Friday 16 June 2023

#082 A Morning At The Museum

The Golden Mummies OF Egypt

I love visiting museums. Especially those which tell the human story in ethnographic artefacts and also have natural history themes. Recently I had a couple of hours free time in Manchester, which happily coincided with the Golden Mummies Of Egypt exhibition.

This exhibition focuses upon the later Greek & Roman pharonic period (circa 300BC to 600AD). On show, of course, is the amazing artisanal craftmanship of the iconic gold funerary masks and intricate symbolism painted on sarcophagi. 

There are also, artefacts which give us insights into the beliefs and daily lives of people outside of the elite priesthood. We see a social stratigraphy of administrators, clerks, workers, servants and slaves. 

Evidence of metal working, originally excavated by Flinders Petrie during the 1880's, can be seen in the Ancient Egypt And Sudan permanent exhibits.

However, for me the most captivating artefacts of the special exhibition were the anatomically realistic carvings and portrait panels, originally incorporated into the mummification process. These showed an idealised image of the deceased features and finest clothing style, as how they wanted to present themselves in the afterlife.

Nuggets of Wisdom

As well as the exotic, Manchester Museum also has a fine selection of paleo and archaeological artefacts found in the surrounding counties. These piece together to form our story, from a time where giant tree ferns grew, then decayed into coal. To when lion, hyena and wooly mammoth roamed the Peak District and were hunted by Neanderthals. 

Memories of Africa 

On expeditions, I've been extremely fortunate to spend many happy days in sub-Saharan national parks.  The 'super-seven' is a wildlife enthusiasts version of the 'Big 5', which adds cheetah and wild dog to lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and African buffalo. There have been several occasions where I've been in the right place but, alas, not the right time to see African Wild Dog (Lycaon pictus). 

When I see taxidermy of creatures, it brings such sadness at the pain and destruction that was caused. The specimens in Manchester are historic, from a time of differing cultural values to those held by most people these days. I say 'most' because there remains a small sick minority who enjoy killing endangered species for fun. 

Which makes my final choice of exhibit to share all the more poignant.

Last year I tracked down the very rare remains of a Thylacine (Tasmanian Tiger) to the
University College London Zoological Museum 
At the time I didn't realise there was a specimen closer to home in Manchester.

The story of the thylacine is heart breaking. After dying out in Australia and New Guinea, probably due to indigenous human encroachment accompanied by dingoes, it's last stronghold was Tazmania. This carnivorous marsupial came into human-wildlife conflict when it was blamed for sheep deaths by European Settlers leading to a bounty of £1 being paid for the head of each adult thylacine.

Persecuted and relentlessly hunted, transmissible canine distemper and habitat destruction did the rest. The last known living thylacine died in Tasmania at the Hobart Zoo in 1936.

Stu Westfield