The shipwreck in the shopping centre: Plimmers Ark, Wellington

In the Old Bank shopping arcade in Wellington, New Zealand, under the stairs and next to the gym, the wreck of the Inconstant sits. In this post, I’ll tell you how a ship came to be wrecked in the middle of the CBD, and then discuss why this is an interesting case for curators. There’s a strong argument for integrated curated spaces, location-based museums and the exhibition in every day life. However, there’s also a case for something being so well integrated that it’s invisible.

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Traitor!

Confess yourself a traitor and a renegade! And so go to meet your doom. Traitor! (Brigstocke Sheppard, 1889: 413, in M. Lewis)

During an excavation of the Cistercian Monastery of Hulton Abbey, Staffordshire, in the 1970s, the disarticulated remains of a mature adult male were uncovered, revealing some very unusual peri-mortem cut marks. The man is thought to be Sir Hugh Despenser the Younger, a man so dastardly it may not be possible to catalogue his crimes and his punishments in just one post. Radiocarbon analysis puts the remains within the fourteenth century, and osteological analysis suggests the man was older than 34 years at the time of his death, which has led archaeologists to believe he is, in fact, Sir Hugh.

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What if the past is gross?

Our most informative and fascinating sources for the past don’t always look great or display well in a museum setting. In this post I want to talk about a way of looking at the past that I find really fascinating, and is the subject of academic papers, but doesn’t really get much of a look in when it comes to exhibition design. In this post I want to talk about the archaeological information gained from parasites, the font of information that is the coprolite, and other gross things.

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A note on object agency

My first ever post for this blog, way back in August 2014, was about object agency. I wrote that object agency is about the reflected agency that a person gives to a thing. As a lens through which to view archaeological finds, it allows us to reflect on the meaning that an object had to a person or group in the past. I have always looked at it as being a concept we could apply to the past, but in the last week I have been thinking that it is actually part of our lives and that it drives the things we do.

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Enlighten: an outdoor exhibition of lights and the arts

In Canberra, Australia, we have just finished experiencing one of the most wonderful festivals celebrating lights and the arts. Held outside and predominantly in the Parliamentary Triangle (the area between Parliament House and the lake, housing many of the national cultural institutions), the Enlighten festival runs over two weekends and is an initiative of the ACT Government.

The circle of lights on the Federation Mall
The circle of lights on the Federation Mall

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The ANU Classics Museum

The Classics Museum at the Australian National University in Canberra holds a wealth of artefacts and antiquities from the Greek and Roman worlds. The collection spans a period between 1500 BC and 500 AD – a period in which significant changes occurred throughout the world, great cities were built and then sacked, empires were made, and works of literature and art were created that still inspire us today.

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A dated monument to the future

The Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex is a deep space tracking station located in what is, to the naked eye, a sheep paddock near Canberra. When I was little, I would go to the Tidbinbilla Tracking Station (it’s formal name is above) to see the huge white dish and go into the visitor centre. When I was 10, I thought it was a fun museum but a bit dated and not all that engaging.

The big dish at Tidbinbilla Tracking Station
The big dish at Tidbinbilla Tracking Station

At (nearly) 30, it’s the same. I mean, it’s actually the same. What I can’t ever seem to get over is the fact that the subject matter of the visitor centre is so futuristic, yet the display is so old-fashioned. We’re talking small glass cases you look down on with various space-y bits and bobs with printed paper labels, in some cases stickey-taped on, and panels with dates for space exploration. A projector screen playing some unknown film and an LED ticker with a countdown are the most modern things in this museum. What I’m ultimately saying is, Tidbinbilla Tracking Station – CALL ME! We’ll make it a bit more engaging and modern and get across the sense of excitement that should be generated by space travel.

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Article review: ‘An Ivory Knife Handle from the High Street, Perth, Scotland’

This week I’m reviewing a really fascinating and influential article that actually came out in 2001, but which, I think, is so useful that I wanted to give it a bit of attention. Many of you may already be familiar with this article as it’s quite often cited – while the knife handle may not be relevant to your work, the use of one object to explore a period and lifestyle is carried out so neatly that it gets cited in a variety of sources. For the other museum enthusiasts out there, it makes me think about how much cannot be communicated to an audience for one object. No one will spend this long looking at one object or reading about it, even though a similar approach could be taken for pretty much any object out there.

The article’s full details are:

HALL, M. A. 2001. An Ivory Knife Handle from the High Street, Perth, Scotland: Consuming Ritual in a Medieval Burgh. Medieval Archaeology, 45, 169-188.

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A different type of house-museum

The cottage
The cottage

Near to where I grew up, in the middle of Canberra, Australia, is a small farmer’s cottage called Mugga Mugga. It was built in 1838, and is one the region’s oldest dwellings. Most people in Canberra drive past it without seeing it, set back from the road, with little more than a chimney visible as you drive past. It’s now a house-museum visited by school groups and a few visitors, and one of the few low-status dwellings you can visit and see filled with objects authentic to the house.

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