Space, the final frontier…

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Katy Barrett, Collections Assistant at the Whipple Museum of the History of Science writes:

Working in museums, you soon learn that space is at a premium. It might all look beautifully displayed on airy glass shelves with matching labels in the galleries, but in the stores, every object shares its shelf with many companions. Any good museum also acquires objects on a regular basis. The Whipple Museum is just such a treasure trove, with its storage areas packed with weird and wonderful scientific instruments. The point of the ‘Store Stories’ project in our museum is to make some of these incredible objects more visible and accessible to the public, by updating the storage facilities.

The project will take place in several stages, moving around the stores one by one, to enable us to use the limited spare space that we have to install shiny new cases. The Whipple is in an old building, posing its own problems of oddly shaped stores with challenging environmental conditions. Each store needs to be emptied systematically, the old shelving systems removed, and the new cases installed. While we do this we will also inventory each store, allowing us to find ‘lost’ objects and reunite parts of objects that have previously been stored separately.

Unlike MAA and Zoology, our stores aren’t organised by collection, so we won’t be focusing on a particular area, although we do have sections separated out by material or fragility, like the radioactive objects! Instead, in these blogs, I’m going to focus on objects that catch my fancy as we organise the stores. I’m a PhD Student in the History and Philosophy of Science Department, of which the Whipple is part, and have helped out in the museum off and on for a couple of years. Yet, it’s still extraordinary to stumble across the Whipple’s treasures as I inventory and re-pack them with the Museum’s collections staff. So far my overwhelming impression is of the sheer number of historic boxes for instruments that the museum contains; something I’ll discuss in a future blogpost.

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The repacking begins

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

 The repacking and reorganisation of Guy Brunton’s Matmar material is well under way at the MAA. It has been clear since opening the first box that these objects have not been properly looked at since they came to the museum in the early 1930s. However after only a few days, this collection has thrown up some stunning pieces of workmanship from throughout ancient Egyptian history. Our picture this week gives you an idea of the sort of material we are coming across as part of our Store Stories adventure.

 The objects in this collection show that the site of Matmar was an important place for settlers over thousands of years. Some of the flint implements, which you can see in our picture above, were used by the earliest inhabitants and date from the Badarian Period, roughly 5500 B.C to 3100 B.C.

 We have carefully repacked some stunning pieces of beadwork, jewellery and amulets made from faience, semi-precious stones and gold. The image below shows some of these examples that are from the First Intermediate Period, around 2181 B.C to 2055 B.C.

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By making our way through this collection we are able to add details to the online catalogue providing more information and in depth descriptions of the objects. And because of this further research will be able to be carried out improving our understanding of the outcomes of Brunton’s excavations.


Introduction to the Dry Invertebrate Store at the Museum of Zoology

Drawer of shells from the Dry Invertebrate store

Drawer of shells from the Dry Invertebrate store

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

Here in the Museum of Zoology, the work of packing up the stores ahead of the redevelopment of the ARUP building has begun in earnest. The first task for our Dry Invertebrate Store is to sort out the considerable number of sediment samples that have accumulated over the years.  These samples are by-products of palaeontological research in the Museum – to find fossils, you have to collect and process material from a variety of deposits, ranging from relatively modern sands and gravels to ancient rocks.

Sediments from research at the Museum of Zoology

Sediments from research at the Museum of Zoology

Once the fossils of primary interest to the researcher have been extracted, examined and curated, the issue of what to do with the remaining residues can be problematic.  Should they be archived in case they can be of further use to future scientists?  Should they be sent to other specialists interested in different aspects of the material?  In some cases, we might decide that the samples have no further value and the residues can be thrown away.  Those still considered to be important will be moved to a storage facility at the Sub-department of Animal Behaviour at Madingley, where a lot of important Pleistocene sediment samples are already kept.

There is a wealth of samples from important fossil localities to look through, and I will keep readers up to date with the latest (re)discoveries!


Brunton, Matmar and the MAA

© Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

Brunton, Matmar and the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

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

As part of the Store Stories project, the archaeology section of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (MAA) has begun work on repacking and updating its catalogue on the material excavated by Guy Brunton at the site of Matmar in Upper Egypt.

Brunton excavated at Matmar over two seasons (1929/30 and 1930/31) and it was thanks to the then curator of the MAA, Louis Colville Gray Clarke that a significant number of excavation finds came to the museum. This material ranges from beads and scarabs to roofing and door bolts, dating across all periods of Egyptian antiquity.

The MAA’s involvement in Store Stories will be to better pack and catalogue Brunton’s Matmar material, enabling these important objects to be more easily accessible to visitors to the Keyser Workroom and be stored to conservation standard – cotton wool being the bane of its existence! We will keep readers up to date each week with information on how our repacking is progressing and what we have unearthed in the latest box we have opened…


Store Stories Project Begins

© University Museum of Zoology, Cambridge

Drawer of pea clams in the dry invertebrate store of the Museum of Zoology

The Store Stories project begins this week, with collections staff in the Museum of Zoology, Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, and the Whipple Museum of the History of Science working on parts of their huge collections kept in their stores and sharing stories found there. Regular posts will keep you up to date on their progress, and show some of the tales of objects and the work done behind the scenes.