Of course, it’s that time of year when parents, who may be teachers and vice versa, are looking for things to do with bored, restless and indifferent children, who need prising away from their tablet or games machine. Then there’s the weather to consider, and its pretty gloomy outside right now and going to get gloomier and wetter if the forecast is to be believed. Step forward that old stalwart ‘the museum visit’!
Sometimes, there are really good galleries and displays that are what we like to think of as ‘permanent’ and then there are ‘temporary’ and ‘blockbuster’ exhibitions that draw us in with the promise of new and exciting material . . . but we can’t see them every day of the week. So, we thought we’d take a look at some things that are on right now and coming soon.
Over in Manchester at the Manchester Museum there is an exhibition on the famous stone statues of Rapa Nui or Easter Island. The exhibition, which ends on Sept 6th, includes one of the statues from Rapa Nui on loan from the British Museum. The statue, known as Moai Hava (dirty statue), weighs in at over 3 tonnes and stands 1.56 metres tall. It isn’t surprising then then it took a team of experts over 5 hours to get it into the museum.
Archaeologists think that these statues first appeared on the island around 1100 BCE and increased in their size and complexity over the next 500 years. During that time nearly 900 statues were quarried, carved and erected by the islanders. Most are made from a volcanic rock (tuff) but Moai Hava is one of just 14 made from basalt. The exhibition ponders their meaning and, in addition to Moai Hava, there are facsimiles of other statues and some of the elements that make them, such as eyes. Overall, the displays give you an idea of their size and how they were made, and attempts to convey their meaning from our standpoint.
While the statues draw one’s attention, their meaning and religious/spiritual associations for the islanders are, in effect, blinded by the use of atmospheric lighting, which renders them in a very different light, quite literally, to how they would have been viewed some 600 years ago. Although the exhibition is about the making and meaning of these enigmatic creations, there are many other objects from the island which the islanders made and used at the time.
One member of the team behind the exhibition is the university’s very own Professor Colin Richards, who is Professor of World Prehistory and Archaeology. He and colleagues from other universities are currently investigating the statues and monumentality as part of the Arts and Humanities Research Council funded ‘Rapa Nui: Landscapes of Construction‘ project – follow the link to find out more!
Meanwhile, in Great Yarmouth at the Time & Tide Museum there is an exhibition about some of Britain’s earliest known inhabitants. Humans in Ancient Britain follows on from the Natural History Museum’s ‘Britain: One Million Years of the Human Story’. As you might guess, the focus is on deep prehistory and the exhibition includes local finds such as parts of the West Runton mammoth, and a 3D print-out of the famous ‘Happisburgh Footprints’ made by a group of humans on the North Norfolk coast nearly one million years ago. There is also a tibia (shin bone) from a site in Boxgrove (West Sussex) which dates to 500,000 years old and is the oldest known human bone yet found in Britain! Like the Rapa Nui exhibition, this too runs until the 6th September.
Catherine and I also took the opportunity recently to visit the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery – our main reason was to see the Staffordshire Hoard and to brush-up on our knowledge of Anglo-Saxon Britain. The displays are fascinating and shed light on what has been called for many years ‘the Dark Ages’. Nothing, it seems, could be further from the truth and this exhibition helps to dispel many myths.
The hoard is now divided between four locations, but even with the reduced number of artefacts on show, the displays are quite breath-taking – “Exquisite” said Catherine “How did they do all that fine work?!” Parts of the hoard are also in Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery (Room 36), Litchfield Cathedral and Tamworth Castle. In addition to this there is a touring exhibition in Staffordshire. Until the, you guessed it, 6th September it can be seen at Rugeley Rose Theatre & Community Hall, Taylors Lane, Rugeley, Staffordshire (WS15 2AA for Sat-navs). You can telephone 01889 584036 or visit http://theatre.rugeleytowncouncil.gov.uk for further information and admission is free. After this the exhibition moves on, but not far, to St. Mary’s Church, Colton, Rugeley, Staffordshire (WS15 3LN for Sat-navs) where it will be from the 8th-20th September 2015. The final destination for this year is Walsall Leather Museum, Littleton Street West, Walsall (WS2 8EW for Sat-navs). You can also follow the Staffordshire Hoard on Twitter @staffhoard!
Going back to prehistory, at Llandudno Museum the Ice Age Llandudno exhibition continues until the end of September. It has a number of items on loan from the British Museum including the famous decorated horse’s chin from Kendrick’s Cave. The finds from the cave which is on Great Orme (which is home to a Bronze Age copper mine) date to around the end of the last Ice Age some 13,000 years ago. If you want to you can walk to the mine from the museum.
These, of course, are just some of the things that can be seen in museums but, if you are interested, there are archaeological excavations going on up and down the country. For example, way up in Orkney there is a fantastic excavation going on at the Ness of Brodgar (we say this as we know some people there!). So if you happen to be passing, we envy you, but do drop in on the Open Day!
We’ll be back soon with more from the world of archaeology and how you can get involved.
Ian Parker Heath