This week, I joined the University’s archaeology society and was elected as its museum liaison. It’s now my task to arrange activities for myself and my peers which are museum-related and this got me thinking about how museums display archaeological material. When an artefact is found in the ground, at least when part of an academic or commercial excavation, its exact location is meticulously recorded. The surrounding material (context) is mapped and many other things like dating and post-excavation analysis may be conducted. After working with the Manchester Museum’s ethnography collections for a few months it became apparent that museums often hold large quantities of objects which have little or no information associated with them. These usually come from older acquisitions or donations from personal collections. I have come across many examples from North and South America which have no reliable date, provenance, and in some cases the nature of the object itself is a complete mystery. Are objects like this useful to us as archaeologists at all? Do we have to know anything about the object’s history or origins for it to provide us with information about the past? This is something I’d like to explore in one of the sessions and would be interested to see other student’s reactions to an object which the museum knows nothing about, and I will let you know some thoughts on the matter.
In other news, the Whitworth Gallery’s long awaited renovation is nearly complete. The new galleries look great and have upcoming exhibitions by artists such as Cornelia Parker and Sarah Lucas. I’m particularly excited by Cai Guo-Qiang’s stunning installation which will be displayed in the new landscape gallery. He uses gunpowder to created huge and sprawling Chinese-inspired landscapes. Read more about it here. I shall be attending a preview evening on Saturday 7th of Feb to check out the newly improved gallery for myself ahead of its official opening on the 14th, although a photography embargo will be maintained until the 11th so I’ll post some photos after that date. Wouldn’t want to spoil it for the press!