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Stress: Using Oral History Interviews

By tcrnfmw, on 11 November 2015

Profileby Felicity Winkley 

This post is associated with our exhibit Stress: Approaches to the First World War, open October 12-November 20.



A visitor to Stress last week commented that the objects on display weren’t what she expected, that she had anticipated they would show much more directly the obvious effects, or stresses, of the First World War on men, women and children.

I wasn’t surprised by this response. We knew when we curated Stress that the interpretation of the objects was more convoluted than most traditional museum displays – the object labels are longer than best practice advises, the visual links between the cases difficult for the visitor to immediately grasp.

Part of this is owed to the fact that the objects have been chosen from the UCL collections – geology, pathology and science specimens among others – rather than from a military history assemblage. In equal measure, it is also because the objects have been chosen not only because of their relevance to the exhibition, but also according to the individual research interests of the curators.

One element of the exhibition breaks this mould however – the audio installation which plays two oral history interviews from the archives of the National Army Museum, recollections of two individuals who served in the First World War. For me, this part of the exhibition provides the visitor with the most direct link to the conflict – an immediate and very powerful ‘place-setting’ via the experiences being narrated, quite apart from the objects on display.

Although the audio is on a permanent loop, no matter at what stage you join in the story you are transported: with Adelaide Marian Davies, who served with the Women’s Army Aux Corps in France, you can picture the scene as she describes the dances held for troops at the Front, where it was forbidden for her rank to dance with the officers; with L/Cpl Billy Meade, you might join him at the Dardanelles, Ypres or later at the prisoner of war camp where he tasted Schnapps for the first time.

The Oral History Listening Post at Stress

The Oral History Listening Post at Stress

The resonance of these anecdotes illustrates just why oral history interviews are important, and why they are such a useful element to incorporate in exhibitions, or indeed many kinds of research. As opposed to much of the written historical record, oral histories are collected directly from the source and feel so much more authentic for it. For the purposes of my PhD, I used a ‘go-along’ interview technique, which involved talking to respondents whilst walking, in order to glean accurate insight to their experience of being in that environment. More recently, I volunteered as an oral history interviewer for the London Bubble’s After Hiroshima project which explores the responses of Londoners to the dropping of the first atomic bomb on 6 August 1945, both in the immediate aftermath and throughout the peace movement of the 1950s and 60s.

Oral histories lend themselves to many situations, not only to provide a means for gathering unique, illuminating and personal records and reflections, but also – in the process of their collection – to involve a wider community in research and offer an opportunity for participation in history and heritage in practice. We were thrilled to be joined on the Stress opening night by the family of Billy Meade, including his daughter (now 84), who had never before heard his recording.

Question of the Week: When did the tradition for Grave Goods stop?

By Lisa, on 15 October 2014

ProfileBy Felicity Winkley

Last week I had an interesting discussion with a visitor to the Petrie museum about grave goods.

The shelves of the museum’s cases are lined with an impressive quantity of grave goods, representing a date range that covers most phases of Egyptian history. And this is hardly surprising. Of the 52 excavation locations detailed in a breakdown of Petrie’s field seasons between 1880 and 1938, over half (26) are cemeteries [1].

The finds brought back to UCL by Flinders Petrie after these excavations comprise a diverse assemblage of items. Like those observed in contemporary cultures elsewhere, the grave goods in the early stages of Ancient Egypt consisted of a mixture of every day objects, food items and those more unique or personal accessories, including combs, jewellery and trinkets.

By the Middle Kingdom, however, small figures starting appearing in tombs – early versions of what came to be known as Shabti – meaning ‘answerer’ – figures. By the end of the Middle Kingdom, shabtis were an established funerary tradition and thereafter became prevalent amongst groups of grave goods in one form or another for the remainder of Ancient Egypt’s history. Petrie’s collection contains (at least, according to the electronic catalogue) 1,841 shabtis.

Most commonly shown mummified, the shabti figures act as servants for the deceased in the afterlife – bringing them food or undertaking labour on their behalf, often as instructed in the inscription from the Book of the Dead with which they are decorated [2]. Because of this, they are regularly depicted holding hoes and with baskets on their back for collecting the farmed food for the deceased: see UC39708, a black steatite shabti from the 18th dynasty (c. 1500-1298 BC) and UC39765, a pottery shabti from the 19th (c. 1298 – 1187 BC).UC39708

The popularity of shabtis continued on throughout the New Kingdom, when they were increasingly being manufactured in faience: something explored by artist and archaeologist Zahed Taj-Eddin in the current exhibition ‘Nu’ Shabtis Liberation, in which 80 modern shabtis have escaped their enslavement to pursue their own hobbies amongst the Petrie’s cases [2].

So the visitor and I had plenty to talk about.

Then she asked me ‘When did grave goods stop?’

Her husband promptly answered ‘When Christianity was introduced’, but in fact this answer is not quite so straightforward. Firstly, there is no neat way of prescribing a date to the introduction of Christianity, and secondly, contemporary studies would shy away from using burial practice, especially solely grave goods, as a direct reflection of culture.

UC39765In Egypt, Christianity first appeared during the Roman rule – which was established after Mark Antony and Queen Cleopatra VII were defeated by the future emperor Augustus in 30 BC (leaving Egypt annexed to Rome as the wealthiest province in its empire) – but it was not adopted seamlessly.

The conquering Romans had left Egyptian religion well alone, indeed had many even incorporated its traditions into their own belief systems, with several Roman emperors completing Egyptian temples during their tenure. Consequently when St Mark the Evangelist purportedly chose to establish the Church of Alexandria – one of the original three main episcopal sees of Christianity – around 33-43 AD, it was not to a people who welcomed it with open arms. Christians were persecuted for their faith until 313 when Constantine I issued the Edict of Milan to prevent their mistreatment within the Roman empire – but hereafter, worship of Egyptian deities still continued: archaeological evidence in the form of graffiti at the Temple of Isis at Philae shows that worship continued there into the 6th century.

In England, recent work from Prof. Christopher Scull points towards a cessation of grave goods in the Anglo-Saxon culture shortly before the end of the 7th century, but again – this is not necessarily a hard-and-fast indication that thereafter these burials were all Christian, instead this might have been a response to broader cultural or economic influences [4]. Current approaches warn strongly that there is in fact no evidence to support prescriptive definitions of either Christian or pagan burials during the Early Medieval period. Indeed by the 11th century, grave goods were commonly included in Christian internments as a way of marking out members of the religious community [5].

And so the ‘Question of the Week’ goes almost unanswered – but does give some good food for thought on our approaches to burial practice and material culture.

Lastly, the subject of grave goods is an interesting one in the context of my own research. Until the change in legislation in 1997, grave goods were not classified as Treasure as they did not display animus revertendi, the phrase used to describe an ‘intent to return’ on the part of whoever had buried the treasure in the first place. Unlike a hoard which is buried with the intention of retrieving, grave goods are donated to the dead and intended to be left intact in the grave – so consequently were not protected as Treasure Trove before the law was updated.

As such the incredible grave goods from Sutton Hoo, that nationally recognisable Anglo Saxon ship burial, were only saved for the public benefit through the benevolence of the landowner Mrs Pretty, who would have been quite within her legal rights to see the artefacts piece by piece should she have wished to. (For more on the Treasure definition, see my previous blog here [6])

 ‘Nu’ Shabtis Liberation is on at the Petrie Museum until 18 October.

[1] http://www.digitalegypt.ucl.ac.uk/archaeology/petriedigsindex.html

[2] http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/articles/e/egyptian_shabti_figures.aspx

[3] http://events.ucl.ac.uk/event/event:k36-i0gmqt30-fs2rn/nushabtis-liberation

[4] A. Bayliss, J. Hines, K Høilund Nielsen, G. McCormac and C. Scull (2013) Anglo-Saxon graves and grave goods of the sixth and seventh centuries AD: a chronological framework. Leeds, Society for Medieval Archaeology Monograph 33

[5] Gilchrist, R. (2005) Requiem for a Lost Age British Archaeology 84 http://www.archaeologyuk.org/ba/ba84/feat2.shtml

[6] https://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/researchers-in-museums/2013/01/14/the-staffordshire-hoard-defining-treasure/



Question of the Week: What is the meaning of that funny loop-headed cross symbol?

By Lisa, on 2 April 2014

ProfileBy Felicity Winkley


UC6636: Limestone relief
from Lahun with a god holding
an ankh (12th dynasty)

Two American tourists who visited the Petrie last week spotted a pattern amongst the architectural sculpture and stelae gallery – a recurrence of a cross shaped symbol with a looped top, popping up in rows of hieroglyphs or in the hands of a god or pharaoh. They asked what it was, and what it meant? The first question is easy to answer, the second far less so.

The symbol is known as an ankh, and can be used as a stand-alone symbol or as a hieroglyphic character for the same syllable, for example in the name Tut-ankh-amun. It is widely thought to symbolise life. Therefore, in the case of Tutankhamun, the name can be translated as the Living Image of Amun, and when written you see the ankh symbol towards the end of the name, as follows:


Tutankhamun Hekaiunushema. Living Image of Amun,
ruler of Upper Heliopolis

The Ankh appears on the Rosetta Stone, the hieroglyphic content of which was translated in 1822 by a French scholar called Jean-François Champollion. In reference to Ptolemy V, it is shown in a group of three symbols that recurs frequently in or after the names of pharaohs or their households – ankh, wedjeh, seneb  – meaning life, prosperity, health.

But why was this the symbol chosen to represent life?  When Thomas Inman published Ancient Pagan and Modern Christian Symbolism in 1869, he interpreted the loop of the handle as female, and the three prongs of the cross as male – together forming a union that suggested fertility and the origins of life. Since then, many scholars have relinquished the female element from the sign altogether, and solely linked it with the male sexual organ and therefore the source of life. These interpretations are strengthened by links between the ankh and similarly penis sheaths, although there are arguments about which came first, and whether indeed the effect was deliberate or just coincidental! Even Petrie himself, however, noted similarities between the ankh and a fisherman’s girdle! [1]

For Gordon and Schwabe, writing in 2004, the ankh, djed, and was symbols are derived from the importance of cattle in ancient Egyptian society, and are taken as representations of this. Accordingly, the shape of the ankh is interpreted as the cross-section of the thoracic vertebra of a bull [2]. But can this really be the case? What do you think? Why not look out for the ankh on your next visit to the Petrie Museum.


UC055: Column fragment from Amarna, showing ankh and wedjeh,
life and prosperity (18th dynasty)


[1] Petrie, William Flinders (1892) Medum

[2] Gordon, Andrew Hunt and Schwabe, Calvin W (2004). The Quick and the Dead: Biomedical Theory in Ancient Egypt 

Question of the Week: What is an animal?

By Lisa, on 5 March 2014

ProfileBy Felicity Winkley

I have been engaging with visitors to the Grant Museum of Zoology for almost two years and thought I had heard most of the unanswerable questions I was likely to be posed on a shift there by now. However, I must confess to being totally stumped when a visitor a few weeks ago approached me towards the end of the day and asked “Why is a sponge an animal?” and, after a pause…“What is an animal?”

Surrounded by skeletons, stuffed and wet specimens representing almost every family within the animal kingdom, unfortunately what the actual definition might be had never crossed my mind before! Deciding it would be best not to try and come up with my own version, I consulted Dean, the museum’s Learning and Access Officer who kindly rescued me. His response was that, in short, the criterion for defining an animal as far as a sponge is concerned is that sponges (unlike plants) are unable to make their own food, or as the Oxford Dictionary puts it: ‘synthesize organic molecules from inorganic ones’.


The full definition adds some further factors, suggesting that an animal is ‘a living organism which feeds on organic matter, typically having specialized sense organs and nervous system and able to respond rapidly to stimuli’. Sponges, however, whilst they do qualify as animals, fall short of this definition as they lack true organs. Instead they filter water through a central cavity in order to remove bacteria and other food particles to feed upon. Whilst not capable of photosynthesis themselves, some sponge species nevertheless can play host to photosynthesising microorganisms to produce food instead.

It was Grant whose work finally established that sponges were indeed animals, and he who named the phylum Porifera, from the Latin porifer meaning bearing pores. There are approximately 5 – 10,000 known species of sponge, including the species named in tribute of Grant by his contemporary John Fleming in 1828, the Grantia.

To find out more, see: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/museums/zoology/about/history

Question of the Week: How did men in antiquity shave?

By Lisa, on 19 February 2014


By Felicity Winkley

A visitor to the Petrie Museum recently asked me how the Egyptian working class men would have shaved. There are various razors in the Petrie collection, including UC40657, a copper alloy razor with a loop in the shape of a goose head, and UC3065A and B, two copper alloy razors from Saqqara, the principal cemetery in Memphis; the oldest recorded on the Petrie’s resource Digital Egypt date to the Old Kingdom, around 2686-2181 BC. But would the working classes have had access to metal blades like these? And if not, would they have found an alternative way of shaving?

© 2013 UCL

© 2013 UCL

As with much of the archaeological record – particularly where we rely upon contemporary written or art-historical accounts of societies – the working classes are under-represented in favour of the material cultures of the elite. In dynastic Egypt, we know from artefactual and art-historical evidence that the elite devoted a lot of energy to maintaining their appearance, with laborious cosmetic routines, and even curled their hair. By contrast, the priestly classes were often totally clean shaven, taking a razor to their bodies as well as their heads. Rahotep, an official during the Third Dynasty (around 2600 BC), is unusual in being pictured on official statuary sporting a moustache, some 5000 years before Movember was established!



But would everyone have had access to metal razors? It is widely acknowledged that there were professional traveling barbers working in ancient Egypt, so perhaps this was how most men were able to keep their beards trimmed, either by being visited by a barber or attending a barber’s shop, rather than owning their own personal razor.

For evidence of practices amongst those without access to metalit might be useful to look at contemporary ethno-archaeological evidence from tribal communities, however the records are sparse. Flint or obsidian tools would have been an option should Stone Age man have wished to remain clean-shaven, and the fact that – as with most blades struck from a prepared core – they would have needed to be discarded after only a few uses puts me in mind of the disposable razors used by many today! Meanwhile, Roman textual evidence suggests plucking was an option for some men, perhaps used in combination with an exfoliant, as suggested in Martial’s Epigrams 9.5.4. in which he describes a male wine-server who his master wishes to be ‘kept a boy even though he is a man …who is kept beardless by having his hair smoothed away or plucked out by the roots’ (cited George 2002).

Lastly, we should return to the Petrie collection, in reference to UC40665 – a razor which has been interpreted as a ladies’ razor, with a handle shaped like the hippo goddess TaWeret, who represented childbirth and fertility. Evidently shaving was also considered a part of the cosmetic routine for women in ancient Egypt as well as men, and any consideration of the role of shaving in ancient society should not overlook them!


© 2013 UCL

Cowley, K. and Vanoosthuyze, K. (2012) Insights into shaving and its impact on skin, British Journal of Dermatology 166 (Suppl. 1) pp. 6–12

George, M. (2002) Slave Disguise in Ancient Rome, Slavery & Abolition: A Journal of Slave and Post-Slave Studies 23 (2) pp. 41-54

Exploring Perception: Time-based Media at the UCL Art Museum

By Lisa, on 10 February 2014

 ProfileBy Felicity Winkley

Time-Based Media brings together ten multimedia works which depend on technology and can therefore change meaningfully in response to time, including, but not limited to, video, experimental film and audio. All the works in the exhibition are linked in their aim to create a dialogue between viewer and object; to meaningfully provoke an engaging experience. At work under the surface of this engagement is perception, an environmental involvement in which we, the experiencers, receive stimuli to which not only our senses respond, but also our cognitive process. The pieces collected here are not solely visual or static. In this respect they challenge both what we expect to encounter in the rather traditional and certainly serene surroundings of the UCL Art Museum, and moreover what we might expect to experience when we ‘look at art’.

In my research into the perception of landscape, I subscribe to the definition put forward by Allport in his work on the subject some years ago. For him, perception:

‘has something to do with our awareness of the objects or conditions about us. It is dependent to a large extent upon the impressions these objects make upon our senses. It is the way things look to us, or the way they sound, feel, taste, or smell. But perception also involves, to some degree, an understanding awareness, a “meaning” or a “recognition” of these objects’ (1955, 14).

This definition advocates – as do I – the cognitive (as opposed to behaviourist, or gestalt) approach to perception, whereby we understand that the perceptive process is not limited solely to a stimuli-response pattern of observable behaviours, but ‘is influenced by many cultural, experience-based and individual factors that underlie interpretation’ (Campos et al. 2012, 760). It is these factors, mediated by the perceiver’s cognitive and emotional responses, that are so valuable for my personal research into attitudes to landscape preferences, but also to a consideration of how viewers might respond to some of the works curated in Time-based Media.

Take The Printer’s Symphony (2013), a collaborative work by Dana Ariel, Julia McKinlay, Eleanor Morgan and Georgina Tate. A beautiful concertina-fold of card stretches along the length of the case, bringing together prints from the four artists, demonstrating a number of processes, mounted and detailed with added embossings. So far, so good – we as gallery visitors are used to seeing pristine works, safely displayed in cases. However, unusually the object is also accompanied by four minutes of audio, emanating from a hidden speaker, composed of a pastiche of recorded sounds from the print-maker’s studio. At first, our senses are fooled – the everyday noises sound like someone working outside, or upstairs, because memory and therefore knowledge has conditioned us to interpret this as the most likely cause amongst the perceived milieu. On paying closer attention, though, the sound quickly changes and it is soon easy to be drawn in to the soundscape of filing, spraying, rinsing and rolling – an evocative soundtrack of making, which is strangely difficult to connect to the perfect artwork in the case. This is exactly what the artists were hoping to capture – a method of bringing the process of making into the gallery, of bridging the gap between the Slade School of Fine Art and the UCL Art Museum. Thanks to perception, upon listening whilst also observing the work, we can now imagine what the studio environment is like – using the sounds as a trigger to remembered encounters, we can ‘see’ in our mind’s eye how it might appear, or smell the scent of the materials, the feel of a tool-handle in the hand.

In this engagement with The Printer’s Symphony, we can see clearly how memory serves as an essential factor of perception; through memory, we can achieve knowledge, and consequently inform our interpretation of later perceived environments – I remember what workshops are like, and therefore the sounds I encounter in the artwork recall this memory to my mind as I experience it. This type of memory is known as embodied: in which the immersive quality of the experience fully engage the senses to evoke memories beyond those that can be summoned solely by looking at a photograph, for example (Rishbeth and Powell 2013). Viveka Marksio’s work Embodied/Disembodied (v.1) taps into this embodiment, by using computer-generated imagery to take the viewer on a journey through the interior spaces of the Slade School as they are being slowly flooded. The piece aims to ‘recreate the sensations of the body in a threatening and claustrophobic physical space’, and the video is helped to achieve this by the carefully constructed soundtrack which comprises a resonant series of bass notes, with sporadic industrial echoes. Unlike The Printer’s Symphony, whose accompanying audio is ambient in the gallery, Embodied/Disembodied (v.1) (like other works in Time-Based Media) requires the viewer to wear headphones; whilst this is not unusual perhaps, in this instance it is worth noting the effect of the headphones in contributing to the sense of enclosure and threat evoked by the piece. The noise-canceling qualities, along with the sensation of pressure on the head, all add to the perceptive blend of the engagement.

 i am unique and so is everyone else , 2012 video duration: 15 seconds (loop)

Nicolas Feldmeyer
I am unique and so is everyone else , 2012
video duration: 15 seconds (loop)

In I am unique and so is everybody else (2012), Nicholas Feldmeyer achieves a similar effect using solely video. This 15-second looped video collage layers footage of the natural movement of tree branches in the wind with a digital pattern of black dots to create a random movement which is at once hypnotic and contemplative. In contrast to The Printer’s Symphony or Embodied/Disembodied (v.1) the work has no soundtrack, but its immersive simplicity makes it easy for the viewer to call up the sensations that would accompany an encounter with wind in the branches – the sound of it whipping through the trees, the feel of the air on the skin. Again, our perception is informed by memory – we know what this would feel like. And yet visually the beholder is confused by the work; the natural pattern of the branches has been overlaid by a subtle digital intervention, the scene is not quite as it first appeared.

Similarly, Feldmeyer challenges our expectations with My people, humble people (2012), in which small digital ellipses have been overlaid on raindrops as they fall into a puddle. In both pieces, the subtlety of the overlays confuses our perception and encourages close scrutiny – are we looking at the natural phenomena or the digitally imposed details? Where does one stop and the other begin? In terms of our exploration of perception, the effect is pertinent. Although in our daily life perceptual modalities like hearing, touch, smell and taste are extremely important in negotiating our relationship with the outside world, nevertheless, most of the perceptive encounters we have with the environment are conducted visually (Ballesteros 1994). And yet is this the most important? Should we be more cautious in prioritising it over our other senses? Time-Based Media offers the opportunity to question the perceptive process, and encourages us to scrutinise our responses to what we see and how we orientate ourselves to it.

Nicolas Feldmeyer  My people, humble people,  2012 video duration: 1:05 minutes (loop)

Nicolas Feldmeyer
My people, humble people, 2012
video duration: 1:05 minutes (loop)

Time-Based Media is on at the UCL Art Museum until 28 March 2014



Allport, F. H. (1955) Theories of Perception and the Concept of Structure New York: Wiley


Ballesteros, S. (1994) Cognitive Approaches to Human Perception: Introduction, in: Ballesteros, S. (Ed.) Cognitive Approaches to Human Perception New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers


Campos, M., Velazques, A., Verdinelli, G. B., Priego-Santander, A. G., McCall, M. K. and Boada, M. (2012) Rural People’s Knowledge and Perception of Landscape: A Case Study from the Mexican Pacific Coast Society and Natural Resources: An International Journal 25 (8) pp. 759-774


Rishbeth, C. and Powell, M. (2013) Place Attachment and Memory: Landscapes of Belonging as Experiences Post-Migration Landscape Research 38 (2) pp. 160-178




Foreign Bodies: Attack of the Clones

By Gemma Angel, on 18 February 2013

Profile  by Felicity Winkley






One of the most controversial specimens amongst the Grant Museum’s encyclopaedic collection is a preserved domestic cat; in fact, on one occasion, I was standing quite close to this object at the exact moment when a small child laid eyes upon it and promptly burst into tears. The fact that the sight of preserved animals, particularly domesticated or fluffy ones, provokes such a response would be ample topic for a debate in its own right, however in this instance I am more interested in the way the Grant have developed the subject in their museum signage. Beside the exhibit, they point out that in 2004 the first domesticated cat was cloned for $50,000 – a kitten called ‘Little Nicky’, commissioned by a Texan woman called Julie after the original cat ‘Nicky’ had died [1] – and ask whether or not this was a good thing to do? nickyAt the time of the cloning in 2004, the response from the scientific community was negative: it was thought a fatuous use of the technology to reproduce a domestic pet, as well as inhumane given the animal’s short life-expectancy (roughly a third of cloned cats did not survive beyond 60 days).[2] Today, expanding the subject beyond the cloning of domestic animals, as part of the successful QRator scheme (in which visitors are invited to record their responses to topical questions relating to the collections), the Grant Museum asks the public to contribute to a wider debate: Should we clone extinct animals?

The argument is a complex one. For one thing, extinct animals may have died out because of their own comparative weaknesses, and therefore any attempts to reintroduce them may prove futile. The journalist Chris Packham, for example, has famously lambasted attempts to conserve the Giant Panda, criticising the huge amounts of money spent on attempting to breed an animal which is so reluctant to reproduce itself. He suggests that the Giant Panda is “a species that of its own accord has gone down an evolutionary cul-de-sac” and therefore should be allowed to die out, not least because any attempts to reintroduce it into the wild will be limited by the increasingly diminishing area of its potential habitat anyway.[3] Where cloning animals and reintroducing them is concerned, habitat is also an issue in terms of preempting any potential environmental changes that might have occurred since the species was last present in the wild. The repercussions of reintroducing clones despite drastic ecosystem change are fairly clearly (if not necessarily realistically!) laid out for us to see in Jurassic Park. Although the author accepts this is an extreme example, it is nevertheless an effective visualisation of what can occur when we tamper with complicated systems of which we have limited understanding.

Jurassic Park III


But what of those species made extinct by human influence, and through no fault of their own? The quagga, hunted to extinction in 1883, and the thylacine, in 1936, are both on display in exhibition cases at the Grant Museum. If we accept, then, the fault of human oversight, perhaps these two could justifiably be cloned and reintroduced into the wild – but given the cost of the procedure and the potentially limited life-span of the animal subjects, wouldn’t the enormous investment be better applied to conserving those species still alive today but in dire need of assistance? The Amur leopard population, for example, is currently at a critical low, with just 7-12 thought to remain in the wild in China and 20-25 in Russia.[4]

Taking into account all of these conflicting arguments where cloning is concerned, it was with some interest, therefore, that I read a few weeks ago about a Harvard professor’s hopes for recruiting a female volunteer willing to surrogate a baby created with Neanderthal DNA.[5] Geneticist Professor George Church has recently completed enough Neanderthal bone-sample analysis to accurately isolate the genetic code that would enable him to create artificial Neanderthal DNA, according to his publication Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves.[6] Having previously been involved in the Human Genome Project, which successfully mapped human DNA, Professor Church would insert artificial Neanderthal DNA into stem cells and inject these into a human embryo in the earliest stages, allowing this to develop in the laboratory before implanting it into the womb of a potential surrogate mother. He believes that Neanderthals, whose population flourished in Europe and extended throughout the Middle East and into China between 70,000 and 30,000 years ago, were highly intelligent. This impression is certainly supported by archaeological evidence: the skulls of Neanderthals held large brains, “in the range of and exceeding the cranial capacity of modern humans” state Lewin and Foley.[7] As such, Professor Church proposes that a cloning and reintroduction of Neanderthals could be useful to increase diversity, and introduce an alternative way of thinking into society:

When the time comes to deal with an epidemic or getting off the planet or whatever, it’s conceivable that their way of thinking could be beneficial. They could maybe even create a new neo-Neanderthal culture and become a political force. The main goal is to increase diversity. The one thing that is bad for society is low diversity.[8]

Aside from the obvious concerns about the potential risks to the surrogate mother of a baby created via this method, critics have also challenged the ethics of the proposed experiment. Whilst the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union prohibits reproductive human cloning in member states of the EU, and it is likewise illegal in the UK under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 – because the project proposes the cloning of a Neanderthal rather than a Homo Sapiens, there are fears that current legislation may not apply. In any case, there is no uniform guideline agreed for the United States of America on human cloning, whether reproductive or therapeutic. But were Professor Church to have his way, how would a new Neanderthal cope in modern-day society? Physically, could their immune system withstand it? Emotionally, would they successfully integrate, or be outcast as a monster? Whatever the answer – and luckily at the moment our concerns are purely speculative – there is no denying that a neo-Neanderthal person would be the ultimate foreign body.


The Staffordshire Hoard: Defining “Treasure”

By Gemma Angel, on 14 January 2013

  by Felicity Winkley






In July 2009 in a field in Hammerwich, Staffordshire, Terry Herbert stumbled upon the largest hoard of gold and silver Anglo Saxon metalwork ever found. Comprising over 3,500 items, the Staffordshire Hoard – as it is now known – totals some 5.0 kilos of gold, 1.4 kilos of silver and 3,500 cloisonné garnets.[1] It is almost exclusively war-gear, save for two or possibly three crosses, the largest of which has been folded. The sheer quantity of finds in the hoard and their exquisite workmanship have caused archaeologists to speculate that what we know of 7th century metalwork may have to be completely rethought – and all this from a find that was literally sitting on a field surface due to be ploughed into oblivion. Today the Staffordshire Hoard is back in the news: last November, again after the field had been recently ploughed, a team from Archaeology Warwickshire found a further 91 associated objects[2], and just 2 weeks ago, 81 of these were ruled to be treasure at a coroner’s inquest.[3]

A selection of objects from the Staffordshire Hoard, including the folded cross.
Photograph © Portable Antiquities Scheme.


I had already been thinking about treasure, in light of the Researchers in Museums project, as a potential point on which to engage people with my research at the Petrie Museum. ‘Treasure’, I thought, could be useful for capturing visitors’ imagination, evoking chests of gold doubloons on desert islands, or hoards of jewels guarded by slumbering dragons. Indeed, as a noun the Oxford English Dictionary defines treasure as: ‘a quantity of precious metals, gems, or other valuable objects’.[4] A quantity, gosh!

At first glance, however, the crowded cases at the Petrie Museum might not seem to boast many objects which we would hasten to describe as treasure – certainly few of the portable antiquities match the criteria laid out in the UK’s Treasure Trove legislation (but more on that later). And yet here the verb of treasure becomes useful, for amongst those ‘Objects of Daily Use’ (as Petrie classified them) are numerous personal items which would certainly have been treasured – ‘kept carefully’, and valued’ (see note 4) – by their owners: miniature vases for storing cosmetics, earrings, necklaces, shabtis, votive figurines… So how do we define treasure, and does it really matter?

A selection of objects from Petrie’s Objects of Daily Use:
beads and ear studs (top) and a shabti (bottom).
Image © University College London.

The answer to the latter, in terms of England’s archaeological record, is clearly yes, it does matter. Until it was addressed relatively recently, the legislation of “Treasure Trove” had existed as common law for centuries, originally as a means for the Crown to claim any riches found. The three basic elements are as follows: the found object must be made of, or contain a ‘substantial’ amount of gold or silver; have no known original owner (or heir); and have been buried with the original intention that it would be later recovered (known as animus revertendi).[5] As Cookson suggests, ‘Treasure Trove was conceived long before archaeology gave cultural value to old things, and considers valuables from an essentially financial perspective, not an artistic or historical one’.[6] Indeed, we can see how protection was scant: anything not rendered in precious metal was disqualified, and once an object was precious metal, it had to be proven that someone had buried it with an intent to return to it (quite a task!). In the light of increasing concerns from archaeologists and heritage professionals – fuelled in no small part by the extreme increase in the popularity of metal detecting during the 1970s and ‘80s – the legislation was overhauled in 1996. Enforced on the 24th September 1997, the new Treasure Act set out to ‘abolish treasure trove and to make fresh provision in relation to treasure.’[7]

The definition now covered the following:

  • Any object at least 300 years old, other than a coin, found to contain at least 10% precious metal;
  • All coins at least 300 years old from the same find which number, in the case of base metal coins, more than 10 or, in the case of gold and silver ones, more than 2;
  • Any object of whatever composition found in the same place as, or that had previously been together with, another treasure find;
  • Any object, not falling into the 3 categories above, that would previously have been treasure trove, namely modern coin hoards or similar displaying animus revertendi [8] (see also note 7).

The Crosby Garrett helmet, a Roman helmet
metal-detected in Cumbria and sold at auction
to an anonymous buyer, because it was not
saved for the nation as treasure (see note 11).

Since then, prehistoric base metal assemblages have also been added to the Treasure Act, and the UK’s portable antiquities are better protected than ever.[9] The Portable Antiquities Scheme, a voluntary recording scheme set up in concordance with the Treasure Act has, since 1997, recorded 831,595 objects (both treasure, and otherwise) found outside of archaeological excavation – mostly by metal detectorists.[10] However, many would like to see the treasure legislation tightened further still, especially in light of recent landmark base metal finds, such as the astonishing Crosby Garrett Roman helmet, which was lost to a private vendor on account of its not qualifying as treasure. The fundamental question therefore still remains: what does treasure mean and, more importantly, what will it mean to future generations?

[3] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-stoke-staffordshire-20903152

[4] http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/treasure?q=treasure

[5] N. E. Palmer: ‘Treasure Trove and Title to Discovered Antiquities’, in International Journal of Cultural Property 2, (1993), pp. 275-318.

[6] N. Cookson: ‘Treasure Trove: dumb enchantment or new law?’ in Antiquity 66  (1992), pp. 399-405, (p.401).

[7] Department for Culture Media and Sport: The Treasure Act 1996 Code of Practice (Revised) England and Wales, (2002) London: DCMS (pp.22).

[8] R. Bland: ‘The Treasure Act and the Proposals for the Voluntary Recording of All Archaeological Finds’, in The Museum Archaeologist 23 (Conference Proceedings) (1996), pp.3-18.


From Delphi to the Dodo: Finding Links Between Archaeology and Natural History

By Gemma Angel, on 1 October 2012

by Felicity Winkley






Initially, my response to the challenge of finding a link between my research and the zoological specimens in the Grant Museum was one of dread and panic. Such a thing could simply not be done – it would be impossible to engage a member of the public for long enough to travel the conversational distance from a dissected Thylacine to British archaeology. On closer inspection, however, I was to find that the museum which houses Grant’s collection of some 67,000 zoological specimens, is not, in fact, dissimilar to those great anthropological collections that were also assembled during the 19th century. The shadowy corners and densely-packed glass cases are reminiscent, certainly, of those at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, where the shelves overflow with ethnological artefacts.

And yet the similarities go beyond the simply aesthetic. Both Robert Edmund Grant ( 1793-1874  – pictured left) and Lieutenant-General Augustus Pitt Rivers (1827-1900 – pictured below) were undoubtedly, if unconsciously, influenced by a long-established tradition of collecting in England, which since the 17th century had been a gentlemanly pursuit acceptable to the social elite [1]. Indeed, for ambitious scholars it was even a method of propelling oneself up the social charts. Elias Ashmole (1617-1692) was the son of a saddler, but with a good eye and some wily investing he was able to accumulate a collection that when bequeathed to Oxford University (along with its own custom-made premises), would provide a lasting legacy to maintain both the collection and his own prestige [1]. But Ashmole was only one of any number of ‘Antiquarians’ as these collectors were soon to become known; men who, for Sweet, “were important actors in that explosion of print and ideas, that thirst for knowledge and understanding with some have called the British Enlightenment” [2].

The rise of the antiquarian popularised the collection of all kinds of objects and artefacts, from coins and medals, to maps and even fossils; the over-arching motivation was simply a thirst for information about the past, and particularly information that was not provided by the historical record. This lack of concern for the ‘what’ that was being studied, often meant that focus was instead placed upon the ‘where’, so that authors would compile an in-depth study of the local parish or county – a regional framework which brought their work into obvious connection with natural historians compiling similar studies. The connection between antiquaries and natural historians was cemented further still by their agreement on epistemological models, and a sympathetic “culture of inquiry” according to Sweet [2].

In order to find a link between my own research and the Grant Museum collections, I determined to find out whether this undeniable spirit of discovery which so connected antiquarians and natural historians during the 17th and 18th century persisted into the 19th century also – and I was very happy to discover that it did. Whilst the methodology had been modernised into a recognisable early archaeology, and the investigative locations had moved from the local county to the more exotic, there was still an undeniable relationship between antiquarian and natural historical research. Just as the history of the local parish had been a relative unknown several hundred years previously, by the 19th century researchers had begun travelling further afield to collect archaeological information alongside samples of foreign flora and fauna. And this is where Darwin comes in.

Charles Darwin (1809-1882) had studied under Robert Grant during the 1820s and was much influenced by his ideas; however, his focus was by no means limited to the comparative anatomical interest they both shared. Written records show that even later on in his career, Darwin was contributing to funding for voyages that would provide evidence for archaeological investigations as well as natural-historical studies. A trip, funded in part by the Royal Society (then The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge), to Borneo in 1878, had the archaeological aim of finding evidence for early human occupation, but plainly also had great implications for Darwin and his colleague Alfred Russell Wallace as a potential source for proving the evolution of anthropoid apes [3]. Wallace had already visited Borneo in 1855, where his observation of orangutans native only to that island and neighbouring Sumatra, prompted his composition of the very paper that would inspire Darwin’s Origin of the Species. Darwin pledged a sum of twenty pounds to the voyage [3]. Any discovery, whether made by an archaeologist, anatomist, collector or naturalist, was seen as a contribution to enlightenment. As testament to the limitless horizons of this quest for knowledge, signing off his letter, Darwin adds:

“I wish someone as energetic as yourself [John Evans] would organise an expedition to the triassic lacustrine beds in S. Africa, where the cliffs are said to be almost composed of bones.”

Evidently, he was already planning the next adventure! [3]


[1] Swann, M. (2001) Curiosities and Texts: The Culture of Collecting in Early Modern England Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press

[2] Sweet, R. (2004) Antiquaries: The Discovery of the Past in Eighteenth-Century Britain London: Hambledon and London (pp. xiv)

[3] Sherratt, A. (2002) Darwin among the archaeologists: The John Evans nexus and the Borneo Caves Antiquity 76 pp.151-157