Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Casts and copies

The last of our new Archaeology display cases deals with an often-unconsidered part of a museum’s collections, replicas. Authenticity is key with museums, but when used properly we can learn a lot from replicas. Our excellent education team have several in their handling collection that they use to teach with. However, the Museum’s main collection also has around 500 plaster casts, as well as other replica objects made in different materials. Many of these were created as teaching aids in the 19th and 20th century.

Layout for the new Casts and Copies case

Our new Casts and Copies display will show the breadth of replica objects that the Museum holds. They include a plaster cast of the "Clacton Spear", a 400,000 year old wooden point excavated from Clacton on Sea and a plaster cast of "The Venus of Dolni Vesternice", one of the earliest known ceramic objects. This replica was donated by Karol Absolon, who excavated the original and it is known to have been used by Derek Roe, Professor of Palaeolithic Archaeology at the University in the 1990s in his teaching. 
1921.30.1 Cast of the “Clacton Spear”             
1931.43.1 Cast of the “Venus of Dolni Vesternice”    
Making plaster cast replicas of important objects allowed academics and students to study them more easily. General Pitt-Rivers, like many other collectors of his era, amassed replicas alongside original objects. He also had a great interest in experimental archaeology reproducing objects to attempt to discern how they were used. We have several of these in the Museum’s collections.

1884.125.148 and 1884.122.2 Casts of a palaeolithic hand axe. 1884122.2 is painted with lines showing how it was produced.

One of our more unusual objects included in the new display is a replica Bronze Age spearhead found in Kirtomy Moss, Scotland. At first glance, this appears to be another painted plaster cast, however, it is actually made of paper, carefully painted to resemble the original bronze. A fact that is not really apparent until you lift it up and discover it is almost weightless! 

1894.25.1.1 Paper cast of a Bronze Age spear

Replicas can also become extremely important if the whereabouts of the original object are unknown. The Museum holds a collection of four plaster casts made of the West Buckland hoard, a Middle Bronze Age hoard comprising a torc, bracelet and two axe heads. Two of which will be displayed in our new case. The original objects were never part of Pitt-Rivers’ collection and their location is now unknown, making the plaster casts that the Museum holds even more important. The casts were made by a member of the Ready family. The Ready's worked as restorers at the British Museum in the 19th century and early 20th century. They also sold and restored objects for private collectors, such as Pitt-Rivers, which is how these plaster casts were obtained.

1884.82.121 plaster cast of a bracelet 

1884.119.140 plaster cast of a hand axe 

Work on our new archaeology displays will be happening throughout 2017 so keep watching the Upper Gallery cases for new installations.

Sian Mundell 
VERVE Curatorial Assistant