Monday, 13 June 2016

Picking pots: an archaeology display layout

One of the first in the run of display cases of archaeology will focus on objects made of pottery from a variety of different cultures and historical periods.

The 80 or so longlisted objects, many retrieved from an off-site store, are catalogued by myself and Sian. We use a Filemaker collections database to add new information such as descriptions, measurements and photographs, and we physically assign accession numbers to objects where necessary.


Example of a database entry page for an object. Here, a Roman votive hand PRM 1896.15.28

Having photographs and measurements of objects is great, but the physical selection and layout process is crucial for helping to determine the organising schema of a display and to see if certain combinations of objects 'work' together - intellectually and visually. We brought around 80 objects to the session that included Project Curator Helen Adams, Curator for Archaeology Prof Dan Hicks, Curator for Americas Prof Laura Peers, and Heather Richardson, Head of Conservation, who checked that the objects were in a stable enough condition for display.



Museum staff select objects for the new pottery display © Pitt Rivers Museum


A mock-up of the display case measuring 100 cm x 50cm with a maximum height of 10 cm was created. Once all the pieces were discussed and the final pieces chosen, we positioned the pottery within the case to look at meaningful groupings and optimum positioning.

A mock-up case frame to help us think about layouts and groupings © Pitt Rivers Museum


It could be easy for archaeology displays to be, dare we say it, a little dull but we are really enthused by the variety of colour, shapes, cultures and techniques demonstrated in this selection. Prioritising complete objects over sherds and shards will hopefully enable the objects to speak for themselves and visitors will be able to appreciate both their form and function. Since the collections are concerned with world archaeology, not just European classical archaeology, we hope to be able to tell some new and unfamiliar stories, such as that of the Moche or Mochica civilisation of Peru (AD 100 - 800). Here is a Moche stirrup-spout jar in the form of a skeleton playing panpipes.

Ceramic stirrup-spout jar in form of a skeleton playing panpipes; 1947.7.14 © Pitt Rivers Museum



Now the Conservation team will work on the 36 pottery pieces to clean, stabilise and conserve them. Finally the Technical team will look at the pieces to see how they should be displayed in the case and create mounts to support them. Look out for the new display in the Upper Gallery later this year.


Helen Adams (VERVE Project Curator) and Madeleine Ding (VERVE Curatorial Assistant)

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