Neil MacGregor’s Last Day as Director

Today was Neil MacGregor’s last day as Director of the British Museum. The vibrant and well-visited museum owes much to MacGregor’s vision and leadership style. His BBC Radio 4 ‘History of the World’ programmes that selected key objects from the collection will be an additional legacy.

Neil MacGregor at the Hay Festival © David Gill

It is telling that the final acquisition made during his time as Director was the ‘Lampedusa Cross’, made from a refugee boat sunk during its hazardous crossing from North Africa. The British Museum is looking at contemporary events and acquiring objects that are important for a universal narrative.

The Museum at Olympia

Pediment from the Temple of Zeus at Olympia © David Gill

The museum adjacent to the sanctuary of Zeus at Olympia contains some of the major finds from the sanctuary. One of the most impressive parts of the display relates to the architectural sculptures from the temple of Zeus that lay at the heart of the sanctuary. The pediment alludes to the mythical foundation of the games.

Pediments from the temple of Zeus at Olympia © David Gill

The other end includes the battle between the lapiths and centaurs, a centauromachy, that alludes to the battle between civilized society and the barbarians.

Bronze dedication from Olympia © David Gill

The collection also includes many of the bronze dedications from the sanctuary.

Only some 29 per cent of visitors to the archaeological site make it into the museum, though it still received around 135,000 visitors in 2014.

Greek Pottery at Nostell Priory

Nostell Priory
Nostell Priory, Yorkshire © David Gill

My paper on the Attic black-glossed bolsal now in the Great North Museum in Newcastle upon Tyne but once in the collection at Nostell Priory in Yorkshire is now available. The house is now owned by the National Trust.

Gill, D. W. J. 2015. “The Nostell Priory bolsal.” In On the fascination of objects: Greek and Etruscan art in the Shefton Collection, edited by J. Boardman, A. Parkin, and S. Waite: 95-106. Oxford: Oxbow.

Edited volume


Ed Sheeran, the woolly mammoth and heritage in Ipswich

Source: I-AM Project
Source: I-AM Project

Ed Sheeran, the Suffolk-based musician, was awarded an honorary doctorate at UCS last week. The Mayor of Ipswich, Councillor Glen Chisholm, met Ed Sheeran during the ceremony and presented him with a cuddly wooly mammoth (complete with mortarboard). The mammoth is the symbol of the I-AM project (Ipswich Arts and Museum) linked to the redevelopment of the Ipswich Museum and the creation of the ‘High Street Campus’.

Wool-I-Am is the icon of the £23 million I-Am (Ipswich Arts & museum) project which will transform the museum in High Street into a national visitor attraction, bringing together arts and heritage under one roof. The mammoth was
named after a campaign was started by Sara Cox on the Radio 2 breakfast show.

Remains of a mammoth were discovered during the cutting of the Stoke railway tunnel adjacent to the Ipswich station.

Further details on the naming of the mammoth can be found on the BBC website.

Further information about the I-AM Project can be found here.

Angel of the Great North Museum

Great North Museum © David Gill
Great North Museum: Greek Hoplites meet The Angel of the North © David Gill

I was looking at museum projects with my students today. One of the case studies was on the Great North Museum that incorporates the former Hancock Museum, the Museum of Antiquities, and the Shefton Museum of Greek Art. The museum is a dynamic collaboration between Newcastle University and the Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums Service.

The redevelopment cost £26 million. In March 2004 the museum was awarded £40,000 Project Planning Grant from the HLF, following in January 2005 by a major award of £9,246,000. The museum opened in May 2009 [HLF Press Release].

In 2015 the museum announced that it had welcomed its 3 millionth visitor in just five years.

Celts: Art and Identity

© David Gill
© David Gill

The ‘Celts’ exhibition is now showing at the British Museum. It contains some outstanding pieces of ‘Celtic’ art ranging from prehistory to the 21st century. Some of the pieces featured in the major Austrian exhibition on the ‘Celts’ of 1980. Perhaps one of the themes behind the exhibition is to express the ‘Celtic’ roots behind the modern ‘Celtic’ nations: Wales, Scotland, Cornwall, Brittany, Ireland. Neil MacGregor explains in the Foreword, ‘this is not so much a show about a people as a show about a label, exploring how the name ‘Celts’ has been used and appropriated over the last 2,500 years’.

I have long considered some of the objects in the exhibition to be Iron Age rather than ‘Celtic’. The reference to the ‘Dying Gaul’ perhaps needed to include the discussion of the victory monuments at Pergamon (in north-west Anatolia) and a discussion of why Galatia is so named. It was good to see the Etruscan and Athenian objects from the Kleinaspergle burial [Figs. 45-47]. The catalogue links the Gundestrup Bowl to the area now in Bulgaria or Romania [Figs. 252-260].

The dedication and relief of Dea Brigantia from Birrens in Dumfries and Galloway [Fig. 131] is a particularly striking piece. J.M.C. Toynbee (Art in Roman Britain) linked the imagery to Eboracum (York) and the reign of the Roman emperor Septimius Severus. (There was also a clever reference to the orb in the left hand, ‘proudly proclaiming the world-wide rule of the Brigantian region!’)

One of the hanging bowls from the Sutton Hoo ship burial appears [Fig. 28] on the assumption that it was made in ‘Celtic’ lands.

Early Christian cross (or rather casts) from the Hebrides [see Iona] brought the narrative into the post-Roman period.

The final section was on ‘The Celtic Revival in Britain and Ireland’. There were several references to Ossian.

The objects within the exhibition were stunning although the over-arching ‘story’ of the exhibition perhaps failed to connect with me. I still have strong memories of the Austrian ‘Die Kelten‘ exhibition that brought together many of the same objects in a more coherent fashion.

Suffolk Museum of the Year 2015

The Museum of East Anglian Life © David Gill
The Museum of East Anglian Life © David Gill

Many congratulations to the Museum of East Anglian Life in Stowmarket as the recipient of the 2015 Suffolk Museum of the Year Award. MEAL provides an insight into the rich agricultural heritage of East Anglia as well as the technologies that supported it. The site, easily accessible from the centre of Stowmarket, includes a delightful riverside walk.

Whithorn Priory Museum

© David Gill
© David Gill

Historic Scotland looks after a number of site museums. One of the gems is the Whithorn Priory Museum that contains material from the early Christian site at Whithorn (in south-west Scotland). The ‘stones’ are beautifully displayed alongside a series of informative panels and descriptions. (And the custodian on duty was extremely welcoming.)

The priory is reported to have been founded by St Ninian in the 5th century.

At the centre of the museum is the Monreith Cross, standing at 2.7 m. It dates to c. AD 800-1000.

Further details on the museum and surrounding sites can be found here.

One of the visitor activities is making your own decorated cross for a bookmark.


Enhancing museum displays through technology

Tablets in Colchester Castle © David Gill
Tablets in Colchester Castle © David Gill

How can we use mobile technology to enhance the visitor experience? The Colchester Castle museum has been using mobile devices to help visitors to interpret the archaeological finds.

If you thought you were looking at just another skulls in the display, look what happens when you point your tablet at the exhibit.

For more ways to use this technology see here.

Cultural Heritage on the Increase in Greece

© David Gill
© David Gill

The latest figures from the Hellenic Statistical Service demonstrate that archaeological sites and museums are seeing an increase in visitor numbers (and a related increase in revenue).

Further details can be found here.

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