The recent teaching sessions using the Manchester Roman word-square have paid dividends because lecturer in Classics, Dr Roberta Mazza, met me, Campbell Price and Naomi Kashiwagi a few days ago to discuss making a grant application to help support further student use of the collection. Roberta showed us some inspiring work that had been done over at the John Rylands library using the beautiful Greco-Roman mummy portraits. The project brought together the library’s papyrus collections with portraits from the Manchester Museum. The students of Thomas Whitham Sixth Form College, Burnley, were invited to voice that particular person based on what was known about their life, their family relationships and standing in society, and all this working under the guide of academics and graduate students from Classics and Religions and Theology. You can see the short film at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bd-OJkLBTww
This certainly struck a chord with us because the new Ancient Worlds galleries make extensive use of real people, people who have gathered the collections, researched and conserved them or made use of them in teaching. Roberta asked if we could suggest some people from the past who were represented in the Manchester collections. Straightaway we thought of the Syrian man who was awarded Roman citizenship on a bronze diploma found at Ravenglass or one of the Palmyrans whose bust will be displayed in the portraits gallery or Senecianius, the Roman centurion from VI Legion Victrix in York, who commanded the Manchester garrison.
Another candidate is one of the Manchester Museum mummies, a man called Artemidorus, who was found at Hawara in the Fayum. He dates between about AD 110 and 160. He is one of those relatively rare instances where the wax portrait is still in position above the face. Worsley Man is another possibility, funnily enough dating from a similar period but from the province of Roman Britain, as far as you could get from Egypt but still be in the Roman Empire.
There’s just one problem. As Roberta reminded me in her email: “We desperately need a woman now!!!! Don’t we have an interesting case?” Sadly women were often denied access to the high profile roles exercised by men in the ancient world so they are less visible archaeologically as named individuals. Women turn up on ancient Greek painted pottery or as terracotta figurines all the time but we don’t know who they were. Egypt is one of the places where women do appear to have had more rights as is shown by papyri. The Etruscans may help us. There is a facial reconstruction of Etruscan noblewoman Seianti Hanunia Tlesnana in the collection and other relevant material like a votive offering of a woman’s womb, for example, can be seen in the Ancient Worlds galleries.
The idea is that the students will research this person and produce a short film in which they give voice to that person’s experiences in so far as they can reconstruct them using a wide range of resources. The films can be shown in the galleries. In this way they will gain practical experience of working with the material evidence of the past that may be of practical use to them in the future. Thinking about what to call the project was a no-brainer: ‘Ancient Lives, Future Skills’.
It’ll be interesting to see how this develops. There is certainly no shortage of content material. If students develop skills in presenting and interpreting fascinating information about the past hopefully it’ll be an antidote to the current vogue for celebrity presenters who think the subject of the programme is themselves and who skirt over the really interesting stuff.