It was a great pleasure to welcome TAG conference delegates to the Manchester Museum last night and to say a few words on behalf of Nick Merriman, our Director, who is away at the moment, but I know Nick was very keen indeed that the Museum host this evening’s wine reception.
“Manchester museum was created in the mid-19th century after a number of local societies got into financial difficulties and transferred their collections to what was then Owens College (now University of Manchester). This was on condition that the collection could be used for teaching and that it should remain publically accessible. We have followed these conditions pretty much ever since. The first curator, William Boyd Dawkins, was a geologist by training but he was deeply interested in cave archaeology and wrote what was widely regarded at the time as the manual on how to excavate caves. His work at Creswell Crags with Magens Mello and Thomas Heath resulted in a large and very important lithics and palaeontology collection beign deposited at the Museum, and this has been intensively researched by generations of scholars, prehistorians and palaeolithic experts .
Dawkins sorted out the museum collection. In the course of his work he disposed of a coffin containing the body of Hannah Beswick, a woman who was so terrified of being buried alive it was a condition of her will that the coffin containing her body should remain above ground and be checked periodically for signs of life. You could say that this inaugurated a relationship between the museum and human remains that is still going strong, and colleagues past and present have made important contributions to the debate about the ethical treatment of human remains.
Dawkins arranged the Museum collection according to Darwinian concepts of progressive evolution from simple bacteria and other creatures to human beings. This probably explains why, when Jesse Haworth offered to donate his Egyptology collection to the Museum, Boyd Dawkins was minded to reject it. The collection had been excavated by William Flinders Petrie and recorded in painstaking detail. It is said that Petrie came to Egypt when Egyptology was a treasure hunt and left it as a science. Fortunately for us this offer of Haworth’s collection was accepted and you can see a fine selection in the Ancient Worlds galleries.
If the curators no longer do archaeological fieldwork in the grand style of Petrie and Dawkins, we do at least have a track record of putting on exhibitions. It is a pleasure to acknowledge collaborations with academics working in the university’s Department of Archaeology on many of them. The last few years have seen the opening of the new Ancient Worlds galleries (2011) involving Dr Chantal Conneller; and temporary exhibitions about Lindow Man (2008-9) involving Dr Melanie Giles, terracotta figurines from West Africa involving Prof Tim Insoll (2013), Whitworth Park exhibition involving Prof Sian Jones and colleagues (2014) and I am currently working on an exhibition about Easter Island or Rapa Nui with Prof Colin Richards opening in April 2015. This latter incorporates much recent thinking, some it theoretical, about the meaning of Rapa Nui’s stone statues, the symbolic meaning of different coloured stone and the role of landscape features such a volcanic craters as deeply spiritual places in the eyes of Polynesian people. This seems an appropriate moment to close and to welcome everyone everyone a very productive conference. Thank you.”