and the use that we make of different kinds of wood and other materials that come from trees. It transpires that the equipment Geoff uses is very similar to that used in ancient Egypt. Yigal Sitry, a researcher who lives in Israel, visited the Museum in November 2011 to see some pieces of iron of Assyrian date that were excavated at Thebes in Egypt. There are two of them and they look a bit like snakes. The long shank was embedded in a wooden block and two were used to hold a length of wood or some other material (perhaps ivory?) that rotated around the point of the head of each bracket.
Yigal kindly sent us photos of him and his son using the reconstruction he made.
Yigal also kindly sent copies of an ancient Egyptian tomb painting showing wood turners. You have to remember that the image is showing something happening in the horizontal plane rotated through 90 degrees so it looks as though it’s vertical. The image is from Lefebvre G., 1924 (or 1932) Le Tombeau de Petrosiris Vol 1,2 (Cairo).
We filmed the wood-turning to use in an exhibition about trees that will be held at the Manchester Museum. As we now know – thanks to Yigal – that we have ancient Egyptian wood-turning equipment of Assyrian date we could display the objects and perhaps commission a reconstruction to be used in the exhibition. We often find – and this was very much the case last Saturday – that visitors are fascinated by how people in the past made things. Often we can only replicate those objects by using industrial machinery. Of course these lathe brackets are machinery. The wood to which they were attached has long since rotted away but the iron has survived thanks to the dry climate of ancient Egypt. It’s brilliant when research on the collection comes together with a collecting proposal and an exhibition to create something that has cross-disciplinary appeal.