Fiona YoungBy Fiona Young, Community Engagement Project Officer, Scotland Creates

Groups of 16 – 24-year-olds have been meeting regularly in five museums across Scotland to select, research and interpret the nation’s collections and tell us about their sense of place. It’s all part of Scotland Creates – A Sense of Place, a partnership project funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and Creative Scotland.

‘How do I sum up the exhibition? It was an amazing sight, seeing all the ideas that we started with come together to create something awesome. It was hard work but it paid off seeing the people who came along to see the animations.’ - Sam Fairbairn, Edinburgh participant.

Participants at the Dick Institute, Kilmarnock curated a beautiful exhibition Legacy of Lace about the local industry, with a spectacular mix of contemporary and traditional lace. A trip to Molton Young and Boreland  inspired short films documenting the lace making process and a one-off lace piece designed by the group was produced there. To add extra flair, Scottish Ballet worked with a group of young participants from the area to produce a lace industry inspired dance! Dancers wore their own lace fascinators and Scottish Ballet kindly loaned a lace costume for the exhibition. Designed by Anthony MacDonald and made by Morag McKerrell, the costume was one of seven worn by the corps de ballet on stage, each in a different colour, in Carmen.

Legacy of Lace exhibition at the Dick Institute, Kilmarnock

Legacy of Lace exhibition at the Dick Institute, Kilmarnock.

Museum nan Eilean participants curated A Reir na h-Aimsir – Without Rain there would not be Magic, an exhibition reflecting the changeable and magical weather of the Western Isles. This was enhanced by stunning photographs of island weather taken by local young photographers and a weather inspired dance performed by local pupils. Through a partnership with Live Music Now Scotland, young musicians wrote and performed a song with the band Skerryvore explaining their love of their home:

‘We wake up every day
In this beautiful place
It’s where I want to stay
It’s where I want to stay.’

The McLean Museum and Art Gallery in Greenock were inspired by the rich collection of Clyde pottery and put their design and photography skills to good use by curating Colour, Design and Creativity. They even added an entrepreneurial edge by selling their own designed coasters! Our partners Scottish Ballet again worked with us to produce a pottery industry inspired movement piece with the Greenock Wanderers under 16s rugby team, an exciting and successful collaboration.

Coasters designed by the volunteers at the McLean Museum and Art Gallery

Coasters designed by the volunteers at the McLean Museum and Art Gallery.

National Museums Scotland participants scripted, storyboarded and produced three exciting animated films about Edinburgh’s scientific innovations with animator Cameron Duguid, whom they interviewed and selected to work with them. The group chose and researched the featured objects and their research was enhanced by visits to the Roslin InstituteTouch Bionics and James Clerk Maxwell’s house. Their opening event was part of the first Scottish Museum Takeover day and was enhanced by a variety of events for their peers including a song writing workshop with young pop-rock group Miniature Dinosaurs.

Miniature Dinosaurs and participants in the song writing workshop perform their composition

Miniature Dinosaurs and participants in the Museum Takeover Day song writing workshop perform their composition.

You can see a video all about Museum Takeover Day here:

The Youth Action Group (#YAGsop) at the McManus drew many inspirations from Dundee’s past, putting a new digital twist on journalism and combining the city’s cinematic and lens based industries with new technology and today’s Dundee. Their exhibition Sense of Place featured their very own electric cinema and was accompanied by a beautiful magazine. The group commissioned local dance company Small Petit Klein to choreograph a piece influenced by their explorations and this was performed at their opening night.

Poster advertising the exhibition at the McManus, Dundee

Poster advertising the Sense of Place exhibition at the McManus, Dundee.

As you can see there’s been lots happening across all venues! What has triumphed across all partner museums is the commitment and quality of work produced by the participants. Each individual has given their time and enthusiasm to the project and in return have grown in confidence and ability.

But it’s not over yet! You can see highlights of all these wonderful objects and creativity in Scotland Creates: A Sense of Place from 9 May – 31 August, in the Grand Gallery at National Museum of Scotland. Look out for events around the exhibition and join the conversation on twitter #scotlandcreates.

By Maya Hoole, Volunteer with Collections Services

Day 1 of volunteering at National Museums Scotland and I had no idea what the next six weeks here would be like. I met Trevor Cowie (Scottish History and Archaeology Department) in the Arrivals Hall, and after a quick coffee we set off into the rabbit warren behind the scenes at the Museum.

In October I had met Trevor at an archaeology conference in Inverness. I was volunteering for the conference organisers, Highland Council Historic Environment Team, at the time. I was looking to get more experience and could not believe it when Trevor thought it might be possible for me to spend some time at National Museums Scotland.

Whilst the whole genre of Scottish Archaeology captivates me, I’ve always had a particular soft spot for the great ‘Atlantic roundhouses’: the Brochs of Northern and Western Scotland. So when I found out that the project chosen for me to work on was with the Broch of Gurness… well, you can imagine that I had a particularly large grin on my face.

Although the excavated finds from this well-known Orkney site have been part of the national collections for many years, the detailed published catalogue had never been converted into an electronically accessible format, making accessing the information and managing the collection difficult.

So there I was a few weeks later, ready to start. Whilst Trevor had agreed to be my Line Manager as it was an archaeological subject, I was to be supervised and guided by Jo Macrae (Collections Services). I was shown to my own desk with a laptop for me to use and presented with the sacred book that would be my life for the next few weeks: ‘Bu, Gurness and the Brochs of Orkney. Part II: Gurness’ by John Hedges.

‘Bu, Gurness and the Brochs of Orkney. Part II: Gurness’ by John Hedges.

Maya’s sacred book: ‘Bu, Gurness and the Brochs of Orkney. Part II: Gurness’ by John Hedges.

Jo had a spreadsheet set up for me ready to input the catalogue data. She showed me what to do, guiding me along as I started to figure out the system and soon had me racing through the catalogue as I got to grips with it all. Over the next few weeks I was welcomed whole-heartedly into the Collections Services team (and cannot thank you all enough for that) and got into a routine working through the catalogue.

The Broch of Gurness really is quite a site; a complex series of stone buildings embracing the solid broch tower at their heart. It is thought to have been occupied from around the 1st to 2nd century BC, and was used on and off from then onwards through the Pictish period in the 5th to 8th century AD, and again by the Vikings around the 9th to 10thcentury AD. This long and complex history meant that a whole range of artefacts were discovered at the site: stone tools, animal bones and human remains, reworked Roman glass, bronze brooches, iron knife blades, spindle whorls, pins, rings, chains, needles, querns, pounders, grinders, gaming equipment… and lots of pieces of pottery, to name but a few. And let’s not forget the remains of an Orkney Vole or a Conger Eel.

Two of the most elaborate and intriguing objects in the collection are the pair of oval (or tortoise) brooches, with highly decorative zoomorphic ornamentation, as can be seen below.

Tortoise brooches found at the Broch of Gurness, Orkney

Tortoise brooches found at the Broch of Gurness, Orkney.

After a few weeks working away on the data, Jo and Trevor organised to take me down to the stores to have a look around. I felt like a little kid in a toy shop as every drawer held new delights. I was treated to trays full of flint arrow heads, stone axe heads, spindle whorls, pots, a log boat and we even hunted down some of the pieces from the Gurness collection that I’d been working on, including faunal remains and stone tools. I genuinely feel privileged to have had a glimpse into the vast stores of artefacts safely tucked away behind the scenes.

Scottish finds

Finds from archaeological sites in Scotland.

Stone axehead

Stone axehead.

Maya investigates archaeological finds in our stores.

Maya investigates archaeological finds in our stores.

Back in the office I finished off the data input with a good chunk of time left to spare. Jo kindly decided to show me how everything I had achieved could be integrated into the collections database. Once everything was uploaded, I went through the catalogue again and added in all of the dimensions to the 2,121 database records I had created. I only had a week left before Christmas. Jo bet me that I couldn’t get all the dimensions in before the holiday break, if I did she would eat her hat (or head, depending on who you ask). Luckily for Jo’s hat, I didn’t finish in time… However, it was a close call, as within two hours of my first day back in January, it was done!

For my final week here, I am going to be getting some more experience working in the database under the excellent supervision of Jo. So far, I have learned a great deal about working in the museum, about the things that need to be done that I had never even thought about before.

If you are interested in the Broch of Gurness collection there are a few items on display in the Early People gallery in the museum. These including: a bone die, two bone combs, a pinhead, a handled steatite bowl and an inscribed knife handle, amongst others. I have included a list of where and what you can find – so go and have a look!

I just want to say thank you to everyone who has been a part of this and made it possible, I won’t forget it.

Arrowheads

Arrowheads.

Description

Gallery

Section

Case   no.

Label   no.

Handled Steatite bowl

Early People gallery

Fat of the Land

B5

6

Decorated bone handle

Early People gallery

Made of Bone

E4

18

Perforated antler tine used as a   handle

Early People gallery

Made of Bone

E2

8

Mount of perforated antler

Early People gallery

Made of Bone

E2

17

Early People Gallery

Early People gallery

Made of Bone

E2

17

Perforated sheep metacarpal

Early People gallery

Made of Bone

E3

5

Long handled weaving comb of   cetacean bone

Early People gallery

Made of Bone

E6

8

Long handled weaving comb of   cetacean bone

Early People gallery

Made of Bone

E6

8

Perforated pinhead or playing piece   made of bone

Early People gallery

Made of Bone

E3

16

Vessel for storage, cooking or   serving

Early People gallery

Baking the Earth

K5

14

Bone rib, possibly a pottery tool

Early People Gallery

Baking the Earth

K2

6

Glass ball

Early People gallery

Broken Glass

M4

16

Ogham-inscribed knife handle

Early People gallery

Letter of Authority

T7

6

Bone die

Early People gallery

Tilling the Soil

C5

4

Guest post by Morag Brown (7) when she and her friends Alexander Marshall (8) and Jessica Grier (8) from the ESMS Junior School, Edinburgh helped the National Museum of Scotland with the launch of the Mammoths of the Ice Age exhibition and Murdo the Mammoth bus. Here she tells her story about a mini mammoth’s adventure.

There is still a chance to visit the Mammoths of the Ice Age exhibition at National Museum of Scotland – it closes on Easter Monday, 21 April 2014!

I went on an orange bus with my friends Jessica and Alexander and it looked like people were in it and it had a big huge mammoth on the outside. We wore some special mammoth outfits which had round heads and a suit which was quite boiling and hairy.

Morag, Alexander and Jessica crossing the road in front of the Mammoth bus.

Morag, Alexander and Jessica crossing the road in front of Murdo the Mammoth bus outside the National Museum of Scotland.

A lady from the Edinburgh Evening News came and took pictures of us and there were pictures of us walking across the road outside the museum and lots of us playing inside and outside the bus. We went on the front page of the newspaper and inside it.

Edinburgh Evening News front page featuring Morag, Alexander and Jessica with the Murdo the Mammoth bus,

 

The next week, we went to the Mammoths of the Ice Age exhibition to meet some people from the newspapers and television to have some more pictures and video taken.

Alexander, Morag and Jessica hiding in the Mammoths of the Ice Age exhibition © Ian Jacobs

Alexander, Morag and Jessica hiding in the Mammoths of the Ice Age exhibition © Ian Jacobs

There were lots of pictures taken of me and my friends in the Mammoths exhibition and they appeared in the newspapers the next day all over Scotland and United Kingdom.

Morag having a staring competition with a Sabre tooth cat. © Ian Jacobs

Morag having a staring competition with a Sabre tooth cat in the Mammoths of the Ice Age exhibition © Ian Jacobs

My favourite picture was the one of me and the Sabre tooth cat having a staring competition.  Me and my friend Jessica were on the television news wearing our mammoth outfits talking to a lady and Alexander was really busy playing with games around the exhibition. Jessica’s mum also went on the television news but my mummy didn’t want to speak to the people from the television.

Morag beneath the Colombian Mammoth in the Mammoths of the Ice Age exhibition © Ian Jacobs

Morag beneath the Colombian Mammoth in the Mammoths of the Ice Age exhibition © Ian Jacobs

The exhibition is really, really good and the best bits are the bones and plastic people and the big mammoth was almost touching the roof and was as big as a bus! I liked the mammoth head fighting game with tusks and I was playing this with Jessica and the tusks got stuck together. Alexander also went ice skating in his hot and hairy mammoth outfit too!

 

I really liked the exhibition and when my friends Philip and Kyle from Boston in America came to Scotland on holiday I took them to the Mammoths exhibition. I would like to go again before it ends.

Morag with her friends from Boston, USA when they came to visit Mammoths of the Ice Age exhibition at National Museum of Scotland.

Morag with her friends from Boston, USA when they came to visit Mammoths of the Ice Age exhibition at National Museum of Scotland.

 

 

Becky MumfordBy Becky Mumford, work placement student with the Science and Technology department

If I were to summarise my time at the National Museum of Scotland with one phrase, and I make no attempt to avoid clichés, there is much much more than meets the eye. The Science and Technology department was my base for a five week work placement, where I was hoping to achieve a general feel for what the day to day working life of a curator involved. Alison Taubman, Principle Curator of Communications and my main contact at the museum, as well as the rest of the department, quickly made me feel at home – particularly over the morning coffee/gossip!

My first week was spent generally getting a feel for the place by meeting other members of staff and departments and trying not to get lost in the rabbit warren of stairs, offices and corridors behind the scenes. I was primarily assisting the curators on plans for new Science and Technology galleries due to open in 2016 and it has been fascinating, if not slightly daunting, to see the amount of work and issues that arise when attempting such a huge project.

Moving an 18th century block instrument

Moving an 18th century block instrument.

Every Monday afternoon was spent with Dorothy Kidd at the department of Scottish History and Archaeology. Here I sorted through and archived a huge selection of photos linked to Lochee Nursery and Ancrum Road School, Dundee. Many of the photos and documents appeared to be donated by a particular family in the area – it was amazing seeing the whole family history laid out in front of me marked by births, weddings and deaths as well as a number of family holidays. They were all dated from the early 1910s to 1940s so were a fascinating insight into a way of life now very different from my own.

The Staff and Children of Lochee Nursery School, Dundee

The Staff and Children of Lochee Nursery School, Dundee.

Over the course of my time at the museum I made several trips to the National Museums Collection Centre in Granton, a treasure trove of objects often bizarre and mysterious. The rooms filled with huge machinery, another with bones and another with rows and rows of bicycles were a joy just to wander around. Here I assisted by measuring and taking objects to the Photography and Conservation departments, a process much more time-consuming than I ever expected. The sheer size of not just the whole collections but some of the objects meant a lot of time was just spent moving or searching for items somewhere in the series of shelves and rooms that make up the museum stores. At one point we unearthed a beautiful original drawing of a beam engine by Boulton and Watt from 1786 not seen for years! Another day was spent assisting a crew filming an object created by the art collective Found for Durer’s whiskey – it seems the draw of the museum stores is universal.

Preparing protective wrappings to take objects to photography

Preparing protective wrappings to take objects to photography.

One particular highlight was a departmental trip to Stanley Mills, an 18th century textile mill in Perthshire. I drove up to Stanley Mills with Alex Hayward, Klaus Staubermann and Emma Webb from Learning and Programmes to look at their impressive array of interactive exhibits for inspiration with regards to future displays. The museum did indeed have a great number and variety of interactive displays. This included a series of games to give children a feel for the concentration, quick reflexes and the tedium involved in working at the mill and interactives to divert water flows to manipulate different styles of waterwheels, ideas that we would hope to draw on as the plans for the new galleries develop. The day was topped off by a visit to Stewart Tower dairy for lunch and giant ice creams all round – if only this could happen every week!

Fiona Davidson explains an interactive display at Stanley Mills

Fiona Davidson explains an interactive display at Stanley Mills.

To get as broad an overview of the different work involved in running the museum as possible I spent some of my time among other departments. On one afternoon I helped carry out visitor consultations for Scotinform to gather data and opinions on the plans for the new galleries. This was an excellent reminder that a museum is as much for public engagement as it is about collecting and preserving and research. More time was also spent in the Development and Marketing and Communications departments, helping with museum events – yet another aspect of backstage museum life I had failed to consider.

Over the past five weeks I definitely feel I’ve started to grasp the complexities of museum life and the work involved for the curators here. I thank Alison and the team for making me feel so welcome and my time so enjoyable. I now can’t wait to come and visit the museum once the new galleries are up and running!

Chantal KnowlesBy Chantal Knowles, Principal Curator of Oceania, Americas and Africa

An exhibition at the Museum of New Caledonia has told the story of the Reverend James Hadfield and Mrs Emma Hadfield, and their 40 years as missionaries in the Loyalty Islands. This exhibition included 13 artefacts from National Museums Scotland’s Hadfield collections, and is the first to look in detail at Loyalty Islands history and culture.

Poster advertising the Hadfield exhibition at the Museum of New Caledonia

Poster advertising the Hadfield exhibition at the Museum of New Caledonia.

In 1910 James and Emma took a year’s break from their work in the Pacific and returned to Great Britain to stay with their son, James Arthur Hadfield, minister of the Kirk Memorial Church and resident in Edinburgh. Whilst in Edinburgh they offered a ‘Collection from New Caledonia and the Loyalty Islands’ on loan to the Royal Scottish Museum (now the National Museum of Scotland). It was displayed in the Ethnographical Gallery, before being purchased for the museum’s permanent collection, where it remains today.

In fact, two collections related to the Hadfields were placed on loan to the museum in 1910. The first, described as a ‘Collection from South Seas’, comprised 105 artefacts and arrived in the museum on 26 February. It was registered as being from the Reverend James Arthur Hadfield of Edinburgh, the son of James and Emma. This is presumed to be a collection given to her son by Emma Hadfield, as the original entry in the Loans Register cites ‘Mrs Hadfield’ as the source.

Two months later the second collection, noted above, was lent to the museum by Reverend James Hadfield. This collection comprised 94 objects, all but three of which were purchased for the permanent collections. The conversion of this loan to the permanent collection was significant enough to be highlighted in the museum’s 1911 annual report: “The most important additions to the Ethnographical gallery are the large groups of objects from Central Australia and from New Caledonia. Both provide specimens which the collection almost entirely lacked, and in both cases they consist of objects collected on the spot and brought to the Museum direct from the hands of the native peoples who made and used them.”

The year 1910 was a significant one for missionaries in Edinburgh. For 10 days in June the city hosted the World Missionary Conference. The collections on display in Edinburgh would immediately have been seen by the global missionary community, as a reception for delegates and their guests was hosted at the museum and attended by over 4,000 people.

The original loan remained with the museum until 1962, when James Arthur Hadfield, by now approaching his eighties, contacted the museum. After a short correspondence, the museum returned the collection to him in good order. It is probably at around this time that the artefacts were dispersed amongst the family, only to be reassembled nearly 50 years later and gifted to the Museum of New Caledonia in 2009. Today the only evidence of the time spent at National Museums Scotland are fragments of the loan labels glued onto the objects.

At the time of the purchase of the second loan, three finimeciwe necklaces of jade stone beads decorated with flying fox hair strands were held back from the purchase and remained on loan. Over the years the museum lost touch with the family and they became unaware of the continued existence of the three necklaces. The Hadfield collection maintained its place in the museum’s public galleries, surviving redisplays in the 1920s and again in the 1970s, although by the 1990s only one necklace remained on display in the Wider World gallery, and as it was on loan the label clearly attributed it to the Reverend James Hadfield. The object and label were spotted by a member of the Hadfield family during a visit and contact with the museum was renewed.

Finimeciwe necklace

Three finimeciwe necklaces were on loan to National Museums Scotland between 1910 and 2008, when they were returned to the Hadfield family.

Visits from different family members over subsequent years and discussions on the cultural value of the necklaces led to their return to the family in November 2008, and in turn the gift of the Meciwa, along with many more items, to the Museum of New Caledonia.

Pandanus bag

Oblong bag of plaited pandanus leaf with a carrying string, on loan from National Museums Scotland to the Museum of New Caledonia.

Rotary drill

Rotary drill consisting of a wooden spindle with a point of flint, and a wooden bow with coconut fibre string, on loan from National Museums Scotland to the Museum of New Caledonia.

This gift was of such significance that the Museum of New Caledonia immediately began researching the collection in order to put on a special exhibition. The Hadfield family’s gift had increased the national holdings of Loyalty Islands artefacts from less than 10 historic items to over 100. The finimeciwe necklaces had found a wonderful new home. The planned exhibition sought to place the family collection on display along with some of the best pieces from National Museums Scotland and British Museum collections.

Last September I travelled with Jill Hasell of the British Museum to the Pacific to courier the exhibition loans to the Museum of New Caledonia. Over an intense week objects were unpacked, condition checked, mounts made and installed in the exhibition cases. As each case was completed with the help of the staff of the Museum, many of whom are Loyalty Islanders, there was a real excitement about having the collection on display for the first time.

At the opening a group of dancers led guests of honour Douglas Hadfield, grandson of the missionaries, now in his nineties, along with his wife and two children into the exhibition, serenaded by the local church choir who sang a newly-composed hymn dedicated to the life of James and Emma and their work in the Loyalty Islands.

Douglas Hadfield, grandson of the missionaries, was guest of honour at the exhibition opening in New Caledonia

Douglas Hadfield, grandson of the missionaries, was guest of honour at the exhibition opening in New Caledonia.

For National Museums Scotland this loan has provided a rare opportunity to lend artefacts to their country of origin, reconnecting them to the place and the descendants of their makers, and to gain access to new research and interpretation of the artefacts. It has also been a chance to reconnect with the original collectors’ family and learn more about their history. As a result the objects will return to Scotland with enhanced documentation, including the local names for all the objects and further information on their use, which will be added to our collections database.

Historically National Museums Scotland always took in long-term loans as they provided an excellent opportunity to broaden the scale and scope of the collections on display, and safeguard material whilst funds were sought for their purchase or lenders were persuaded to become donors. What makes this collection so special are the ongoing connections between the Hadfield family and Loyalty Islanders. Their collections have created a network of objects and people that connect forever the institutions that house the collections with each other and the Loyalty Islanders, enabling further research and greater access to the collections. At the National Museum of Scotland we continue to display the Hadfield collection in the permanent gallery, Facing the Sea, reinterpreted and renewed for today’s audiences.

Nautilus shell

Nautilus shell, one of several objects from the Hadfield collection currently on display in the Facing the Sea gallery.

A guest post by Callum Madge, Creative Administrator at Lung Ha’s Theatre Company

Lung Ha’s aims to be a leading theatre company for people with learning disabilities, in Scotland and internationally. The company presents their promenade performance The Hold at National Museum of Scotland from 12-16 March 2014. Find out more and book tickets here www.nms.ac.uk/lungha

Having only joined Lung Ha’s Theatre Company in October 2013, The Hold is the first production I have worked on for the company. My previous experiences of drama have always been as a performer at an amateur level, so it’s been interesting for me to see how it works on a larger scale professional production and from a more administrative perspective. What I’ve witnessed has shown me the phenomenal amount of behind the scenes work that goes into a production. Even before rehearsals began there were script revisions, cast auditions and production team decisions.

Rehearsing The Hold

Left to right: Teri Robb, Anna Walsh, John Edgar, Maria Oller and Mark Howie rehearsing The Hold. Photo by Tom Hutter.

As I wasn’t a regular attendee of rehearsals, my connection to the show hasn’t perhaps been as intimate as others, but I’ve always felt wholly connected to The Hold because there are so many other facets to concern myself with, including making funding requests, booking rehearsal space and publicising the show on social media. When I do get to rehearsals, it’s fantastic to see the leaps forward the cast have made since my last visit and I’m always struck by their high level of professionalism. With disabled performers still fairly rare in professional theatre, I feel very privileged to be assisting in the creation of not just a good play (which it is), but a piece that showcases how disabled performers have just as much ability to immerse you in a narrative and evoke a strong emotional reaction as any other performer.

Rehearsing The Hold

Derek Darvell and John Edgar rehearsing The Hold. Photo by Tom Hutter.

Although the actor is undoubtedly important, when performing in school productions I was often too quick to let the attention and the stage time give rise to an intoxicating but inflated sense of self-worth. However, working off stage has made me appreciate the production process in a totally different manner. I have watched The Hold grow from a seedling concept into a towering timber giant with various elements (costume, design, marketing, etc) branching off, but all connected together by the trunk. Seeing the play develop like this has brought home how, although the audience may be watching the actors, what they are really looking at is the culmination of a multitude of people’s time and energy and with one missing component, the finished product could look quite different.

This idea of shared responsibility has been especially notable because The Hold is a collaborative project with National Museums Scotland. As a site-specific promenade piece inside the National Museum of Scotland, The Hold has frequently thrown up hiccoughs that wouldn’t necessarily exist in a traditional theatrical venue: what to use as a dressing room, how to transport set to a specific area, ensuring the safety of the museum collections, and so on. But with such a wealth of knowledge to draw on, a solution is never too far away.

Rehearsing The Hold

Kay-Ann Jacobs, Kenny Ainslie, Leigh Flynn, Colin McIllveny and Keith Watson rehearsing The Hold. Photo by Tom Hutter.

Because the Museum is an institution designed to immerse the general public in its collections and exhibitions, performing inside it gives a sense of immediacy with the audience. Theatre is sometimes associated with the privileged classes, but performing in a museum (a space for everyone) transcends this perceived divide, giving a stronger sense of connectivity between performers and viewers. I have learned a great deal while working on The Hold, but most importantly it has been a hugely enjoyable experience and I look forward to seeing the finished production.

Alison SheridanBy Dr Alison Sheridan, Principal Curator, Department of Scottish History and Archaeology, National Museums Scotland and President of the Prehistoric Society

Mystery of the Moor

It’s about a very special Early Bronze Age person whose cremated remains were buried in a cist (stone box-like grave) in a peat mound around 3800 years ago on Whitehorse Hill, one of the highest tors on Dartmoor, Devon. Because the cist was constructed in a pre-existing hillock of peat, its contents quickly became waterlogged and, despite the side of the cist being exposed for over 10 years, the contents were found to be miraculously preserved when the cist was excavated in 2011.

 Model wearing replicas of the Whitehorse Cist ear studs, necklace and armband/bracelet, filmed on Dartmoor. Photo: DNPA/BBC

Model wearing replicas of the Whitehorse Cist ear studs, necklace and armband/bracelet, filmed on Dartmoor. Photo: DNPA/BBC

The person’s cremated remains – which were probably those of a woman, aged 15–25 – had been wrapped in a pelt and carefully laid on a mat of plant material on the base of the cist. Between the mat and the bone parcel was found the remains of an exquisite garment of fine calfskin with an inset panel of woven nettle fibre, surrounded by triangular calfskin appliqués. Further traces of textile, this time burnt, were found with the bones; this must represent a funerary garment worn as the corpse was cremated on the pyre.

The wooden ear studs © DPNA/BBC

The wooden ear studs © DPNA/BBC

The most spectacular find, discovered on top of the bone parcel at one end of it and itself covered by a mat of plant material, was a finely-woven cylindrical container of woven lime bast. Inside it, and spilling out of it, was a set of precious jewellery comprising two pairs of wooden studs – one probably for ear lobes, the other possibly worn around the mouth – plus a necklace of tin, amber, Kimmeridge shale and clay beads and an arm band of plaited animal hair with tiny tin studs.

All these items, and the fine garment and the positioning of the grave, tell us that the person in this cist had been accorded very special status in Early Bronze age society.

This discovery is of national and international importance in several respects, not least because of the preservation of materials that don’t normally survive. It is incredibly rare to find well-preserved metallic tin objects: normally tin oxidises and crumbles away. The armband is unparalleled, and reminds us that there could have been many types of Early Bronze Age object that simply haven’t survived.

Making the replicas of the studs © DNPA/BBC

Making the replicas of the studs © DNPA/BBC

I have been working on these wonderful finds, with an army of specialists from across Britain has been working on the finds, on behalf of Jane Marchand (Archaeologist, Dartmoor National Park Authority) and Andy Jones (Historic Environment Projects, Cornwall Council) and with funding from English Heritage (through Vanessa Straker); and amazing revelations keep on coming. It has been my special privilege to research the jewellery, and to this end I have recently visited Hal Redvers-Jones in Whitby (the last surviving traditional Whitby jetworker) to see how the tiny disc beads of Kimmeridge shale had been made.

The fascinating television programme, Mystery of the Moor, features some amazing experimental craft-work that was commissioned by de facto films’ Andrew Brown, the programme maker and gives us a glimpse at Early Bronze Age technology.

Replicas of the studded armband and necklace © DNPA/BBC

Replicas of the studded armband and necklace © DNPA/BBC

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