via Let it snow!
Wonderful, inspiring example of research on material in museum collections that opens up new perspectives on people in antiquity. Looking forward to finding out more about this discovery.
Curator of Egypt and Sudan
Making new discoveries is one of the most exciting aspects of working with Manchester Museum’s collection from Ancient Egypt and Sudan. Finding links with the British Museum’s much larger collection has enabled new identifications of objects previously overlooked. This was the subject of animated discussions with colleagues from Egypt and Sudan, who have visited Manchester with the ITP programme. Here, I describe one such ‘discovery’.
This sculptural fragment (Acc. no. 4624) came to the Manchester Museum from the excavations of Edouard Naville at the site of Deir el-Bahri between 1894 and 1907. A more precise provenance for the piece or when exactly it entered the collection is not known. The fragment is 48.5cm high and 31cm wide, made of indurated limestone, and depicts the lower portion of a seated figure at about half lifesize. It is badly damaged but still carries…
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Christine and I have just got back from a relaxing holiday in the beautiful resort of Stoupa in the southern Peloponnese in Greece. At the Welcome party to provide holiday makers with information about the resort and its attractions, our host Mary talked about the fresh water springs in Stoupa. When you are on holiday in Greece you are often recommended to buy bottled water because the water in the taps has a higher mineral content and it can upset your tummy if you’re not used to it but you don’t have to buy bottled water for drinking in Stoupa because they have fresh water springs literally ‘on tap’.
Water falls on the Taygetos mountains to the north of Stoupa as rain or as snow during the winter and makes its way through the limestone until it rises to the ground…
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The content of this post is very relevant to Ancient Worlds blog too.
Movements of peoples in the ancient world as in the modern were sometimes peaceful and sometimes marked by violence. During the 4th and 3rd centuries BC tribes known as Galatians and Celts migrated from central and eastern Europe and descended upon Italy and Greece where they extorted money from the Hellenistic Greek city states and kingdoms and hired themselves out as mercenaries. Their prowess as fearless warriors was greatly appreciated and they took service in the armies of Macedonia, Syria and Egypt as well as Carthage.
One band made a raid on the Temple of Delphi in 279 Bc to plunder the rich collection of dedications to the god Apollo. Ancient Greek and Roman historians describe their terrifying appearance on the battlefield, fighting naked, their hair combed back with lime and armed with long slashing swords and carrying distinctive shields. They could also…
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ery interested in attending this because Manchester Museum has human remains from Heronbridge and other sites where Varley excavated. The remains came to us without supporting documentation when Varley went to teach in Africa. Read more: http://www.medieval.yas.org.uk/bl0g/?p=156
The indefatigable Jonathan Trigg is presenting a paper on W.J. Varley in Manchester on the 10th of February – details here
Varley was a lecturer in geography at the University of Liverpool and also an archaeologist, he excavated many sites including Old Krieg with V.G. Childe, Eddisbury hillfort, Old Oswestry hillfort and Maiden Castle (the one in Cheshire not Dorset) and the Bleasdale Circle.
Go along, it’ll be fascinating!
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.”
Manchester Museum has a very large and varied collection of prehistoric lithics collection, including hundred-thousand-year-old Palaeolithic hand-axes from southern England, Mesolithic microliths from the Pennines around Manchester, neolithic rough-outs from so-called ‘axe-factories‘ in Great Langdale in Cumbria and Craig Llwyd in Wales, Bronze Age stone mauls or mining tools from Alderley Edge in Cheshire, more recent material collected from indigenous peoples in the Americas, and Australia, and stone tools, flint flakes and other objects of all periods from the UK, Europe and other countries around the world.
The richness of the Museum’s lithics collection is due to the first curator, William Boyd Dawkins (1837-1929). Though primarily a geologist, Dawkins was an expert on the identification of prehistoric animal remains and wrote what was regarded at the time as the text-book about cave archaeology called Cave Hunting (1876). Dawkins is perhaps best known for work at Creswell Crags, conducted, at least initially, with Revd Magens Mello and Thomas Heath. Star finds include Neanderthal stone choppers and a beautiful Font Robert point dating from around 29,000 BC.The Museum has a very important archive of finds, photographs and other documentation relating both to these Victorian excavations and to later work undertaken by A.Leslie Armstrong (1878-1958).
Dawkins’ successor at the Museum was J.Wilfrid Jackson (1880-1978). Like Dawkins, Jackson had wide-ranging interests, excavated prehistoric sites and published important regional summaries of lithic discoveries. As a result of the collecting activities of Dawkins and Jackson, the Museum’s archaeology collection contains large quantities of flint and other stone implements, not to mention prehistoric metal, pottery, bone and antler objects. They built up collections of stone objects, including fakes, as reference material and for teaching purposes. One individual by the name of Edward Simpson alias ‘Flint Jack’, ‘Bones’ or ‘Fossil Willy’ was notorious for selling his dodgy flint artefacts to gullible collectors and museum curators, served time in prison and ended his days demonstrating flint-knapping for gentlemanly antiquarian societies.
Many of these objects are displayed in the Museum’s Ancient Worlds galleries, where, thanks to the range of disciplines represented in the collection it has been possible to show axes with ornate binding and rafia sleeves for comparison from New Guinea and Borneo – where the Stone Age finished as recently and precisely as 10am on 8th March 1933 – from the Living Cultures collection.
The intellectual focus of the Museum displays shifted in the latter part of the 20th century in favour of the Classical world but research on the lithics collection continued. For instance, many of the Museum’s stone axeheads were sampled petrologically during the 1970s and 1980s and the results published in Stone Axe Studies; researchers such as the late Roger Jacobi (1947-2009) carried out detailed work on the Creswell Crags archive, even identifying joins between fragments of the same implement in different museums; and an important landscape study of Alderley Edge was undertaken by Prof John Prag of Manchester Museum. The Museum also subscribed to excavations in the Middle East and received a proportional share of finds including lithic artefacts from sites such as Abu Hureyra in Syria, Jericho on the West Bank, and from the excavations at Mount Carmel in Northern Israel directed by Dorothy Garrod (1892-1968).
With the redevelopment of the new Ancient Worlds archaeology galleries, more of the Museum’s historically important lithic collections was put on show. The recent updating of the National Curriculum so that it includes the Stone Age offers another opportunity to work with teachers and school groups to interpret this material for the younger generation. Meanwhile new digital technology and augmented reality are providing more stimulating ways of engaging with the artefacts.
We will be having a special activity day about flint knapping at the Museum on Wednesday 18th November if you want to see how it’s done and maybe have a go yourself.
W.Boyd Dawkins (1876) Cave Hunting: researches on the evidence of caves respecting the early inhabitants of Europe (London, Macmillan and Co.).
J.W.Jackson (1936) ‘The Prehistoric Archaeology of Lancashire and Cheshire’, Transactions of the Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian Society 50 (1936), 65-106.
J.W.Jackson (1936) ‘Contributions to the Archaeology of the Manchester Region’, The North Western Naturalist 11, 110-119.
T.H.McK Clough and W.A. Cummins (1988) Stone Axe Studies II Research Report no.67, Council for British Archaeology, 218-221.