Thursday, 30 July 2015

Research Visit: Archaeology from Skhul Cave, Israel

Dr Ravid Ekshtain studying the collection
© Pitt Rivers Museum
Part of our work in the Collections Department is to provide researchers with access to the collections. In June I met Dr Ravid Ekshtain, from Harvard University in the USA, who spent a week at the Museum researching the archaeological collections from Mugharet-es-Skhul.

This is a cave on Mount Carmel in Israel that was excavated extensively during the 1930s. The finds included what are still thought to be the oldest fossilised human remains discovered outside of Africa. So this continues to be one of the most important archaeological sites for studying the prehistoric human past.

The cave itself was completely excavated and the findings dispersed to a number of museums, including the Pitt Rivers. So the collections in the Museum from those original excavations are really important for any current, or future, research about this site.

Skhul Cave, 1931, the man is thought to be Theodor McCown who directed the excavations at this site.
Taken by Dorothy Garrod and now in the Photo Collections PRM 1998.294.189 © Pitt Rivers Museum

Illustration of flints from Skhul Cave.
 From image in the Photo Collections
PRM 1998.294.451
Pitt Rivers Museum
I always feel privileged to work with such significant collections and to continue to see these being used for research. I really enjoyed meeting Dr Ravid Ekshtain and thought you might also be interested in knowing about her research. She was busy all week analysing the stone tools from Skhul Cave to gain more understanding about the evolution of human behaviour.

You can explore this collection yourself via the Museum online object database. If you enter 'Skhul' under region and then search this will find all 337 objects (museum identification numbers 1931.70.701 through to 1931.70.1037). This material from Skhul Cave is part of the Museum's Dorothy Garrod collection - comprising objects, photographs, and manuscripts.

Keep an eye on this site for other blogs about research on the collections.

Zena McGreevy
Senior Assistant Curator

Monday, 20 July 2015

Research Visitors at the Pitt Rivers

As a new member of the Collections Department, I will be facilitating research visits to the museum. We receive on average around 300 research visits per year. Researchers from all over the world come to the museum to get a closer look at the objects in the collection. It is a great opportunity for researchers to further their knowledge about particular objects or collections through the use of many different methods of enquiry; whether that is understanding how an object is made, the collecting practices of a particular individual, or undertaking a comparative study of a group of objects.

Band heddle with partly woven ankle band PRM 1918.16.1 © Pitt Rivers Museum

When a researcher contacts the museum, I ensure that the objects are retrieved in good time, so that, if needed, I can mark the objects with their accession number, and check that the measurements on the database are correct. If there isn’t a good quality photograph of the object, I will take a new reference shot and upload it onto the database and the museum’s online database. We are always keen to enhance the quality of information that we have on the collections, and we always encourage our research visitors to contribute any new information that they may have.

It has only been my fourth week here, and I have already seen some amazing objects in the collection. Firstly, I assisted a visitor who was investigating the weaving techniques of the Sami people, looking in particular at woven belts and weaving equipment. We also had a group visit, who were looking at Tongan material from Captain James Cook’s second voyage. Particular highlights included a very large tapa, made from barkcloth which has been stencilled with a dye. It was really something to see the tapa up close, and to hear about the lengthy and involved process in making such a large piece. It is a great opportunity to listen and discuss ideas about the objects in the museum’s collection, with experts. It is also very satisfying to be able to share this knowledge through the museum’s online database. It is one of the many ways that the museum produces new understandings of the collections, and it enables us to diversify how the collections are used. By enhancing the database with the information provided by researchers, we are able to ensure that the highest quality of information on the collection is delivered to people from all over the world.

A Tongan barkcloth PRM 1886.1.1238 © Pitt Rivers Museum

Useful Links

Nicholas Crowe
Assistant Curator

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Temporary Exhibition: Preserving What is Valued - A World of Repairs - Part 2

One of two ceramics on loan from private collectors
demonstrating repairs made using the kintsugi technique
with lacquer and gold © Pitt Rivers Museum
Back in May we posted a blog about preparations for a temporary exhibition curated by the Conservation Department demonstrating original repairs made to objects when they were still in use. This is an update on the earlier blog now that the exhibition has just been installed into the display case on the Lower Gallery.

Despite the last minute addition of an excellent gourd, discovered by Jem and Faye while working to improve storage of the reserve collections, we managed to have everything ready for mount making on Monday 1st June as planned. We also borrowed from private collectors two ceramics demonstrating the kintsugi repair technique, the starting point for our exhibition plans.

Most labels were designed to include a detailed image of the repaired area on each object to help focus the visitor's attention on the part they should be looking at. We were keen however, to not put too much information on each label but leave it for visitors to think about  what significance the repair might have, after reading the introductory panel text.

Mock-up of the display once mounts were complete
© Pitt Rivers Museum
Display Technicians Chris Wilkinson and Alan Cooke had produced a scale mock-up of the final display case and were ready to go immediately. We were surprised to find that it took them about a week to complete the mock-up, which I think was also a relief to them given the complexities of working on the re-display of the Cook Voyages Collections, from which they were taking a therapeutic break.

At this stage the previous exhibition in the case was deinstalled, allowing Chris and Alan to prepare the case by filling and sanding holes and re-painting. It is important to do this a few weeks before the objects are installed to allow the paint to dry properly and any fumes from the paint to dissipate as they could cause adverse chemical reactions with the materials used on the objects. This is why you may see display case doors left open when you visit the Museum. At this stage they also painted and prepared the panels and plinth to be used in the display.

Chris and Alan mount the final copies
of labels and text © Pitt Rivers Museum

The next task before installation was to prepare the final labels and text. Katherine Clough, who has volunteered in the Conservation Department for a few years in many capacities, had accepted the challenge of producing a poster for the exhibition. The key element of the design uses several detailed images of the repairs fitted together to look like the world. We had added the strap-line 'A World of Repairs' to the exhibition title to be more explanatory on the poster. We used Katherine's 'world of repairs' motif in a semi-translucent way on the panel text to give it a bit of a lift and tie it into the poster.

On Thursday 25th June, a little ahead of schedule, Chris and Alan installed the objects in the case where they had already added the pre-painted panels earlier in the week. They started early to have the case closed and locked when the Museum opened at 10.00 a.m. On Friday 26th we adjusted the lighting in the case slightly to prevent too much light hitting the textiles, the materials in this display most prone to light damage.

Left: Installation of the objects, right: Alan and Chris take a moment to appreciate their labours © Pitt Rivers Museum
When we set out to produce the exhibition we were keen to write a gallery trail to enable visitors to see more repaired objects that are permanently on display. Having narrowed down the list, Andrew (with a little help from Madeleine) has produced a colour trail, which is available beside the display case. This again uses Katherine's 'world of repairs' motif on the cover. There are lots of trails available in the Museum but they are aimed at children and we wanted to see what interest there would be from adults. Hopefully the Gallery Assistants will be able to observe how many people use the trail over the coming months.

Cover of the Gallery Trail
linked to the exhibition
Finally, this is a good opportunity to mention some of the other tie-in events that will be coming up over the 6-month run of the exhibition. On the 18th and 19th September Tom van Deijnen will be running darning masterclasses in the Museum's annexe. Tom is best known for his visible mending program where a 'beautiful darn is worn as a badge of honour'. Follow this link to book a place on one of Tom's workshops.

In November traditional lacquerware artists Muneaki Shimode and Takahiko Sato from Kyoto will be artists in residence at the Museum for 10 days, demonstrating the kintsugi technique of repairing ceramics. The residency will include gallery demonstrations, an evening event and half-day practical workshops. There will be information on how to book a place on a workshop appearing on the the Museum website very soon - so keep watching this space.

Heather Richardson
Head of Conservation