On September 18th, UCL Museums and Collections participated in a worldwide event on Twitter: Ask a Curator day. The plan was to have a handful of curators on call to deal with questions as they flooded in from a curious public. The reality was that we didn’t have many queries sent directly to our feed, so we went out into the Twittersphere to seek out interesting questions to answer. As Keeper of the Institute of Archaeology Collections, I spent an hour manning the virtual desk, and found it an interesting experience. (more…)
My father-in-law recently died, and as the funeral approaches I find myself looking at archaeology’s preoccupation with death and burial with somewhat different eyes.
I’ve faced the remnants of death before, while excavating ancient Near Eastern tombs, but its been an old, dusty, archaeological sort of death where the individual is reduced to a collection of different bones, carefully labelled and bagged. Their humanity is long gone, and any traces of personality linger only around the objects found in their grave.
The fact that this was someone else’s ancestor, somebody’s mother, father, sister, brother, daughter or son doesn’t really register, because after all, it’s nobody you know. It’s easy to retain a sense of scientific detachment when the past is far distant and geographically removed from your own personal sense of ancestry.
To tell you how I found out about this story involves disclosing a private and guilty secret.
I watch breakfast television.
I would like to tell you that it’s just for the news headlines, the travel update and the weather report (which it is), but I must also admit that I find the bright colours and the glassy smiles of the presenters strangely comforting.
That and the fact that on occasion, they cover a news story that is actually interesting.
This time it was an interview with Boy George, the man who appears prominently in the soundtrack of my childhood and possibly the only living person whose eyeliner skills I envy. Mr. George has recently returned to its rightful owners an icon which he had bought in the mid 80s, and which turned out to be looted from church in Cyprus during the war in 1974. When he bought the icon, he had no idea where it came from, just that he appreciated it as a work of art. It was through a series of serendipitous events – who knew Bishops from the Church of Cyprus watched Dutch television? – that the Cypriot Church found out where their treasure had ended up and embarked on the process of getting it back. (more…)