Tag Archives: MAA

The Curse of the Cotton Wool

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

So, the Store Stories project at the MAA has not been completely plain sailing from week to week. A few hiccups have been thrown up that require addressing or issues that need further research. In my first blog I explained that it appeared many objects, which had been wrapped up in cotton wool for transport to Cambridge in the 1930s, were still in their original packaging. Why, you may ask, is this nice, soft, generally protective material such a problem for museums who want to carefully store objects that are thousands of years old? Well, have you ever tried to peel back the most fibrous material known to man from corroded metal? Or tried to untangle it from finely woven basketry? It’s a nice idea, but it really doesn’t work!

We’re also finding a growing number of objects that have unfortunately succumbed to the age-old conservation technique of ‘glue fragments back together and then place the object and still-wet glue back into the cotton wool packaging’. As you can see from our picture above this can have terrible effects on objects, causing not only the cotton wool to stick to the surface but being stuck between the fragments meaning the break does not fit back correctly, sitting awkwardly together where there should only be a small fracture line.

You can now see how something so benign as soft, fluffy cotton wool can cause such problems in museums. It is why the repacking of the Matmar material into proper conservation boxes and wrapped in acid free tissue paper is crucial for the preservation and conservation of these objects. As you can see below, each object then has its own little compartment, protected by acid free jiffy foam and tissue paper.

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Once the Store Stories project is complete, all Matmar material excavated by Guy Brunton will no longer have to sit uncomfortably in their woolly boxes, but be better packed and easily accessible.

And don’t get us started on bubble wrap…

Not Just Objects

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

The Store Stories project here at the MAA is coming along nicely as more objects are found in our stores. However it isn’t just the physical material from Matmar that we are researching. This project is taking us into the museum archives too.

To learn a bit more about how the material came to the MAA we have been studying the correspondence of the museum over the period of 1929 to 1932. This time frame covers both seasons of Guy Brunton’s excavations at Matmar and the following year. As you can see from our picture above however, there were a lot of letters received during this time!

After trawling through a great many items we started to find letters by our man. In an issue of the magazine Antiquities a message had been sent out to any individuals or museums, who were interested in supporting Brunton, for contributions to his fieldwork in exchange for interesting pieces excavated from Matmar. We can see from documents in the archives that the curator at the time, Louis Colville Gray Clarke, saw great potential in this. Letters between Brunton and Clarke tell us that Clarke provided a subscription, of £20-25, to the excavation for each season and we have original lists, typed and handwritten, of the objects that Brunton had couriered to Cambridge.

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This type of research helps us understand more about the process of the Matmar excavation than simply studying the objects and site reports. It tells us how the material came to the MAA and on whose suggestion, and who else was interested in acquiring the material that Brunton discovered – ‘The Victoria and Albert are nibbling’. It has provided insight into why the MAA has particular material types – ‘It was Green who told me you wanted beads; I always have a big supply of them’ – and how Brunton himself felt of some of his finds –‘I will do what I can for you in the way of the early stuff – the flints are not very good this year’.