It’s been a year since I first started working in Wiltshire – how time flies! Working as part of the Conservation and Museum Advisory Service (CMAS), I work with museums across the county giving support to staff and volunteers on a whole range of topics such as Accreditation, collections, exhibitions, audience development and fundraising.
Over the last twelve months I’ve been getting to know Wiltshire and visiting as many museums and heritage centres as possible. Having moved from South Wales, a very different part of the world with a different story, it’s been great to explore the county and find out more about it. With over forty fascinating museums, amazing archaeology and heritage sites, I’ve been spoilt for choice and I’ve really enjoyed finding out about the history of the area.
Driving around I frequently come across sites such as Silbury Hill, Stonehenge, Avebury and West Kennet. It’s a little treat every time I see them but it’s been many years since I studied archaeology. I was struggling to remember what I’d learnt about these special places – but where better to find out more than at a museum?! Salisbury Museum and Wiltshire Museum in Devizes both have internationally important archaeology collections from the area and are a great place to discover the story of Wiltshire going back over half a million years and see the evidence from the earliest humans living in the area, including beautiful gold jewellery, finely made pottery, coin hoards and everyday tools. What a great introduction to the history of the area and a way to help me understand the things I’d seen out and about!
When I came to Wiltshire I knew the archaeology would be amazing – it’s something the county is famous for around the world. However, there are many other stories that I hadn’t heard about and the ‘Wiltshire’s Story in 100 Objects’ project was a good starting point to help me find out more about them. One hundred objects from Wiltshire’s museums have been carefully chosen to interpret the history of the county from 10,000 BC to the present day. It gives a great overview of the diversity of collections that Wiltshire’s museums collect, care for and interpret.
With Summer struggling to make a reliable appearance, there’s plenty of things to do if you want a day out but the weather’s not up to scratch. Museums in Wiltshire have a fascinating array of collections and exhibitions just waiting to be discovered. Here’s a round-up of just a few of the temporary exhibitions you can see around the County at the moment.
If you’re near Salisbury it’s your last chance to see the Sophie Ryder exhibition at Salisbury Museum which ends on the 9th July. Sophie’s work represents a world of mystical creatures, animals and hybrid beings made in a variety of different materials, including wire, plaster and bronze.
The exhibition has a selection of sketches and working models for Sophie’s pieces and there is a reproduction of her workroom, giving visitors an insight into how she approaches making her creations. And if you visit before the 3rd July you will be able to see some of her larger, monumental sculptures around the Cathedral, with etchings and prints on display at Sarum College in the Cathedral Close.
If your tastes are a little less contemporary, the Museum is also playing host to ‘Writing for Eternity: Decoding Ancient Egypt’, a touring exhibition from the British Museum, until the 3rd September. It is a family friendly and interactive exploration of the development of writing in Ancient Egypt and what it is able to tell us about people’s lives thousands of years ago. You can even try writing in hieroglyphics for yourself!
For those who find themselves on the other side of the Plain, head to Trowbridge Museum for their latest exhibition ‘Reimagined: The Cycling Revolution around 1900’, on display until the 29th October. Enjoy a collection of vibrant, new paintings by Patrick Hallissey inspired by the Museum’s photographs of cycling from the turn of the 19th century - when men sported moustaches as wide as their handlebars and women wore corsets to cycle.
The artwork is complemented by a selection of images and objects from the Museum’s collection, which tell the story of how the bicycle influenced society, giving people a new freedom of movement that affected how they worked and played.
Back in the summer of 2015 Louise Tunnard from Salisbury Museum interviewed Ella Egberts, a researcher from Bournemouth University:
One of the joys of Museum life is to welcome researchers to Salisbury Museum and allow them access to our collections. Recently Ella Egberts from Bournemouth University came to spend many hours studying our collection of handaxes. I decided to find out more.
1. Can you tell me a little bit about your studies and how you came to be looking at our collections at the Museum?
For my doctoral research I am studying the Palaeolithic record of the Hampshire Avon Valley. This area is of interest because during the Pleistocene it was a large river plain that formed a corridor through the landscape for animals and early humans (hominins). The presence of hominins in the Avon Valley is evidenced by its rich Palaeolithic record that includes some of the largest concentrations of Palaeolithic finds in southern England. These large concentrations of Palaeolithic artefacts are sometimes referred to as ‘super sites’. Two of 19 known ‘super sites’ in Britain are located in the Avon Valley, found at Woodgreen and Milford Hill. Opposite of Milford Hill is an additional site, Bemerton. Although smaller, its position on the other side of the valley from Milford Hill makes it an interesting case for comparison. With my research I hope to better understand the formation of such ‘super sites’ and through analysing the artefacts found at Woodgreen, Milford Hill and Bemerton, I hope to reconstruct hominin behaviour through answering questions such as what tools did they make? What raw material did they use? And why? Together with geomorphological research and the development of a dating framework for the Palaeolithic artefacts I will also be able to situate the three sites in time and relate the timing of hominin presence in the Avon Valley to evidence of hominin presence elsewhere in Britain.
The majority of the Palaeolithic artefacts from Woodgreen, Milford Hill and Bemerton are stored at Salisbury Museum, offering me the possibility to look at each individual artefact and discover clues about the lives of their makers.
2. What have you enjoyed about looking through our collections?
It was a great pleasure to study over 1000 Palaeolithic artefacts, to be able to handle them and take a very close look. Every single artefact is different. The flake scars show the decisions its maker made in producing the tool. But you also see recurring shapes and modes of production. Maybe because they just liked it or because that was how it was learnt. So with every tool you see new things. What made it particularly interesting are the notes left on the tools themselves by collectors like Blackmore when the tools were first discovered. Those notes sometimes provide clues to where the artefact was found, for example in ‘Miss Saunders garden’. The notes on the tools and in Blackmore’s notebook offer a glimpse into a different period of time: the end of the 19th century when the evolutionary theory was consolidating and antiquarians were collecting the evidence of human evolution in the form of stone tools made by early humans.