Over the last few days the Museum has been hosting the Society of Museum Archaeologists conference. The society promotes museum involvement in all aspects of archaeology, especially the contribution that museums make to public understanding of the past and campaigns for acceptance of museums as guardians of this aspect of the national heritage. It made sense to invite the society to hold its annual conference in Manchester following the opening of the new Ancient Worlds galleries on October 25th. At the conference a number of papers are given and there is time for discussion. It is something of a tradition to offer a field trip so that delegates can see something of the archaeology at, or close to, the venue.
So it was that on a rather chilly Wednesday morning I led a short walking tour of some of the places of archaeological interest. As the field trip was scheduled to last for two hours on the programme I concentrated on the earliest sites along Deansgate. I took a small party of society members to Castlefield, where we saw the partially reconstructed Roman fort founded about 79 AD. Many of the best discoveries relating to Roman Manchester are now on display in the Ancient Worlds galleries such as altars, sculpture from the Temple of Mithras and the Manchester wordsquare.
Walking northwards along Deansgate we stopped off at the John Rylands library and had a quick look around. It’s a beautiful building and we were thrilled to see a fragment of the Gospel of St Mark dating from about 125 AD.
At the north end of Deansgate we saw the Hanging Bridge, a number of medieval stone arches dating from 1350-1500, popped into the Manchester Cathedral and then called in to see Chetham’s Library. Although there was some filming going on, the librarian, Michael Powell, kindly met us and showed us round, pointing out some of the antiquarian volumes in this historic collection.
It has become something of a custom for visitors, to see where Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels did their work. With a little cajoling I managed to take a group photo of our party as a lasting souvenir of their short visit to Manchester. Then it was back to the Museum on Oxford Road to start the conference.