Archivist Ian Gregory discovers another intriguing photograph from Derbyshire’s collection:
While cataloguing images at Buxton Museum, I came across a photo of three men from 1925. The trio are on a limestone plateau bare of trees at Dowlow in Buxton, and are digging a hole in the field. They may well be archaeologists.
One thing that struck me was that they are dressed in white shirts and waistcoats while toiling at a physical job. My first thought was that their world must have been very different from mine. Or was it? If this was a scientific excavation then we have something in common; a desire to not only know where we came from, but to verify whatever theories they had with hard evidence. This was science as we know it today. Since the Industrial Revolution and compulsory education were already underway perhaps this isn’t surprising.
If I could meet these three today, would we understand each other? Or would there still be wedges between us and not only regarding dress codes? I think there would be stumbling blocks: attitudes to women, attitudes to ethnic minorities, to the British Empire and probably other issues too. Incomplete knowledge could intensify some prejudices. Back then, no one in Europe knew that there had been urban literate cultures in Sub- Saharan Africa before first contact with Europeans. No archaeologists bothered to dig in Africa. No one knew our species was born on leopard-haunted plains.
In some respects my first impression was correct; the trio in my photo came from a different world. In some ways, but perhaps not in all.
With the reopening of Buxton Museum and Art Gallery close on the horizon, the time has come to dust the cobwebs off the collection so that it can match the rest of the new shiny gallery.
I have been working closely with the museum’s bone material. In the picture above you can see that some of the pieces – like this hyena jaw bone discovered in Elderbush cave – were in definite need of a little TLC after being displayed for so many years in the old gallery. So, adorned with a set of brushes and little pieces of rubber sponge I began the task of patiently dabbing, wiping and brushing away the years to breathe new life into each of the bone objects.
Below you can see the after shot of my work, and evidently
a little bit of spring cleaning really does make all the difference!
Jasmine Barnfather MSci MA, Museum Attendant / Museum Assistant,
Buxton Museum and Art Gallery
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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?
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.
The staff of Buxton Museum recently enjoyed the assistance of a keen young man called Thomas Peacock. His homemade T-Rex chocolate was particularly impressive! We asked Tom to recount his week with us:
I spent a week’s work experience at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery. The main reason why I wanted to do my experience here is because I have an interest in art and palaeontology and also having my work experience in a museum will give me a good look at what I might be doing in the future.
What I enjoyed the most about my time at the museum was getting to see and store some cave lion bones. It was very interesting to hear where these bones had been found and who had found them, I also wanted to find out how these cave lions had died; the mystery of it intrigued me and I wanted to uncover the secrets of the ancient bones.
I spent lots of time looking at ancient artefacts and bones and recording information about them; what they looked like, how big they were, and what condition they’re in. I took pictures of the objects and put them onto MODES (the database on which the museum records information about objects).
I also helped with a survey by marking out areas on a map in a room that needed working on; plug sockets, exposed wires, etc. as well as moving artefacts from the store room into the project area.