Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The beautiful things...

Dear readers,

As you know, we have been packing the museum collections and preparing to move them offsite so that redevelopment work can begin in earnest. One of the most rewarding aspects of this is that we get to see (and handle!) some of the remarkable objects in the museum stores. This morning I spent some time looking at the various remarkable urns and other pieces of assorted pottery in the archaeology collections. These things have been found locally (with some exceptions, of course, where would we be without exceptions?). I was especially drawn to the labelling on these objects. It is interesting to me that archaeologists put labels directly on objects.

Felmersham Churchyard: 4 feet deep
Coming from a Fine Art background, writing directly on an artefact seems fairly odd, and these artefacts have not only been written on, they have fragments of text cut out and stuck to them, and stenciling in two different colours. The reason for this labelling, is that for the archaeologist, the most important thing about the artefact is not what it looks like, but the information associated with it. What I like about it is the level of craftsmanship on these labels, they are a record of all the hands the artefact has been through, since it re-emerged into the world.

possibly from a cowheard
The text on this urn reads 'contained the remains possibly from a cowheard,
as the terminal of an ox goad was found with the cremation'
I think another reason that these labels struck me, was that they are so direct. As a digital and social web enthusiast, I seem to spend a lot of time linking things to things in the great big World-Wide Web. The cut and paste approach taken here seems very refreshing, and you can't say it doesn't work. That said, our Keeper of Archaeology, Liz Pieksma informs me that the remains in this urn are most likely 'not from a cowheard'.

A lot of the finds have the initials and names of the collector emblazened on them - Tom Perrett, Head of Collections and Exhibitions said 'to me this reflects the competition there was between antiquarian collectors to get their hands on the 'best bits'.'

a fine specimen
( a fine specimen ampulla 1st Century) from the Elliot Collection

Some of the finds that I saw in the archaeology store had barnacles on them. Surely these weren't found in Kempston, Felmersham or Biggleswade? Indeed they were not. They were found off the coast of Kent, at the site of a famous shipwreck, Pudding Pan Rock! The pieces in our collection are very similar to others in The British Museum collection, where I found this description of how they were found.

'Fishermen often dragged up Roman bowls, plates and cups in their nets when they fished near Pudding Pan Rock. Sometimes the fishermen’s families cooked and ate from the bowls, but often they sold them to antiquaries. Gustavus Brander (1720-87), a Trustee of the British Museum, once served dessert to fellow antiquaries from dishes found at Pudding Pan Rock.

There was much speculation about this pottery's origins in the 1770s and 1780s. In 1773 John Pownall went with a local fisherman to 'fish' for pottery and other artefacts in what was probably the first marine archaeological investigation to take place in Britain'

Roman pottery from Pudding Pan Rock
barnacle 2


I love how beautiful the textures and shapes of all these objects are. There are quite a few more photos on Flickr. Have a browse and let know what you think of all these things. I especially like how the little handled jars have their papers tucked under their arms, I think it gives them a lot of personality!

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