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Manchester Museum – review

March 27, 2015

Warning – this post is picture heavy so may take a while to load.

Welcome to the first, and quite possibly the only*, entry in a series which, with my usual lack of inventiveness, I’ve decided to call Museum Review. I had thought about calling it Museum of the Month, MuOM for short? Maybe not. It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, does it? I don’t think acronyms are my forté. However, given my record on Member of the Month I think we’ll leave it as a one off or occasional event (organisation isn’t my forté either, there are days when I wonder what my forté actually is**).

Anyway, Manchester Museum. It’s a Victorian neo-Gothic building

which isn’t to everyone’s taste, but it cheers me up every time I walk down Oxford Road. Look! There’s a giant spider crab in the window!

giant spider crab! [url=][img][/img][/url]

Giant Spider Crab! [url=][img][/img][/url]

Obviously this predisposes me in its favour, but it has many other fine features; they hold regular children’s events and  we still have some pom-pom spiders from a craft activity at one of their beast and bug days. As you come up the stairs the first thing you see is an elephant skeleton – he’s called Maharajah – and as you know I’m a sucker for a skeleton with a nickname (and they have a T.rex called Stan). They’ve also found a cunning way of recycling their large collection of stuffed animals – in the unironically named ‘Living Worlds’ gallery. This gallery allegedly ‘explores the connections between all living things, including us, and shows how we can all shape the future by the choices we make’. Which is a worthy sentiment, but, it’s a gallery full of dead animals

Dead Things

Dead Things in glass cases in the ‘Living Worlds’ gallery

Even more bizarrely, but less taxidermically, they have an entire case filled with beautiful origami cranes in this gallery

And, to be fair, they have live animals too in the Vivarium.

Frogs live here, supposedly.

Frogs live here, supposedly, we’ve never managed to see them.

It also has an excellent, if small – just 3 rooms – archaeology section. The majority of the collection is of Egyptian artefacts largely collected in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Jesse Haworth, a Manchester textile manufacturer, subsidised many of Petrie’s excavations, largely funded the Egyptology gallery  (extensively remodelled in 2012) and bequeathed his Egyptology collection.

This photo from the 1912 opening shows the gallery’s major benefactor Jesse Haworth (standing in the picture), archaeologist William Flinders Petrie (seated third from right), the museum’s first curator William Boyd Dawkins (first on right), and anatomist Grafton Elliot Smith. This photo from the 1912 opening shows the gallery’s major benefactor Jesse Haworth (standing in the picture), archaeologist William Flinders Petrie (seated third from right), the museum’s first curator William Boyd Dawkins (first on right), and anatomist Grafton Elliot Smith.

1912 opening – Jesse Haworth (standing in the picture), archaeologist William Flinders Petrie (seated third from right), the museum’s first curator William Boyd Dawkins (first on right), and anatomist Grafton Elliot Smith. Copyright text and image

It is an impressive collection (despite the prosaic solution to the ‘moving statue mystery‘ story) and beautifully displayed.

Egyptian Worlds Gallery

Egyptian Worlds Gallery

As is the ‘Exploring Objects’ Gallery which displays dense concentrations of common museum objects – glass, lamps, pots and shabti figures

But, it’s the ‘Discovering Archaeology’ Gallery which makes the Manchester Museum stand out. WP_20150324_12_31_35_Pro

The display cases range from the mundane

Pots and more pots!

Pots and more pots!

To the dramatic



But this is more than just an average display of archaeology. This gallery – the first of the archaeology galleries – not only explains what archaeology is, but also sets it in its historical and contemporary context. So there are images of, and information about, Thomas Barritt, William Boyd Dawkins, Flinders Petrie, Barri Jones, Robert Connolly and Ian Panter alongside a film featuring Chantal Conneller, Obviously visitors don’t have to read the prominently displayed texts or listen to the voices, but they do have to pass through this initial, explanatory, gallery. And, if they do choose to read the narratives, there’s a wealth of information about how the reasons for collecting information have changed over time

Confessions of a Tomb Robber - photo by me. Text copyright The Manchester Museum.

Confessions of a Tomb Robber – photo by me. Text copyright The Manchester Museum.

and how archaeology itself has changed over time:

Thomas Barritt - photo by me. Text and image copyright The Manchester Museum

Thomas Barritt – photo by me. Text and image copyright The Manchester Museum

This isn’t confined to images that can be ignored, it’s spelt out on the walls

Wall text The Museum of Manchester

Wall text The Museum of Manchester

To prove this isn’t just words, they also have a film by Alan Garner (one of my absolute favourite writers when I was young!) and artefacts and information about the community Alderley Edge Landscape Project.

I can’t think of another museum display that says so much about the practice of archaeology and its changing nature. My only criticism is that I would have liked it if the display cases reflected the different periods, so there was a display case of the sort of material a tomb robber would have found, another with Thomas Barritt’s discoveries etc. However, this is minor carping, it really is an excellent display. If you get the chance, go to Manchester and visit the museum (but go to the Whitworth for lunch!)

Have a great weekend


* I’m aware that given the intense local rivalry I will have to visit and review Liverpool University’s Garstang Museum of Archaeology and quite possibly the Victoria Gallery & Museum – so there will be one more museum review at least.

** The answer seems to be baking – pursuance and consumption, so far this week I’ve made shortbread and scones and I need to produce an edible Lego cake for Sunday.




PhD Studentship at UCL

March 23, 2015
‘Domesticating the Sumerians in Mandate Iraq: contextualising Woolley’s excavations at Ur (1922-1934)’
Applications are invited for a doctoral studentship tenable at University College London (UCL) History Department, in collaboration with the British Museum (BM). This doctoral award is funded though the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) under its Collaborative Doctoral Partnerships scheme. The project will be co-supervised by Professor Eleanor Robson at UCL, and Dr Jonathan Taylor at the BM.
UCL Department / Division: History
Duration of Studentship: Three Years (to start 01 October 2015)
Stipend: £16,413 per annum (rate as at 2014/15 session)
Studentship Description
The successful candidate will explore the motivations and methods in Middle Eastern archaeology at the nexus of the infancy of modern, scientific archaeology and the birth of the modern nation state of Iraq, and the lasting impact of these excavations on public understanding of the past. The project will take as primary case study Leonard Woolley’s important archaeological expedition to the ancient city of Ur in southern Iraq (1922–34). It will benefit from the Ur of the Chaldees project, currently underway at the British Museum and Penn Museum, which is providing integrated digital access to the complete finds and records of Woolley’s excavations.
Person Specification
We are looking for a highly motivated student with a strong academic record at undergraduate and MA level who will relish the opportunity of combining academic research on this topic with involvement with a national museum. We welcome applications from students with training in the history of science, broadly construed, or the modern history of British and/or US relations with the Middle East, particularly those who have an interest in embedding the study of objects and material culture in their study of the past. The appointee will be expected to attend relevant training courses arranged by a consortium of London-based Collaborative Doctoral Partnership institutions, as well as courses run for doctoral students within UCL.
Closing date
31 March 2015
For more information, see

HARN Workshop

March 20, 2015

We are very, very close to finalising the details. We have a time, a place and an exciting list of speakers – we’ll be announcing it very soon. Watch this space for details!


March 17, 2015

Starting with a digression – there’s a local hairdressers called Dial Emma’s which I can’t help thinking is a pun too far in the whole Curl Up and Dye style. Wouldn’t that name put you off? Not just on aesthetic grounds but on a practical level too – I don’t want dilemmas with my hair, I want solutions, that’s why I go to the hairdresser in the first place. Obviously this has nothing to do with my dilemma, I just feel compelled to share it with you. No, my dilemma is to do with blog content. Because I am excessively garrulous you might want to skip to the last paragraph in the hope I do a brief summary there (I’m hoping so too) because this might take some time.

My dilemma is that in conversation with Jon about many and varied things (admittedly mostly cake and sport) he suggested blogging about the threatened destruction of Nimrud and I began thinking about the topics I think this blog should cover. As I’ve mentioned, I promised Kate and Ulf I wouldn’t write any posts about my cats, cooking or knitting, although we have agreed that mine and Ulf’s cats and Kate’s dog are of paramount importance to the smooth running of HARN and I have mentioned the cats and indeed food and will undoubtedly work knitting into a post eventually. But my nonsense aside, I don’t think this blog is a place for me to express dogmatic opinions. Do I discuss events occurring around the globe or do I keep to neutral and/or informative subjects? I think it’s my role to inform you of various events around the world of potential interest to HARN members, to review some books and to keep the blog active with regular posts – to present, in effect, a human voice for HARN. This is not to say I expect you all to agree with my opinions about books and archaeology, but I hope my views are expressed in an acceptable and inoffensive style. Guest bloggers are welcome to talk about world events, to be as controversial as they choose – that’s a whole different matter.

Obviously the destruction of any cultural site is to be deplored, but my concern is that if I blog about Nimrud I will stray into contentious areas. I will gladly stray there when I’m talking to you in person because boy am I opinionated! I’m a pacifist, feminist,  atheist socialist with firm views about the return of cultural property and how human lives are far more important than artefacts. I believe that the West continues to be culpable of colonial and racist thinking and that this thinking is, at least, partially responsible for the rise of the Islamic State and terrorism generally. I don’t think it’s helpful to demonise any group of people and ignore the atrocities that have been committed by the other side(s) just because it’s politically profitable to do so. And, most importantly, I think we should assist each other in whatever ways we can because that’s my definition of humanity. That’s a lot of opinions to hold and I have many more! But those views, I think, are irrelevant here, they’re important to me, but this is not a personal blog. Obviously they colour how I see and understand the world and that will inevitably be reflected in what I write and how I write it, but I’m trying to keep them to a pastel rather than a primary colour.

So, not really a dilemma, more an explanation? And, unless you as members decree otherwise, I will continue to blog about non-contentious subjects, or subjects I think are non-contentious. However, I will continue to direct you to people like Sam Hardy whose knowledge, experience and contacts mean he is the person I read to try to understand what’s really going on in Syria etc. And, I’ll continue to invite members to write about their work regardless of their political, ethical and religious stance.

I hope you all agree.

Also, I hope you all had a fine weekend – mine was spent helping my son do a school project on the history of our street, I think I enjoyed it more than he did!


Archaeological Obituaries – who decides?

March 6, 2015

As I’ve mentioned before, St Albans has a special place in my heart. I dug there as an undergraduate and again when I’d finished my degree. While I spent less time there than I did in Avebury, I was just as idiotic, rash and drunken in Hertfordshire as I was in Wiltshire – I like to think I was at least consistent! So when Jon told me that Sheppard Frere had died not only did I feel the sadness that yet another veteran archaeologist has died, but I also had a pang of nostalgia for my student days.

For those of you who don’t know, Professor Sheppard Frere was a British archaeologist specialising in the Roman Empire. He held posts at Manchester University, the Institute of Archaeology at UCL and Oxford. He excavated at Canterbury, St Albans and Strageath and wrote Britannia which in several revised editions served, for decades, as the handbook of Roman Britain. In addition to being a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London and a fellow of the British Academy, Frere was also an OBE. During the Second World War he worked in the National Fire Service.

An important life, as I think you’ll agree. And, initially this post was going to be an obituary of him, mourning his passing and discussing his work. As preliminary research I went looking for obituaries in the broadsheets – nothing, not a word in The Guardian, The Independent, The Times or The Telegraph. Now, I’m sure there will be obituaries to come from the Society of Antiquaries, British ArchaeologyAntiquity, Current Archaeology and the like, and possibly obituaries will subsequently appear in the newspapers, although given Professor Frere was 98 when he died it’s unlikely his death took anyone by surprise so you’d think they’d have his obituary already written.

This absence led me to start looking at which archaeologists did get an obituary in the newspapers – this is a limited selection since my only method of research is computer searches, and it’s reliant on my knowledge of archaeology and my, unreliable, memory: Mick Aston – The Guardian, The Independent, The Telegraph and The Times; Jacquetta Hawkes – The Independent; Thurstan Shaw – The Times and The Telegraph as well as several Nigerian online newspapers; Stuart Piggott - The Independent; Aileen Fox – The Independent and The Guardian; Grahame Clark – oddly I can only find a listing for the NY Times but I’m sure I remember several at the time; Peter Ucko - The Telegraph and The Guardian; Andrew Sherrat – The Guardian and The Independent; John D. Evans – The Telegraph; John G. Evans – The Guardian; Humphrey Case – The Guardian and The Times; Harry Saggs – The Guardian and The Independent; Paul Ashbee – The Telegraph and The Guardian; Philip Rahtz – The Guardian and The Times; Lewis Binford – The Guardian and The Telegraph ; Bruce Trigger – none in the British press; Marek Zvelebil – none; Peggy Guido – none.

Aside from noting how few women there are on my mental list (is this just me and my faulty memory or is it a reflection on how few women are still in positions of authority within archaeology?) there seems to be no rhyme or reason to who is commemorated, or not, and the number of obituaries they receive. Mick Aston was a television personality as well as a serious archaeologist and unsurprisingly scores highly in the obituary stakes. But, take out that factor and no single newspaper gives more space to dead archaeologists than another. The obituaries have different authors, so it’s not as if there’s a regular contributor alerting editors to the passing of archaeologists. It can’t be politics, The Guardian, The Times and The Telegraph are still politically miles apart, if the politics of a particular archaeologist appeal to one paper’s editor, they’ll be an anathema to another. It can’t be the type of archaeology studied since all periods and specialisms are represented – or ignored! How then is it decided? Who decides? Is there a list of criteria to be fulfilled?

I have no idea of the answers to any of these questions and from an idle curiosity I now really want to know! I’m throwing it open to the members, please enlighten me if you can, or tell me about the obvious archaeologists I’ve missed and do please tell me how this works in other countries.

Thank you, have a great weekend



February 27, 2015
The Cat in the Hat copyright Dr Seuss

The Cat in the Hat copyright Dr Seuss

I have never been very good at juggling. When I was in Junior School (age 7 to 11) we would juggle 2 tennis balls against a wall, I could do that, but the dexterous girls (my sister for example) could do 3 or 4. If I tried it all went horribly wrong and got quite painful with balls ricocheting in all directions.

As a student juggling was very fashionable, mainly with those little sand filled balls, but the adventurous ones used trowels. I tried it but given I have very little hand-to-eye coordination you can imagine what happened. Thankfully no-one else got hurt!

So, juggling, it’s not my forte. Unfortunately, this week has been all about keeping various balls in the air.

Ball 1: We’re trying to sort out a venue for the HARN workshop, we have several possibilities but deciding which one to go with is difficult. Do we go for the expensive classy venue, or the cheaper option, less classy, still nice – obviously, we wouldn’t book a fleapit – but without the wow factor of some of the venues? How many people will we have as an audience? Are you coming?

Ball 2: The EAA. I’m organising a session and I need to sort various things out for this – you’d think I’d have realised that being an organiser might mean I had things to organise, but I’m a slow learner.

Ball 3: HARN matters. It’s Friday already, how the hell did that happen? I haven’t thought at all about this week’s post – it shows doesn’t it? I haven’t begun on the list of members’ locations and interests, how long ago was it that I announced that? Nor have I been in touch with any other members about doing an expanded profile for the blog ‘member of the month’ is turning into ‘occasional member, when I remember and am near a computer’.

Ball 4: Research. I really should be doing some, especially in view of the fact I’m speaking at the EAA session I’m organising.

Ball 5: Technically, for this year at least, I’m a stay-at-home-mum. That means I should be doing some mothering, I put the emphasis on the word ‘some’, unfortunately my children don’t agree – they see it more as my vocation, to be pursued around the clock every single day. The toddler in particular has decided that I should devote every minute to her and if I don’t she screams, kicks, turns purple and generally behaves how she did in the reference library*. This week she was to have her first full day at pre-school – she was home within 2 hours. In fact, I don’t think this one counts as a ball, it’s more like someone chucking a chainsaw into the mix.

There’s other stuff too, mainly domestic related and dull. I think what I’m trying to say is – I’m a bit distracted at the moment. Hopefully I’ll have a bit more time, inspiration and energy next week. In the meantime a question, it’s my sister’s birthday and this is her cake – do we think blue or brown eyes?



I think brown, the eight year old thinks blue, what do you think?

Have a great weekend


* We saw the librarian again this week, he’d obviously forgotten me but then he saw the toddler, he flinched, we left.


February 23, 2015

You are invited to a talk by Pamela Jane Smith

A Photographic Early History of Cambridge ARCH & ANTH Tripos in Honour of its Centennial Year

Wednesday 25th February 2015, 4.00pm (drop-in, tea and cake from 4.00pm, talk 4.30-5.15pm) South Lecture Room, Division of Archaeology, Cambridge,0.121164,18


Professor John Hutton’s retirement party with members of the Faculty of Archaeology and Anthropology dressed in museum artefacts, 1950 “The Anthropology and Archaeology Department was far more interesting than any primitive tribe,” (Mary Summers (m.1949), in conversation with Pamela Jane Smith, "A Splendid Idiosyncrasy: Prehistory at Cambridge, 1915–50")

Professor John Hutton’s retirement party with members of the Faculty of Archaeology and Anthropology dressed in museum artefacts, 1950 “The Anthropology and Archaeology Department was far more interesting than any primitive tribe,” (Mary Summers (m.1949), in conversation with Pamela Jane Smith, “A Splendid Idiosyncrasy: Prehistory at Cambridge, 1915–50″)


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