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  • Archive for the 'Institute of Archaeology Collections' Category

    How not to do public engagement

    By Rachael Sparks, on 22 December 2012

    A few weeks ago, I found myself standing in the artefact store, staring down the barrel of a film camera while the cameraman and director stared expectantly back at me. I was supposed to say something bright, pithy, and appealing about our collections, and I was supposed to say it now.

    Pointing at old stuff for dramatic effect

    Pointing at old stuff for dramatic effect


    No lies and some statistics

    By Celine West, on 16 November 2012

    One of the things we do as part of Learning & Access is outreach work with London schools. This is teaching with objects in the classroom, most often with Primary school children. I have been away from work for a while and returning recently I realized this is something I don’t talk about enough so I’m just going to share some numbers with you about outreach that’s happening now.

    In 2 months staff are visiting 23 different Primary schools on 27 different days. They are teaching in 66 classes and are working with 2000 children, children of all ages from 4 to 12 years old.

    The schools are spread across 5 London Boroughs and in this 2 months, staff will have spent about 45 hours in total travelling on London transport to and from schools… (more…)

    Getting plastered

    By Rachael Sparks, on 18 October 2012

    Term started a few weeks ago; new students, fresh with the mud of PrimTech on their boots have finally managed to locate their various lecture rooms and labs, and now the serious work of becoming an archaeologist can begin. For the Institute of Archaeology Collections, this means that our objects are once again in high demand for teaching.

    Clay slingshots from Arpachiyah in Iraq, a cheap but effective weapon in the right hands. Hundreds of these were discovered, only going to show that sometimes neighbours are after more than a cup of sugar


    Paying the piper

    By Rachael Sparks, on 8 August 2012

    The first objects in the Institute of Archaeology’s Collections came from British Mandate Palestine, donated by the famous Egyptologist, Flinders Petrie.

    Petrie Exhibiting material from Tell Fara in London

    What was an Egyptologist doing digging in Palestine? Pretending to his supporters that he was still working in Egypt, for one. Exhausted by his endless confrontations with the Egyptian authorities, Petrie took off for the region near modern-day Gaza at the sprightly age of 73. He told his supporters he was just going to work in ‘Egypt over the border’, and promptly spent the rest of his career doing just that. (more…)

    The Day of Archaeology returns

    By Rachael Sparks, on 1 July 2012

    The marking I intended to do ....

    The marking I intended to do ….

    Last Friday was the second ever Day of Archaeology, a chance for archaeologists all round the world to answer that tricky question – ‘so what is it you actually do?’ It offers a brief and fleeting glimpse into the wild and wacky world we live in. My own description of a day in the Institute of Archaeology Collections may be found here. I had intended to spend the day quietly marking in my office, but as usual things did not go entirely to plan.

    The best thing about this event is you get a chance to spy on your colleagues, which for me means checking out how untidy their desks are and what their storage units look like. But for those of you who have broader interests, here’s my favourite selections from the museological musings out there. (more…)

    Talking the talk

    By Rachael Sparks, on 23 April 2012

    Behind each dig and archaeological display is a dilemma. Just how do we translate a distant and unattainable past into a recognizable product for present consumption? When somebody sees an object, their first reaction is usually ‘what is it, and what is it for?’ It’s our job to try and answer those kinds of questions.

    Giving something a name is easy enough; its the second part that provides the challenge. To be perfectly honest, we don’t really know why figurines of fat naked women were all the rage in prehistoric Europe. Is there any real reason to argue for their use as ancient fertility symbols over pornographic aides, other than the desire to seem professional rather than voyeuristic?

    The Venus of Willendorf. Perhaps the most famous fat naked female figurine of them all. Mother-goddess or the first mother-in-law joke?


    Flinders Petrie: His Life and Work in an Hour

    By Debbie J Challis, on 29 March 2012

    How do you do an overview of one of the most famous archaeologists responsible for 60 years of ground breaking techniques in Egypt, Palestine and Britain for a general audience in an hour? Well, last night’s The Man Who Discovered Egypt at 9pm on BBC4 did it pretty well. Of course, you can quibble and point out all the great things Petrie did, the people he knew, the sites he worked at etc etc, but it is difficult to get a documentary about Flinders Petrie, ‘a Victorian Brit of whom I’d [the Guardian critic] never heard’, right for the larger audience of television.

    I will admit to having a vested interest in this documentary as a small section of it was filmed at the Petrie Museum and Institute of Archaeology, and obviously myself and the other colleagues involved in helping with photographs, information and more, want to see it succeed. Despite the title, which would annoy me if I was Egyptian, as a documentary explaining Petrie for the non-expert it did succeed.  It helped that the presenter was Chris Naunton, director of the Egypt Exploration Society and an archaeologist himself, who explained Petrie’s interests and discoveries with enthusiasm. The locations in Egypt and Palestine helped too and the cinematography was impressive. It was great to see Petrie’s work in Palestine given almost equal billing with his work in Egypt.

    The range of experts involved also conveyed the scale of Petrie’s work; from our very own Stephen Quirke and Rachael Sparks to the Palestine Exploration Fund to the Quftis Omar and Ali to curators at the Cairo Museum and Rockefeller Museum and archaeologists in the field at some of Petrie’s sites.  The documentary did not shy away from Petrie’s eugenic thinking or the differences between him and his wife Hilda with younger archaeologists towards the end of their working lives. Overall it was a rounded picture of Petrie, the man and archaeologist.

    And Petrie would so have an iPad if he worked in Egypt today and would have created an iMeasure app!

    The documentary will be repeated over the next week but is also available to view on BBC iPlayer here.

    Magic numbers

    By Rachael Sparks, on 19 March 2012

    Marking each object with its accession number

    Marking objects with accession numbers

    There is a legend that when every object in a collection has been given a unique accession number, its curators will be freed of the shackles of performance indicators and documentation plans and finally achieve a state of nirvana. There’s lots of self-help guidance out there, of course (deep breathing exercises optional) to help us achieve this goal, including information on how and when to number objects. The sensible way, according to the Collections Link’s subject factsheet, is to give objects a running number, or, if you must, a number representing the accession year and then a running number. So surely that’s what everybody does, right? Wrong! (more…)

    Crimes against curators

    By Rachael Sparks, on 13 February 2012

    It’s a Monday, which is always a tough day, as the emails have had all weekend to pile up and all the things you didn’t manage to do last week now need to be done even more urgently this week. So maybe this is a good day to share some of my personal candidates for a museums’ version of Room 101. (more…)

    Outreach Image is a Winner

    By Celine West, on 18 January 2012


    This great photo of our outreach pod has just won Runner Up in the UCL Graduate School ‘Research Images as Art / Art Images as Research’ competition.




    Every year the Graduate School asks students to submit images associated with their research that have aesthetic appeal and an exhibition is held in UCL in January. This photo was taken by Chee-Kit Lai of Mobile Studio, the designers of the outreach pod, who are also tutors at the Bartlett School of Architecture.

    In case you haven’t read about it before, this special space for hosting conversations about a single object is called “The Thing Is…” and was launched at the end of October. We have used it with general public audiences and in UCL and have had many great conversations so far.

    In this photo, you can see a remarkably happy group of people considering it was the end of a 10 hour day at the Bloomsbury Festival in Russell Square. The museum staff offered everyone a playing card with a question on it and we were discussing “What does the word ‘Philistine’ mean to you?” in connection with a Bronze Age necklace from UCL’s Archaeology Collections.