Explaining complicated objects in a way the public will understand

Published: Wednesday 16th August 2017 by Courtney Farrow

Comments (0)

The Mortimer Collection was one of the first curations to be displayed at the historic galleries in Hull.

Made up of over 66,000 artefacts, it is a founding collection of what is now Hull Museums. It was made up of items that were found by J.R. Mortimer during a series of local excavations.

But what happens after you find something interesting at an archaeological dig? You can’t just pop it in a display cupboard and be done with it. There’s a lot more to it than that.

We’ve teamed up with Hull Museums to find out what legendary curator, Thomas Sheppard, did after being gifted the extensive Mortimer Collection.

Sheppard had a passion for wanting to improve the visitor’s experience of collections. People travelled far and wide back then, especially the rich, to view these incredible finds. Sheppard wanted to deepen his audience’s knowledge around each object.

This was way before Google, and researching was a lot harder in the 1930s. It required a lot of time, the right books and literature, and an expert researcher. Luckily, Sheppard was the man for the job, along with his assistant G.K. Beaulah.

Mortimer himself gave away some of the information surrounding the objects. For example, he described these pieces as ‘curious pieces of burnt clay’. However, it is clear from his records he didn’t quite know what they were. Fortunately, he kept hold of them anyway.

After a little bit of digging (in books this time, not the ground), Sheppard and Beaulah discovered that these fired bits of clay are the remains of bronze casting moulds. It is thought that they would have been used to make tools during the Bronze Age.

They are highly significant because clay is a material that becomes brittle over time and disintegrates, so it’s really amazing that we have these artefacts at Hull Museums.

Naturally, Sheppard wanted to share this information with the world by displaying them in Hull. After some careful cleaning, they were classified and model casts were made to accompany the pieces in the exhibit.

The clever replica demonstrated to people how moulds were used during the Bronze Age. In this case, it shows the creation of a spearhead.

1. Outer casing of course clay is pressed around the inner mould to support the core and to prevent the escape of metal from the joints.

2. Inner mould of fine clay in two halves, bound together by a fibrous thong.

3. Spearhead of bronze, as it would appear on breaking open the mould.

4. Clay core, which when removed, leaves a socket for the spear shaft.

Source: Sheppard, T. 1930. ‘Clay Moulds for Bronze-Age Implements’. The Naturalist.

As you can see from the image above, the exhibit also included casts and the objects themselves, representing how each would have moulded the shape of the object.

The display also showed visitors how the clay pieces would have looked when Mortimer first discovered them, which is interesting if you want to learn more about archaeology.

This sort of information is really useful for modern day museums when they are looking back on their own history. It shows how things might have changed in the way we present history to the public, and is an opportunity to learn from our likeminded predecessors.

You can see some of The Mortimer Collection at the Hull and East Riding Museum on the High Street. It’s open Monday-Saturday 10am-5pm and Sundays 11am-4:30pm. 

Enjoy more Hull and East Yorkshire news on HEY Today

Follow us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram

Published: Wednesday 16th August 2017 by Courtney Farrow

Comments (0)

Local business search