Monthly Archives: August 2013

Fitting the Pieces Together

Eleanor Wilkinson, Collections Assistant at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology writes:

As the Store Stories project winds up here at the MAA time is now being spent updating the online catalogue with all the new information that has been discovered over the past few weeks and cross referencing this with the images taken and the expedition report.[1] This itself is a long and time-consuming process.

As I have been making my way through the boxes and boxes of material from Matmar in our stores I have been making notes on what kind of information the database needs. This could be anything from adding full descriptions and appropriate terminology to creating completely new database records. What has emerged, from opening boxes, is that not all material from Matmar was classified as such when first being entered into the museum records. In such situations, what has been incredibly helpful is the use of excavation numbers written on or attached to some of the objects. The excavation numbering system used by Guy Brunton at Matmar is very distinctive: the year of excavation followed by the number of either the grave group or tomb, temple, or excavation area.

Spindles marked with a Brunton excavation number, 30/1000. This tells us it was excavated in 1930 from the temple area

It is with this excavation number that the object can then be crossed referenced with the distribution lists and photographs from Brunton’s expedition report. It is then possible to give the object more context. In the case of the wooden spindles above, this meant giving the object information regarding where it was found, the period it is from and a full description, as well as its correct name. Prior to this project they were simply described as pointed wooden sticks from Egypt. In addition, I am able to provide a reference so future researchers are able to follow up with further reading.[2] This does however mean there may be more objects that comprise the Matmar Collection that we have yet to come across.

In some instances, it is remembering images in the expedition report that has enabled me to link accession numbers to the correct object. For example, the copper hook below has no accession number attached nor does it have a Matmar excavation number. Without either of these the hook’s true identity may have been lost. Luckily, through researching the site report and archives as part of this project, I saw the image of the copper hook in the expedition report. This meant the hook could be reunited with the correct excavation number, accession number and be properly located within the museum store becoming part of the Matmar Collection once more.[3]

An unmarked copper hook from Matmar with its illustration from Brunton’s expedition report, the only way it could be identified

By the end of the Store Stories project it is hoped that many of these problems will be resolved and the Matmar Collection will become one of the most well documented collections at the MAA.

[1] British Museum Expedition to Middle Egypt 1929-1931 Matmar, Guy Brunton, (Bernard Quaritch Ltd., London: 1948).

[2] Plate image from ibid., Pl. LII.

[3] Plate image from ibid., Pl. LXIV.

Cromhall Quarry material in the Dry Invertebrate Store

Cromhall Quarry material

Tom White, Collections Assistant at the Museum of Zoology, writes:

Amongst the collections in the Zoology museum lurk numerous enigmatic boxes containing rock and sediment samples, the contents of which were often collected decades ago.  As we continue to clear the Dry Invertebrate store in preparation for it to be moved, we came across several large and extremely heavy wooden crates labelled simply ‘Cromhall Quarry fissure material’.  These contained blocks of pale grey limestone, some wrapped in the remains of tatty plastic bags that were beginning to disintegrate with age.  It took some time to haul all of the material out of the store so that it could be examined.

Cromhall Quarry is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) located a few miles NE of Bristol.  The rocks in our store were collected from Triassic fissure fill deposits known as an abundant source of fossils, most notably very early Mesozoic mammal remains.  At first glance the Cromhall samples looked rather unpromising, but to the right palaeontologist – in this case Professor Mike Benton of the University of Bristol – even the most boring of rocks can provoke great excitement.  Professor Benton and his colleagues have taken away about two-thirds of the Cromhall samples and intend to extract the fossils as part of their research into Mesozoic mammals.  The material will be returned to the UMZC in due course, thankfully as a tiny fraction of the size and weight of the material we have just had to move!