Category Archives: Archaeology

Collections in the Landscape does Buxton

The team of Heritage Lottery funded project Collections in the Landscape have been blogging about their work for a few years now. Like the museum where they are based, the project focuses on the heritage of the surrounding Peak District, rather than just Buxton. However, they have thrown a spotlight on the town a few notable times recently; in case you missed any of them, here is a handy round up:

Back in June 2016, Assistant Collections Officer Joe Perry revealed The Oldest Building in Buxton.

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In the following month, appropriately named Laura Waters shared some images from the museum collection of the curious local tradition of well dressing.

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Flowing with the water theme, Visitor Services officer and Buxton resident Ben Jones was delighted with an old letter from the town’s spa heyday.

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He also delved deep into the past to find 7 buildings in Buxton that no longer exist.

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And, unless you’ve been stuck down Poole’s Cavern for the last few months, you can’t have failed to have heard about the museum’s latest acquisition. Just in case you did, here it is.

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Sharing the solstice

Over a year ago, when we were planning events to take place while the museum was closed for our redevelopment project, we came up with the idea of doing an event to celebrate the winter solstice at Arbor Low. If you haven’t heard of Arbor Low, it’s the most important prehistoric site in the East Midlands and is often called the Stonehenge of the north.

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Print of a pen and ink drawing by E E Wilmot, 1859

The monument consists of a henge surrounding a circle of around 50 limestone slabs (now fallen, if they were ever standing) and a central cove. There are also several burial mounds and pathways nearby. Arbor Low shows periods of use over 1,000 years from around 2,500-1,500 BC, placing it in the Neolithic and early Bronze Age. Mesolithic flints found in the landscape show that people were visiting the area even earlier than this.

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Panorama of Arbor Low henge, around midday on 21 December 2016

Buxton Museum has lots of archaeological finds from Arbor Low (others are the care of Museums Sheffield), the site is easily accessible from around the Peak District, and apparently the henge aligned with the sunset on the shortest day of the year. Doing an event here on the winter solstice seemed like a fine idea.

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Neolithic and Bronze Age arrowheads from Buxton Museum found at Arbor Low by Rev W Storrs Fox, 1904-11

Of course, we did have a few concerns: the monument is in a very exposed position, the weather in the Peak District in December is often absolutely atrocious and there are no facilities there. We wondered if anyone would want to join us there – or indeed if we’d even be able to get there at all!

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Our guided walk on the monument around 2pm on 21 December 2016

Turns out we shouldn’t have worried. We limited numbers because there’s only so many people you can talk to on an exposed hilltop in a howling gale, and both the events we put on sold out before we ran them. Everyone who came was dressed for the weather and were full of enthusiasm despite the cold and damp. Special thanks must go to Nicky and Steve from Upper Oldhams Farm/Arbor Low B&B who provided bowls of warming soup for us and our visitors, and to Creeping Toad and Bill Bevan for being excellent guides for our two sessions. We’re hoping to do it again next year!

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Late afternoon sky over Gib Hill, a Neolithic long barrow topped with a Bronze Age round barrow, located a short distance from the henge monument. 21 December 2016.

Listen to John Barnett, Peak District National Park archaeologist, talking about Arbor Low on our web app here: http://buxtonmuseumapps.com/?page_id=49

 

Don Bramwell: The archaeological artist

When most people think about the work of Don Bramwell they will be reminded of his accomplishments within the field of archaeology, working on sites in Derbyshire such as Fox Hole Cave and Elder Bush Cave. But a select few might also recognise his creative side through his archaeological drawings of finds like this bear skull seen below. The accompanying photograph (showing the actual bear skull drawn in his diagram) helps to highlight the precision to which he gave to these drawings and how invaluable his talent was to aid in the recording of these sites, at a time when it was much harder to get a perfectly clear image from a camera.

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His talent for the arts was not just kept to archaeological objects and finds however, and while searching through boxes of archived material I have come across many detailed illustrative drawings, complete with watercolour additions, of plans and scenes strait from the digs themselves.

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Some of his drawings are filled with vibrant colours and tiny detailed patterns. This sets them apart from most ordinary plans and sketches found in archaeology leaving these artworks to appeal to a widely varying audience – as who doesn’t enjoy the satisfying imagery presented in the images below?

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Although, what actually caught my attention most were the charming little doodles and sketches found around the boarders of his notes. Scattered and hidden throughout excavation notebooks containing his daily musings regarding the current state of the dig and the everyday occurrences of the archaeologist are hordes of little scenes. Some revealing animals which could be spotted around the Derbyshire countryside set within the margin of a page complete with a backdrop of rolling hills and a tree studded horizon. There can also be found doodles of flowers so tiny that they could be easily missed if you were simply skimming though the journals looking for information about the excavations. I should also not forget to mention the small sketches depicting the archaeological tools of the trade. Possibly trial sketches for his more elaborate drawings and excavation plans seen above or simply just Bramwell sketching out the items he could see around him. Either way they are still just as well drawn and fun to discover.

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(Above.) The man himself, Don Bramwell.

Wonderful Wiltshire

Although I firmly believe that Derbyshire is the finest county in England, I also believe that inspiration can come from anywhere. A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to spend a few days in Wiltshire, attending the annual Association of Heritage Interpretation conference and visiting several sites that have recently re-displayed their archaeology collections. This has particular relevance for those of us working on the Collections in the Landscape project at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery, and I was keen to discover what these places had done.

Stonehenge

Stonehenge

My trip began at Salisbury Museum, which opened its new Wessex Gallery last year. Project curator Jane Ellis-Schon showed me around the displays and talked me through how they had been developed with input from visitors and local groups, specialists and contractors. I particularly like the way the gallery works back in time from medieval Old Sarum to the earliest evidence of human occupation in south Wiltshire around 500,000 years ago. The object-rich displays focus both on what the objects can tell us about the people who made them, and on the archaeologists who excavated them (including Pitt-Rivers), and there is a useful trail leaflet showcasing 10 highlights for visitors in a hurry as well as gallery guides and activity cases for children and families.

Wessex Gallery, Salisbury Museum

Wessex Gallery, Salisbury Museum

During the conference we visited Wiltshire Museum in Devizes, which also opened new prehistoric galleries in 2014. Founded by the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society in the 1850’s, the museum has the largest collection of Bronze Age gold in Britain – and is now able to put it on display! As well as their spectacular grave goods, I really enjoyed seeing Keiller’s trowel displayed in a case alongside a marmalade jar (the source of the family fortune that funded his archaeological pursuits.) And there were some great things for families – and big kids like me – including hands on activities and a replica Iron Age hut.

Foam Henge, Wiltshire Museum

Foam Henge, Wiltshire Museum

We couldn’t leave Wiltshire without going to the iconic site at Stonehenge, now much improved with the removal of the A344 road which used to run immediately next to the monument. The new visitor centre is just a short walk (or shuttle ride) from the monument itself over the archaeologically rich Stonehenge landscape and includes an exhibition space where objects from Stonehenge (loaned from Salisbury and Wiltshire museums) are displayed. Outside a replica stone age village has been constructed and a giant sarsen stone laid on a wooden sledge for groups to try – and fail – to move. It was interesting to visit a site that has to be designed for crowd control – a million visitors a year, half in coach parties, many from overseas and with little prior knowledge.

Stonehenge visitor centre

Stonehenge visitor centre

If you are visiting Wiltshire, I can’t recommend enough that you visit Wiltshire Museum and Salisbury Museum rather than just going to Stonehenge. The best objects from Stonehenge and the surrounding landscape are in the collections from these two independent museums, and by visiting them you will enjoy the bigger picture of the region rather than seeing the monument in isolation.

Salisbury Museum

Salisbury Museum

I came back from Wiltshire with lots of new ideas, and look forward to exploring them further as we begin the Wonders of the Peak gallery redevelopment in the new year. Keep an eye on our website and social media for details of how you can get involved!

Charlie’s Fortnight at Buxton Museum

Buxton Museum and Art Gallery offers work experience placements to students. We recently enjoyed the company of a very polite and enthusiastic young man named Charlie Hyland. After two weeks, we asked him to write about his experiences. Over to you, Charlie:

On the first day of my work experience, I was intrigued to see the museum lifestyle. It certainly isn’t what it seems from the outside. Nervous pre-work feelings didn’t help as I was stuck outside for ten minutes trying to find the doorbell!

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Straight away, I was whisked away into my ‘office’ to get on with sorting the lithics (small stone tools). This was a mammoth task. The lithics were found during a recent field walk between Hartington lower quarter running North-East to Barlow, studying over a thousand fields in the process. I was left to make a start, and as it was the first day I was totally immersed in the excitement of lithics. I hadn’t realised that it was going to be the prominent activity throughout my placement. It was very important to make a start on this project because it gives a guideline for other people to follow on from where I left off. It was also a great help as the re-packing is dramatically decreasing the surface area of the collection, allowing it to be fitted much more easily into the vast museum stores.

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On day two, I was introduced to Ben and Les who are the team who sort out the exhibitions and technical difficulties. We took down the previous exhibition by Christopher J. Beard. His artwork was replaced by the late Arto Funduklian who was Armenian and moved to Buxton for the latter of his life, building up a collection of paintings. When he passed away, his brother handed his collection over to Buxton museum and it has stayed here ever since. The collection includes Arto’s infamous turtle shell glasses.

The remainder of week one was filled with a similar range of events consisting predominantly of lithics with the occasional trip into the stores. It went quite fast so as the phrase goes, I must have been having fun.

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After a short weekend break, I returned for week two to carry on my work with lithics, but as time progressed I was given more responsibility and went on a trip to the very exotic- sounding Melandra but unfortunately it was only in nearby Glossop. I was allowed to arrange the Melandra collection case in Glossop Library.

Afterwards, we visited Melandra Castle where we met the enthusiastic archaeologist Mike Brown. It was interesting to hear the historical value of this location and how it had been used throughout the ages. On the other hand, it was demoralising to hear how the site had received so much support over time but gradually lost it until it became an overgrown out-of-the-way place few people know exists.

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Later on, after finishing the tea supply, I was finished with lithics for one day and was lucky enough to go and tidy up the mineral collection in the museum stores. This was particularly interesting to me as minerals are one of my main areas of interest and it was fascinating to see the large collection the museum held from Derbyshire.

My work experience has been fantastic because I feel that the museum team had organised it very well. I always had something to do; normally lithics sorting, but whenever someone went out to do something more interesting, I was given the opportunity to engage myself: Gallery work with Les and Ben, archaeology trips with Joe and Dave to and visiting the museum stores where mysteries and treasures can be found.

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Unfortunately, I have to return to school *yawn* and I wish I could stay as it is certainly a lot more fun. All in all, it has been a great experience for me, I hope the Collections in the landscape project goes well and is finished with ease. I look forward to seeing the newly renovated museum.

Charlie Hyland