AncientWorldManchester is the blog for the Ancient World gallery redevelopment project at The Manchester Museum. Here you will find information on the project to create dynamic new galleries at The Manchester Museum to showcase the collections of ancient Egypt, the Roman Empire, the Ancient Near East, and local and regional archaeology, amongst other things, as well as archaeological ideas, processes and theories.
Ancient Worlds Blog
The Manchester Museum is pleased to announce that it has started work on redeveloping its archaeology and Egyptology displays, which are nearly twenty years old. The intention is to redevelop them in time to celebrate the centenary of the opening of the first Egyptology gallery, in October 2012. We have applied to the Heritage Lottery Fund for some £700,000 with which to redevelop the archaeology and Egyptology Galleries. We have successfully passed the first stage of the application process and are preparing a second stage application for the summer of 2010. This involves gathering more detailed information about our work, the collections and how they are used to benefit the general public.
At this early stage in the project our thinking is still evolving and is informed by consultations with the general public and our own on-going internal discussions in the Museum. We welcome feed-back from the public about our ideas thus far. We know from previous consultations that there is considerable interest in local and regional archaeology and especially in ancient Egypt and differing levels of interest in other periods. We clearly need to present local and regional archaeology within a global framework that makes Egypt a crucial point of focus because of the strength of the collections. The broad overall theme is people in the past. As part of this we want to:-
o Bring the two disciplines of Egyptology and archaeology together
o Show archaeology as an exciting and dynamic subject
o Put more objects on display
o Take a social & contextual approach, including the environment (e.g. Nile Valley)
o Take a global perspective
o Deal with controversial issues in a challenging but not threatening way
o Improve presentation standards overall
This is largely about how we will do the displays, not what the content will be. We do, however, have a fairly good idea about what will be in each of the three areas of the new displays. The first gallery will be about our relationship with the past, how we know about it, how our understanding is coloured by the contemporary world. It will look at issues like archaeology and racism, the illicit trade in antiquities or the visible influence of the past on the present, e.g. Manchester’s buildings and street lay-out. The starting point for the first area will be the contemporary world, asking visitors “Who do you think you are?” We will then explore questions of identity in the past, for instance, how might we find out what people looked like? Dating methods and other analytical techniques will feature in this gallery.
In the case of ancient Egypt, the focus of our second gallery, we will explore aspects of daily life, through the lives of individuals, such as a pyramid builder, the pharaoh Akhenaten or Manchester’s favourite Egyptian mummy, Asru. Each person will be related to the environment. The life of a farmer would take in the Nile and the desert. We will challenge orthodox notions and try to turn things on their head. The map of ancient Egypt might be turned upside down to give an Egypto-centric view of the world for example. We will present Egypt as an African civilisation, which has interacted with, influenced and been influenced by other African cultures and civilisations. Traditionally European scholars have tended to ignore this fascinating inter-relationship.
The guiding concept for the second gallery will be Empires: showing how shifts in power and dominance and differences between core and periphery bring about cultural change. Ancient Egypt is an ideal example because it allows us to consider ancient Greece and ancient Rome too. Not only has Egypt been colonised by other civilisations peoples. At times Egypt has expanded its boundaries to reach the Tigris and under the Ptolemies Cyprus was under Egyptian control. Or the influence might be cultural and the Museum’s extensive anthropology collection allows us to make draw comparisons and find connections with more recent African communities.
The subject of Empires makes a useful link between Roman Manchester and Roman Egypt but there is also scope to look at Mesopotamia. The Assyrians and Nubians vied for control of Egypt and the Museum has a fine bas relief from Nimrud, an Assyrian helmet and spent arrowheads from the siege of Lachish, with which to explore ‘Empires in conflict’. Prehistoric material from the North West and elsewhere will also be displayed to show that native people had a well-developed past of their own, with proud cultural achievements and a heritage long before they became part of expansionist empires.
This is a great opportunity to make use of new technology. With Google Earth visitors could make a link between Manchester and anywhere on the planet. The Museum has been pioneering a new kind of interactive for use in that area, which could also be taken out to schools. New technology will allow us to offer object stories or biographies, putting lots on display but letting visitors concentrate on objects of their choice.
The upstairs gallery (what is presently the Mediterranean Gallery) will have three elements, with changing displays, visible storage, and a classification area. The area will showcase work done in the University or that carried out by local societies or even local schools. Ideally it will enable us to show more of the rich collections in a fun and interactive way, giving visitors an opportunity to select and group objects according to their own classificatory ideas.
The target audience we have in mind is that of a university museum, defined as everyone, from the under 5s to the over 80s, coming from all walks of life. We don’t want to be simplistic but equally we want to be overly complex. The overall tone might be that of an accessible BBC programme for slightly older children but the emphasis will be on fun.
Whilst some of our proposals for each area of the displays are fairly firm, the content of those displays is still developing and we would welcome some feedback and suggestions from the public. We will test some of these proposals with a focus group in December. This is an opportunity to follow the project from its early stages to final completion, to contribute to the fascinating discussions we are currently having in the Museum and expect to have over the next year or so, running up to the second stage of our HLF application, and to watch the displays take shape. As with previous projects we place great importance on consultation with special interest groups and the general public and we welcome people’s comments.
Head of Human Cultures
The Manchester Museum
23 November 2009
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Great stuff, I remember my dad taking me as a child to the egypt dept in the late 60’s. I think you had to walk down some stairs and as you did so a mummy appeared in view! I was scared stiff!
Also the unwrapped female used to be in a glass case with the Sarc’s lid slightly open. I bruised my head trying to get a look inside.
That,the Whale on the ceiling and the alligators in the basement. Hope you keep it “Boy scary”! Ive been a field archaeologist for the rest of my life!
For pity’s sake leave the mummies alone!!! They’re the first thing I make for when I visit.
And I don’t want to live in the world of “An accessible BBC programme for older children” Nooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!
Please, please, please don’t dumb it down – children always rise to the occasion if you will only let them. I don’t want to see a showcase of work done by local schools and societies. I have come to see collections!
Thanks for your comment Victoria. There will be fewer Egyptian mummies on display in our Ancient Worlds galleries than at present, but this will allow us the space to properly contextualise those that are displayed. Groups we have consulted with were keen to see mummies featured in the Egypt gallery, but with a focus on the material culture that tells us more about the lives of those individuals.