Making faces

This week two of the human skulls at Buxton Museum were scanned to see if these faces from the past can be reconstructed. This will help us tell their story in the new Wonders of the Peak gallery. One skull is of a young person found at Fin Cop Iron Age hillfort, dating from around 300 BCE. The second skull belongs to a man buried around 2000 years earlier at Liffs Low.

The scanning was carried out by Mark Roughley and Dr. Eilidh Ferguson from Face Lab Research Group at Liverpool John Moores University and it was absolutely fascinating watching them work.

Mark and Eilidh make an initial assessment of the material.

Mark and Eilidh make an initial assessment of the material.

The research group at Face Lab provides expertise in analysing the bones of the skull and face. They use it to identify bodies in forensic investigation, and to make archaeological images of historical figures. Mark has a background in medical illustration and Eilidh in forensic anthropology and they were able to explain brilliantly what they were doing and why, and what we could learn about people from looking at their skulls.

First the bones were inspected to see which parts needed to be scanned. Some of the remains were fragmented, but Eilidh could identify whether they were relevant and she helped us identify some unknown parts.

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Eilidh identifying some of the fragments as parts of the hand.

For example, some of the fragments stored with the skull were actually parts of the hand, so we re-labelled their packaging accordingly. Mark and Eilidh then set to work – Mark scanning each part in turn and Eilidh carefully photographing them for later reference back in the lab.

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The Artec Space Spider hand-held scanner looked rather like a steam iron!

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The image above shows Mark scanning and Eilidh working at our photography area in the Project Space watched by Collections Assistant Dave and volunteer Cynthia.

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An image was built up as Mark moved the scanner back and forth round the skull.

The scanning was done in our public Project Space, so visitors could see what was going on and we could explain about the project.

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Eilidh photographs the Liffs Low skull.

The Fin Cop skull is relatively complete and has not yet been on display. The Liffs Low skull is part of a complete skeleton which has been displayed in a reconstructed burial. Using a hand held scanner meant it was disturbed as little as possible. We’re hoping there’s enough of this skull to make a reconstruction, but it is quite fragmented with some of the key central part of the face missing. Mark and Eilidh will put all the pieces together digitally to create a more complete image of the skull and hopefully visitors to the new gallery will be able to meet these early Peak District people face to face!

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End of an Era – Stripping out the Wonders of the Peak

“You’ve got to break some eggs to make an omelette”

That’s how the old saying goes, but still I must admit to having mixed feelings as I watch the strip out of the old Wonders of the Peak gallery. On one hand it’s an incredibly exciting time as the fake walls and ceilings are removed – but it’s still sad to see the old displays being dismantled.

I won’t go over old ground in explaining how and why we’ve decided to make these changes – they’ve already been summed in some of our previous posts.

https://collectionsinthelandscape.wordpress.com/2014/06/10/design-ideas-for-the-new-gallery/

https://collectionsinthelandscape.wordpress.com/2013/08/13/wonders-of-the-peak-gallery/

The low, winding tunnels of the old gallery are actually constructed within two large rooms. More and more of the original space is being opened up each and every day. We’ve been keeping a photo diary of the progress. My intention is to publish a series of slideshows at the end of the project – to show the changes that have taken place from certain viewpoints.

Just for you, here is a sneak peek of the story so far.

Recent visitors to the museum will have discovered the Buxton Bear has moved to the Project Space. Here’s a reminder of where he used to be, and what it looks like now. The stalagmites and stalactites have also been removed. Not many people realise they were real cave formations.

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These next images show the old Georgian Room, and what you can see from the same viewpoint today.

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The Roman Displays were perhaps some of the most iconic in the old gallery. Here’s a view of the roman altars looking towards the fire exit.

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And above it all, hidden for over 25 years, THIS ceiling.

THAT ceiling

Visit us in the Project Space to find out more about the new gallery design or our exciting digital plans. The new gallery, Wonders of the Peak: A Journey through Time and Place, is currently scheduled for a ‘soft opening’ in April 2017, so make a note in next year’s diary and come along to see the exhibits!

 

 

The BIG Project Update – 2016!

It’s been almost a year since we announced that our Stage 2 bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund had been successful. We were faced with the both the joy and the horror of having to actually do the extensive list of work and activities that we’d set out in the bid!

After a slow start doing all the necessary recruiting, planning and procuring, things are really starting to gather pace. So it’s the perfect time to update all of our friends, partners and followers about where we’re at.

As some of you might know, the project has two goals – the refurbishment of the Wonders of the Peak gallery, and the extension of museum content online and into the landscape.

1. Wonders of the Peak

The old gallery is now officially closed and is currently being decanted into the Project Space. This means the collections are undergoing a rigorous process of condition checking, photography and packing.

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Empty cases? Acid-free tissue? The gallery decant has begun!

Meanwhile we’re working with our partners and designers to agree the concept design for the all-new Wonders of the Peak. Curators are also getting in touch with partner museums and institutions about some star loan objects. In some cases this means bringing Derbyshire objects home for first time since their discovery.

As the gallery work progresses you can visit and talk us in the Project Space, which is now open, but there’s more on that below…

2. Digital Access

In the project bid we imagined two types of digital access. ‘Pocket Wonders’ were phone and tablet friendly and could be accessed from the landscape. ‘Armchair Wonders’ would be accessed from home, and give more depth and detail to the collections.

Working with our digital designer, it’s clear that our online solution will be much more flexible than the two choices outlined above. The ‘digital experience’ will be an intuitive website that gives you different levels and types of content based the your situation and preferences. For example, where are you? What type of device are you using? How much internet connectivity do you have? Have you visited before and, if so, what have you already told us interests you?

From this, and similar information, you will be able to find out about the collections you are interested in, and plan your own journey into the Derbyshire landscape.

This solution will offer both the ‘Pocket Wonder’ and ‘Armchair Wonder’ concepts we’d originally imagined, but also offer a whole ranges of experiences in between.

And yes, there will be downloadable content. If you’ve ever tried to use a mobile phone in Dovedale then you’ll know why this is so important…

But the online news doesn’t stop there. We’re also going to be launching and testing an online catalogue for our website. So everyone from the curious web surfer to academic researchers can search an ever-increasing collections database. As we iron out the creases, more and more data from our museum documentation  database (Modes) will be available to search online, or be downloaded and used as open data (under a Creative Commons BY-NC license).

The Project Space

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The Project Space in all its glory.

Finally, we can’t wait to welcome you to the Project Space, an area where visitors can see some of our amazing collections, find out more about the project, and meet the team face-to-face. We’re really interested to hear your views on a range of subjects and to get your feedback on the work we’re doing.

The Project Space will open to the public on 16 February, with free half-term family activities all week. It will be open until September 2017 – hosting a range of activities for you to join in with. Keep in touch with us through our Facebook or Twitter for more information, or sign up to our mailing list.

Who’s Who

In the last 12 months we have recruited staff and volunteers and a team of specialists to help deliver the project. We are pleased to be working with:

Project Managers – Rex Proctor & Partners

Gallery Designers – Redman Design

Digital Designer – Ben Bedwell (Digital Economy Consultants Ltd, in partnership with the University of Nottingham Horizon Digital Economy Research Hub)

Copy Editor – Pete Brown

Project Evaluators – Innovate Educate

Marketing Plan – Jen Francis

Workshop Facilitator – Gordon Maclellan (Creeping Toad)

Artists in Residence – Kidology

Education Specialist – currently recruiting

HLF Monitor – Janince Bowman

HLF Mentor – Fiona Marshall

…as well as our many partners and supporters.

 

 

 

 

Blue John – New Partnerships

In this post Derbyshire Museums Manager, Ros Westwood, introduces a new partnership with Treak Cliff Cavern and Buxton Artclubs Artbox, supporting Made in Derbyshire.

In one of my earliest conversations with my mother-in-law she told me how much she loved Blue John, the unique blue, purple, yellow and white stone from just two mines above Castleton in the Hope Valley.  So she is very envious that I look after the Buxton Museum collection. The ornaments which bring ‘oohs!’ and ‘aahs!’ from visitors, include the silver mounted milk pail – surely a sugar bowl? –  dated 1803, and the narrow window attributed to John Tym from the middle of the 19th century, as well as unworked specimens, some huge boulders and many small hand specimens (not all of which are pretty!)

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Silver-mounted ‘milk pail’, made from Blue John, dated 1803

So if anything is ‘Made in Derbyshire’ it must be Blue John. Formed within the limestone, Blue John is a fluorite. It is not very hard (only 4 on Moh’s Scale of hardness).  The cubic crystals grow in veins through which the distinctive purple and blue layers alternate with white and yellow, providing zig- zag stripes of various intensities. This colour combination makes it attractive for ornaments and jewellery despite being quite a fragile material. There are many ideas of how the colour comes into the stone, whether this is impurities within the fluid, the introduction of hydrocarbons or the occurrence of radioactivity. None really satisfy the mineralogists, yet!

A piece of unworked Blue John from the museum collections

A piece of unworked Blue John from the museum collections

Recently, the museum was offered the opportunity to commission an artwork as part of the Made in Derbyshire campaign. What better suggestion then to explore a commission of worked Blue John to be included in the museum’s new displays.  I invited Vicky Harrison of Treak Cliff Cavern with Gary Ridley and Jack Mosley to discuss the possibilities while looking at the museum’s collection, particularly the unworked Blue John, and then artist Caroline Chouler -Tissier and I went over to Treak Cliff Cavern. It was one of those amazing autumn days and the view as we walked up to the cavern of the Hope Valley was spectacular, in the warm October sunshine.

The view from Treak Cliff Cavern

The view from Treak Cliff Cavern

The view from the workshop was equally captivating, but soon we were deeply interested in learning how Blue John is worked, taking a friable material and making it into artefacts as thin as glass.

In the workshop

In the workshop

Caroline and I were taken through the Cavern, and chanced to see the amazing Witch that flies through it as well as the newly discovered Ridley vein of Blue John, named for Gary Ridley. Meanwhile we discussed our ideas and plans.

To celebrate several events – Made in Derbyshire; Collections in the Landscape and even as an advance 125th birthday present for Buxton Museum (in 2018), the museum is commissioning two exciting new pieces of worked Blue John for the collections.  Importantly, much of the work will be made by people under 25, a chance to learn about geology, engineering, art, and something unique to Derbyshire, all at one time.

Jack has been asked to turn a new chalice for the museum, made from the Ridley vein.  Jack has been working Blue John for three years, and this exciting commission will mean his work will be in the museum collections for all to see. We hope to film him making of it.

Jack at work

Jack at work

Meanwhile we will work with members of Buxton Artbox Artclubs to make the first Blue John window for over 100 years, following in the creative imagination of John Tym.  The Artbox members will visit the cavern and help in the workshop to select material for slicing and polishing. Supported by their artist-in-residence, Caroline, they will suggest ideas of what the finished window may look like. Here at the museum we will look in the vaults at some of the specimens which outwardly look very dull which may find a new life in the window

This will be an exciting creative programme with lively input from many young people. Its early days yet, and everyone is very excited to get things on their way. We will keep you updated through the Collections in the Landscape blog as the work takes shape.  We may need your help to wet-and-dry the Blue John slices – Vicky tells us its takes a long time, but it could be good fun!

 

A Visit to Carsington Water

One of my latest outings for Collections in the Landscape has been to Carsington Water, an area with which we have strong links via our collections. The site is managed by Severn Trent and I was kindly welcomed by Ranger, John Matkin, who gave me a tour of the landscape.

Carsington Visitor Centre was my starting point, as it is for many visitors. From here, you can take a number of walks or bike rides, including the 8 mile route around the reservoir. Photograph by Stephen Jones.

The area to the north of Carsington was an important lead mining centre in Roman times, and it has been suggested that the valley is the site of Lutadarum, the centre of the Roman lead industry in Britain. Two Roman sites were discovered prior to the construction of the reservoir and three excavations recorded and saved artefacts before the flooding of the landscape. The results of these excavations are stored here at the museum.

Objects on display at the museum include pottery, glass and metal work. More materials are preserved in the museum stores and range from ordinary building remains such as tiles and nails to more unusual finds such as a lead phallus, thought to have been displayed as an amulet in the home or on a horse harness.

Some of the Carsington materials currently on diplay at Buxton Museum & Art Gallery.

Some of the Carsington materials currently on display at Buxton Museum & Art Gallery.

During my short tour of Carsington John led me to Stone Island, one of the most popular short walks for visitors of all abilities. The walk gives excellent views of the Carsington Hills (the source of all that lovely Roman lead) and is also the site of a Bronze Age barrow. A digital ‘stop’ at this location would be able to tie-in multiple elements of Carsington’s history.

Next, we drove north to the Sheep wash Car Park. This spot overlooks the area of the valley that saw the principle Roman excavations. Of course, this spot is now firmly underwater but it’s great to stand overlooking the water and picture how it might have looked over 1,500 years ago.

Carsington Water is well served by paths and bridleways and would be perfect for a joined-up trail to be explored on foot or bicycle. The reservoir is also a popular centre for water sports. However, whilst a canoe based trail sounds like great fun, it’s probably the perfect way to lose a smartphone in to the inky depths!

The Peak District in the Early Medieval period

A particular challenge Buxton Museum will face when redeveloping our popular Wonders of the Peak gallery is the Early Medieval period, or, to be more precise, 400 – 1100. It is a huge period, but it is also a time that, until recently, has lacked popular appeal. There have been a lot of new research over the last 30 years and we need to update the gallery to include this in the story of the Peak District. The High Peak was a less populated region than today. It was also a tumultuous time. For much of it England was divided into separate kingdoms, and from the 8th century onwards the country was subjected to Viking attacks, invasion and settlement.

The Peterborough Chronicle - Bodleian Library, Oxford

The Peterborough Chronicle – Bodleian Library, Oxford

Part of the reason this is a difficult period to document is that little written material survives from then, certainly in comparison to the Late Medieval period. One of the main written sources for this time is the Anglo-Saxon chronicle. The chronicles make for an interesting read. In 626 there was an attempted assassination of Eadwin, King of Northumbria, in the Derwent Valley. The assassination was ordered by Eamer, King of the West Saxons, but it failed. In 848 a witenagemot, a national council assembly, was held in Repton. Archaeologists also found the bloody evidence of Viking occupation of the town in 873, which was described in the chronicle.

One of the 9th century crosses in Bakewell Church

One of the 9th century crosses in Bakewell Church

Most evidence of the Early Medieval Peak District can be found in situ, although sadly very little remains today. The Normans caused a large amount of damage across the country after the conquest, both intellectually and physically, and especially in the north. The Peak District was a densely forested area, which was a hunting forest for Anglo-Saxon and Norman kings. Nevertheless, it still would have been inhabited by local people. Well preserved crosses from the 9th century can be found in Eyam, Hope and Taddington churches, although the crosses at Bakewell are perhaps most famous. The church used to have various coped tomb slabs built into its walls, however, these were removed by Thomas Bateman and are now in the collections of Museums Sheffield. One of the challenges we face is linking to these monuments. Digital offers us the potential to give these items a gallery presence, but we could just as easily opt for photography, or even have a digital trail.

The Bentley Grange Helmet - Museums Sheffield

The Bentley Grange Helmet, Museums Sheffield

Some of the other items that do survive are quite spectacular. As well as the coped tomb slabs, Museums Sheffield hold a helmet, c. 650, excavated from Bentley Grange, near Bakewell. It is one of only four horn-covered helmets found in England. There were also possible fragments of chain mail, a ‘circular enamelled ornament’, a cross and cup remains found at this site. Sheffield’s collection is home to other items collection from barrows in Derbyshire, such as a bronze circular box from a woman’s barrow near Hurdlow, and a double edged iron sword from a grave mound near Brushfield. The British Museum, meanwhile, hold the Beeston Tor Hoard, which includes two complete brooches with intricate knot work patterns. One of our hopes for the new Wonders of the Peak gallery is to return these objects to the region in which they were found, be that physically or digitally.

A Visit to Middleton Top

This week I made a visit to the Countryside Centre at Middleton Top to talk to colleagues about Collections in the Landscape. Having tested our pilot projects, we’re now in the process of learning from the experience. We’re also considering where future projects might be aimed if we’re successful with our Stage 2 bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Middleton Top, and with it the route of the Cromford & High Peak Railway, is an important part of the story we want to tell as part of Collections in the Landscape. Our current gallery, The Wonders of the Peak, doesn’t effectively explore the story of the Peak District in the 19th and 20th century, something we want to change.

The engine house at Middletop Top. Image by shirokazan. Creative Commons, CC BY.

The engine house at Middletop Top. Image by shirokazan. Creative Commons, CC BY.

The Cromford & High Peak Railway was a significant change to the landscape of the Peak District and its construction represents a considerable feat of engineering. The line was 33 miles long, connecting the Cromford Canal in the south to the Peak Forest Canal in the north. To make this connection, the railway had to climb around 1000 feet from Cromford to its summit at Ladmanlow, near Buxton.

The railway was built between 1825 and 1830 on canal principles. It had flat sections following the contours of the landscape connected by a series of inclined planes. Stationary steam engines were used to transport carts up and down these planes, from one level to the next. At first, the flat sections were powered by horses until the improvement of steam locomotives.

Today, the route of the railway survives as the High Peak Trail and is a popular haunt for walkers and cyclists. The heritage of the route is also preserved at places like Middleton Top, where the engine and winding house are still preserved at the top of the Cromford Incline. At the bottom of this incline you can also find Leawood Pump House, built in 1849 to supply water to the Cromford Canal.

Interpreting this important feature of our landscape will be a challenge due to its length and complexity. However, by working with our partners and using the right technology, we’d like to help tell visitors about this important aspect of the Peak’s past.

Both Middleton Top and Leawood Pump House can be seen in operation several times per year. As a closet steam nut, I’ve already made room in diary! You can find out more information about the area on the County’s website.

Middleton Top Countryside Centre