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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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!

Fact of the Week: Children love dead things

Earlier this week we ran a family activity called ‘Design the Wonders’. The idea was for children to have a wander around the Wonders of the Peak and choose their favourite object. Ben, acting as the glamorous assistant would  photograph the object for them – you can spot him in the reflection below. The child then glued it to their nicely decorated worksheet and described why they had chosen the object, why they liked it and what they wanted to know more about.

Liffs Low
Piping the bear to the top spot was the Liffs Low skeleton… ‘I’ve never seen a skeleton before’. With some kids wanting to know how he died and how long he had been buried for? The children proved to be a macabre lot with the skulls also proving popular.Bones

Less predictably was the spear appreciation club; It is awesome ‘because they were used’ and it prompted the question ‘what did cave men kill?’

It wasn’t all morbid. The mermaid was chosen ‘because she looks like Aerial’ – she doesn’t and actually I guess she could almost be classed as another dead thing.   But there was an appreciation for the Blue John and a piece of amethyst ‘because it is coloured pink and purple and these are my favourite colours’.

mineralAs well as being a fun activity it was interesting for us to see what objects the children were passionate about. We will be thinking about their responses in our design ideas for the Wonders of the Peak gallery.

One thing that really came across was that the children wanted to know the personal stories of the objects. What would the Liffs Low man have looked like? Whose skull was it? How and why did he die?

 I have seen reconstructed skulls on TV and in museums, so this might be something we look at doing here in Buxton. What do you think?
You can see information on the reconstruction of Liverpool Museums Leasowe man here and National Museum Wales’ Penywyrold head here.

Moving forward with our mobile apps

We have been working hard to create content for four Collections in the Landscape apps. This has included photographing objects, researching and writing texts and recording oral histories. Last week we delivered everything to our digital consultant and are waiting excitedly to see what they come up with. It is going to be great to see our ideas in reality, albeit a digital reality.

Dovedale mobile app
The four apps are designed to be used outside the museum and link the landscape back to our objects. This means in the future you will be able to download for free; an app to interpret Arbor Low, a fun family trail for Dovedale, an audio tour of Buxton and memories of Buxton shops app.

Arbor Low


There are some really interesting museum apps out there such as Brighton Museum’s Story Drop, Petrie Museum’s 3D Petrie and National Museums Scotland’s Capture the Museum.  Hopefully ours will be as fun, informative and user-friendly as these. 

We aim to test the apps with the public in late February and March and are looking for people to test the apps in-situ.  We will be arranging some events in due course (probably involving tea and cake) so watch this space!

In the meantime do let us know if you have used any museum apps and what you thought of them.  Any advice for ours?

Visit to British Geological Survey

On 29th July myself, my colleague Ben and one of our Volunteers Brian visited the British Geological Survey (BGS) to take a few of our fossils specimens for photography and 3D scanning. BGS are coming to the end of a digitisation project called GB3D type fossils, run by Simon Harris and Dr. Michela Contessi and funded by JISC, which has been 3D scanning all the type fossils in museums in the UK. The data will soon be freely available on their website and the results are quite impressive. If you have the equipment the 3D scanned fossils can also then be downloaded and printed on a 3D printer.

The 3D scanner in action

The 3D scanner in action

One of our type fossils being photographed at BGS by Simon Harris

One of our type fossils being photographed at BGS by Simon Harris

Our specimens were particularly small so only one item, a brachiopod, was big enough to be scanned. The other two fossils, holotype and paratype trilobites, were photographed on both sides and the labels of the items were also photographed as a record. It was also a great opportunity for us to learn some tips to improve our own photography, for instance objects should be lit from the top left when photographing.  

BGS retain borehole cores from all over the UK in their massive stores

BGS retain borehole cores from all over the UK in their massive stores

The Victorian cases in the BGS museum stores

The Victorian cases in the BGS museum stores

Whilst there we were also lucky enough to be shown around their museum collections, library and stores by Simon Harris, who will soon be the collections conservator at BGS. We were surprised by the size of their stores – 28,000 trays housing over 3 million specimens, and that isn’t including all the borehole samples they retain! The type, figured and cited collection alone is around a quarter of a million specimens. The museum collections are still kept in wonderful Victorian wooden cases and we were interested to find that they hold several fossils collected by one of the main contributors to Buxton Museum & Art Gallery’s collections, J. W. Jackson.

Specimens collected by J.W. Jackson from Mam Tor, Castleton, Derbyshire

Specimens collected by J.W. Jackson from Mam Tor, Castleton, Derbyshire

As part of the GB3D Type fossil project, later this month there will be a treasure hunt for 3D-printed fossils created from the 3D scans. A printed fossil will be hidden in some of the museums that have taken part in the project and the BGS are inviting visitors to search for the 3D prints and enter the treasure hunt! The treasure hunt will run between 22nd August and 12th September. We will select five winners from the entries at our museum and those winners will get a VIP tour of Buxton Museum & Art Gallery. The winners will also be entered into the grand prize for a chance to win a tablet preloaded with 3D fossils. Details of how to take part will and what to look for will be updated shortly.