One of the deepest absurdities in culture is the acknowledgement of sexual symbolism – not only in everyday life, but also in art history. Here are some prominent examples of  objects at Manchester Museum that do this:


In Ancient Egypt as far as fertility goes,  men were not usually thought of as the problem if a woman could not get pregnant; however, if a man who was married to multiple women did not get any of his wives pregnant, they would say he is “not a man”. The wish to have children was essential. These figurines emphasise the hair, hips, breast and genital area. They signified fertility and rebirth in the afterlife and were put into the tombs.

FIgures Egyptian Penis Sheaths

The penis sheath was an essential element to a man’s costume in Ancient Egypt. They would wear clothes that emphasized the front of a man’s body. A traditional male garment was a simple kilt made of leather, hide or linen that was wrapped around the hips. The emphasis put on the genital area was due to it being regarded as sacred because of it’s role in procreation. These sheaths were made of ivory which also protected them in battle and against insect bites, rather than as a contraceptive.


The God Min

Min was the Ancient Egyptian god of reproduction. He was associated with the desert and the usual depiction of Min showed him as a human with an erect phallus. He was also associated with the Egyptian long leaf lettuce, which was considered to be an aphrodisiac as it secreted a milky substance which was like semen. The Egyptian paintings and relief’s on tomb walls and temples didn’t show Min’s other arm, but the statues of the god show him with his hand encircling the base of his penis. During the New Kingdom period he was sometimes shown as a white bull, an animal sacred to the fertility god.

The God Bes Bes

Bes was an Egyptian dwarf god. Although he protected women and children, he was the god of war, humour, music, dancing and is associated with sexual pleasure. He is depicted with a leonine face with his tongue sticking out and is usually stood bow legged with penis prominent and a lions tail. Because Bes drove away ill humour and evil he became a sign of joy and good humour to the every daily life of the people.

Nkisi Mangaaka

Nkisi Mangaaka is a power figure from the Kongo people of Angola. The figure like this example from our Living Cultures gallery protects people against witchcraft, disease, lawbreakers and helped to keep peace. Nkisi Mangaaka is neither Male nor female, which makes the figure androgynous. The figure has been carved to look powerful, strong and has a threatening shape with thick arms and legs. By nailing in a piece of metal,  people involved in a problem or dispute showed their promise to abide by the decision. Breaking that oath might have dangerous consequences. Packed into the open belly were healing herbs and it also carried oaths made by individuals before the community.

Nkisi Collage

Fertility Dolls

These dolls were used by Asante (Ashanti) tribe from Ghana. The objects were carried by women or girls to ensure that they would bear healthy babies. Their shape, colour and details may vary according to the particular group of Akan from which they come. Families that lost a number of children would cut markings in the cheeks so that the spirits that loved children would be misled and not return to them in the spirit world. Women also used to dress them in cloth, jewellery and carve hairstyles along the edges. Sometimes fathers buy or make these dolls for their daughters to play with, believing that this will influence them to be child-bearing in adult life.


Diverse cultures are found all around the world, with many different traditions and beliefs, many of which you probably weren’t aware of! Why don’t you come and visit Manchester Museum and find out more about the intriguing and interesting objects of different cultures.

Post by Shaun Bennett

Staff at the Manchester Museum and the Whitworth Art Gallery are becoming part of a wider dementia friendly community due to a new Government funded initiative run by the Alzheimer’s Society and supported by the University of Manchester as part of their commitment to social responsibility.

Having recently attended an Alzheimer’s Society-led training session in order to become a Dementia Friends Champion I am now able to invite staff from the two organisations to 50-minute information sessions, where they learn a bit more about what it’s like to live with dementia and where to find further information.

At the end of the session attendees are asked if they are happy to commit to a positive action in the workplace or at home, and thus become a Dementia Friend. No action is too big or too small. From being more patient the next time somebody is struggling at the till at the supermarket to spreading the word about dementia on Twitter this all helps to create a more dementia friendly community.


By the end of the summer I hope that all staff within the Museum and Gallery can call themselves a Dementia Friend. The University of Manchester aims to recruit and train 30 Champions by the end of the 2014 academic year and 1000 Friends by August 2015.

Part of my remit as a Dementia Friends Champion is to run sessions beyond the Museum and Gallery, for anyone to attend. The first of these public sessions will run on Wednesday 23 July at 12pm in the Kanaris Lecture Theatre at Manchester Museum. To book a free place head here. To find upcoming public Dementia Friends sessions in your local area please click on this link.

Coming to an art gallery near you is a 3-D view of one of Manchester Museum’s most popular displays.

Artist Jenna Rouse has captured the Living Worlds gallery using a stereoscopic film camera (a camera with two or more lenses) and the fantastic results are set to feature in her forthcoming exhibition.

The redeveloped Living Worlds gallery (2011) has proved a great source of inspiration to visiting artists and art students thanks to its innovative blend of natural history, personal stories and provocative displays.

From a floating herd of paper cranes representing the wishes of a dying girl in Hiroshima in the ‘Peace’ display, to the plaster casts of the Pompeii dead in the ‘Disasters’ case, and LED light displays about climate change within the ‘Weather’ cabinet, the gallery is full of arresting visual pieces and captivating emotional narratives.


Living Worlds

The ‘Bodies’ cabinet in particular caught Jenna’s eye and is the subject of one of the haunting images (see below) that form part of her current project, Stereoscopic Adventures.

She explains: “My practice explores natural history museums and the specimens housed within them, using photography to entrap them within a world of my own making.The Stereoscope produces a three-dimensional image of the world by interlocking two flat images allowing the audience to literally behold and possess what has been placed before the lens.

“The work is 2m x 1m printed onto fabric and aims to create an overwhelming experience and adventure of natural history museums and the specimens they are home to”.

jennarouse N0541001 ManchesterMuseumStereo2014

Jenna Rouse

Jenna adds: “The stereoscopic relics created allow the observer to have an experience with natural history specimens. A thin slice of time is taken and frozen within a photograph, stolen and preserved in a tangible and nostalgic afterlife. The photograph is like a fossil, fixed in limestone”.

The images will be on display at the Surface Gallery in Nottingham between September 19th and October 5th.

Meanwhile, if you want to know more about Manchester Museum and its current artistic goings-on then check out Boff Whalley’s ‘Blog’ for details of the Wonder project in collaboration with People United.

And finally, a huge thank you to Jenna for sparing the time to talk to me about her work and for sharing her images.

Post by Louise Thomas

ImageWhen our new exhibition, ‘From the War of Nature’ came to the museum I looked around and to my surprise I noticed that they had a Timber wolf.

I have always loved this  majestic animal, so powerful and beautiful to look at. My favourite species of wolf. It is also, the biggest. Canadian Northwestern wolves are one of the largest subspecies of wolves, with adult males weighing between 100 and 135 pounds (45–61 kg). So to be able to see a specimen like this up close, to see just how huge these creatures really are, was such a thrill.

The wolf is seen all over the world, in many different forms and across different cultures throughout history. In some societies, they are seen as spiritual beings or as guardians, however in some instances they are shown in a less favourable light. Some people viewed them as creatures that were harbingers of evil and death, a bad omen.  In today’s society, the wolf features prominently in popular culture, with portrayals in many works of fiction from books to television and movies. Many of the werewolf stories that we hear about today will have originated in folklore from different cultures. They all seem to tell a tale or legend about wolves from every corner of the world. Below are just a couple of them.

One story that people may have heard of, is the legend of how Rome was founded. It is said that a wolf was responsible for the childhood survival of the future founders, the twins, Romulus and Remus.  Their uncle Amulius ordered the twins to be killed.  However, the man ordered to kill them could not bring himself to do it. He placed the children on the banks of the Tiber River, but at the time the river was flooding. Luckily for the twins, it carried them gently further down the river, under the protection of the river deity Tiberinus. They were then adopted by a she-wolf known as Lupa, sacred to the god Mars. The wolf is the national animal of the modern Italian republic.

In ancient Egyptian mythology we have a tale about a wolf, Wepwawet, a war deity. His name means, ‘opener of the ways’ and he is often shown as a wolf standing at the bow of asolar-boat. In some interpretations, Wepwawet was seen as some sort of scout, going out to clear routes for the army to advance forward. One inscription from the Sinai states Wepwawet “opens the way” to King Sekhemkhet’s victory (little else is known about this Kings’ reign).In later Egyptian art, Wepwawet was depicted as either a wolf, a jackal or a man with the head of a wolf or jackal. Even when considered a jackal, Wepwawet was usually shown with grey or white fur, reflecting his lupine origins.

Amongst the Native American tribes of North America and Canada, the wolf is a very powerful and much revered symbol. and they have many legends pertaining to the wolf. The Navajo tribe is known for its belief in shape-shifters. They call such people ‘skin walkers’ or ‘yee naldlooshi’ in the Navajo tongue, which means “with it, he goes on all fours”.


The Struggle for Existence (1879) by George Bouverie Goddard

The bear has always been the sacred animal of the Finns, in comparison, wolves have been killed mercilessly. In Finnish folklore the wolf is a feared and hated animal, hunted to near extinction. This is due to the wolf having been represented as a ruthless and malicious predator, killing more than it eats.

These types of stories have contributed to the depiction of wolves in fiction, and also inspired authors across a range of genres. From the old ‘big bad wolf’ stories to their portrayal as mean, nasty creatures in the horror genre or more recent romanticised films such as the ‘Twilight’ series.

There are many societies around the world that have a ‘tail’ to tell about wolves. However, the wolf is both admired and loathed. Is this perhaps how they are portrayed in such stories?  To me, they are just like any other species on earth, trying to stay alive and look after their families.

Post by Maxine Byrne


Last week, as part of Dementia awareness week, a group of us from the Museum and Whitworth Art Gallery went over to Nowgen at the  Hospital  for The Grand Dementia Exhibition. The Exhibition was a chance for groups to come together and share experiences and learning around the topic of dementia care. This was more than just a chance not just to show off what we do but an opportunity to connect with potential partners.

I would like to say I had the chance to see all the stands but in the time I was there we were quite busy. Throughout the day we took shifts on the stand so each one of us could show the work we have been developing in our smaller groups. Rachel and Wendy were showing the Montessori based Resources they had developed using the Museum’s collection, Ed has developed an iPad app and Lawrence was showing his Treasure Box resource which he covered in a previous post.

IMG_2650Myself and Andrea were highlighting the Museum Comes to You offer. This particular strain of Museum Comes To You involves taking a box of objects out to local groups living with dementia. All the objects in the box have some kind of link with Manchester and the main aim is not learning but sharing experiences. We use all the objects in the box to provoke conversation and get participants sharing memories. The best objects, in my opinion, are the ones relating to Belle Vue zoo as all the people I have spoken to have many fond memories of the place.

In the couple of hours we were there at the Grand Dementia Exhibition we had many people approach us about what we do, as many of the health care practitioners were unaware of the services available to them, especially ones so close to the hospital.  Hopefully this exhibition will have been an exercise in sign posting services and showcasing what museum’s and galleries have to offer.

In March this year Manchester Museum took part in the 2014 Manchester Histories Festival – a “celebration of Greater Manchester’s unique histories and heritage” ( – lasting ten days and comprising over 180 events at venues across the city. At the Museum, there was a focus on Manchester’s Roman past; Manchester was a Roman fort, established in 79 AD and called Mamucium. There was a fascinating and entertaining showcase seminar entitled ‘Roman and Dark Age Mancheste’r, delivered by Dr. Andy Fear from the Classics and Ancient History department at the University of Manchester, after which the Museum’s Curator of Archaeology Bryan Sitch gave an object handling session using Roman artefacts.

As a member of the Visitor Services team, I had the opportunity to deliver a guided tour on the subject of Roman Manchester. The tour began in the Discovering Archaeology exhibition, where I showed visitors a slave chain dating to the Iron Age, discovered at a site in Kent called Bigbury. A settlement at Bigbury is thought to have been attacked by Julius Caesar during his campaigns in Britain, so we talked about the first Roman attempts to invade and conquer Britain, including those of Julius Caesar in 55 and 54 BC. The emperor Caligula (37 – 41 AD) thought about invading Britain too; there is a funny story which says that Caligula ordered his soldiers in Gaul to collect shells from the beach, as evidence of his success in conquering the feared ocean surrounding Britain. Finally the Romans established themselves in Britain under the emperor Claudius, who personally commanded an invasion in 43 AD and even brought elephants, which must have terrified the Britons! Thinking back to the slave chain, there is an interesting story relating to Claudius’s invasion which shows that in the Roman world the social status of slaves could be a complex issue; Claudius allegedly sent Narcissus, a former slave to give the Roman soldiers a motivational speech prior to the invasion. Some slaves achieved positions of considerable influence (and became very wealthy), particularly those favoured by the emperor.

The tour then began to focus on some of the Museum’s Roman finds from Manchester. I showed visitors a Roman altar dedicated to the goddess Fortune, by a centurion called “L Senecianius Martius”. The Museum also has an altar set up by an individual called Aelius Victor, and these two men are the only inhabitants of Roman Manchester whom we actually know by name. Another altar refers to soldiers from the Roman provinces of Raetia and Noricum (modern Switzerland and Austria), and others from modern Portugal are suggested by letters on a tile fragment. As an auxiliary fort, Roman Manchester would have been home to around 500 auxiliary soldiers. After serving in the Roman army for 25 years, they would be granted Roman citizenship; Manchester Museum has on display the remains of a military diploma from Cumbria, which records such an award for an individual – probably from Syria. During the tour, I also highlighted a discovery from Roman Manchester of mouse bones belonging to a species called Apodemus Flavicollis (the Yellow Necked Mouse), found at the bottom of an amphora. The presence of this species helps us to imagine what the region looked like in Roman times, as this mouse usually lives in woodland.

Other objects featured in the tour included the Manchester word square, with an inscription in Latin which might be early evidence of Christianity in the area. It dates to the second century AD, a long time before the emperor Constantine’s famous conversion in the fourth century AD. Prior to this, the Roman authorities had punished Christians (they were blamed by Nero for a devastating fire in Rome, and persecutions also occurred under the emperors Decius and Diocletian).  There is evidence for the worship of Mithras in Roman Manchester, as carved stones believed to be from a Mithraeum were found not far from the fort.  This particular god was popular across the empire, and during the tour I showed visitors an image of a mosaic found in Ostia (the port of Rome) which depicts the religion’s various ‘grades’, each with a different name. Followers would progress through these until reaching the top grade, ‘Father’.

In the Museum’s Money Gallery many Roman coins are on display, including some from the Knott Mill Hoard found in Manchester, dating to the fourth century AD. We discussed coins associated with Julius Caesar, including the ‘Ides of March’ coin issued by Brutus as an attempt to convey the message that the murder of Caesar had liberated the people of Rome. In the Roman writer Suetonius’s account of Caesar’s life, there is an amusing passage which sums up just how controlling Caesar had been as one of Rome’s two consuls alongside Marcus Bibulus: “the consulship of Julius and Caesar” apparently became a popular saying (instead of “Bibulus and Caesar”)!

After the tour, I took the group to the Collections Study Centre, where we looked at and handled a selection of Roman coins borrowed from Keith Sugden, the Museum’s Curator of Numismatics. These included a coin showing the emperor Vespasian; he served in Britain as a Roman soldier before becoming emperor, and is also famous for building the Colosseum with his son (and future emperor), Titus.

Should you wish to attend a tour at Manchester Museum, please see the website for details of our weekly programme:

Post by Daniel Kennedy

The ancient Egyptians believed that Khepri – in the form of a gigantic scarab rolled the sun like a huge ball through the sky, and then rolled it through the underworld to the eastern horizon; each morning Khepri would renew the sun so that it could give life to the entire world. Khepri is one of the oldest Egyptian gods, mentioned as far back as the 5th Dynasty (ca 2494-2345 BC) in the Pyramid Texts.

The protective heart scarab beetle was a symbol for new life and resurrection. The large scarab amulet was placed over the heart and then wrapped in bandages of the deceased. On the base of the scarab amulet was an inscription, telling the heart not to speak wrongly of the dead. It reads:

“O my heart that I received from my mother, my heart that I have had since birth, my heart that was with me through all the stages of my life. Do not stand up against me as a witness! Do not oppose me at the tribunal! Do not tip the scales against me in the presence of the keeper of the balance! You are my Ka of my body; you are the creator god Khnum who makes my limbs sound. Go forth to the hereafter …”

The sacred scarab’s dung rolling and egg-hatching activities are what created a link with the gods. In Egyptian mythology Khepri – god of the rising sun – rolls the rising and setting sun in the same way as the beetle pushes the dung. Sacred scarabs were further associated with rebirth due to their emergence from the dung as young.

The sacred scarab is a dung beetle native to the Mediterranean region and central Europe. Like all dung beetles, sacred scarabs consume dung, locating it with their sense of smell. Often they will roll the dung into balls to transport it to burrows for safekeeping, and these balls can become larger than the beetle itself! Females will also lay their eggs within these dung balls, and the larvae will hatch and consume their ‘nest’.

Dung beetles belong to the family of Scarabaeidae. Dung beetles have a diet which is partly or exclusively faeces. Dung beetles live in many different habitats including desert, farmland, forest and grassland; many of them feeding on mushrooms and decaying leaves. They do not need to drink, as the dung provides all the necessary fluids. Most dung beetles search for dung with the aid of their strong sense of smell.

Dung beetles play a very important role in agriculture through burying, consuming dung, and improving the nutrient cycle and structure of soil. They also protect livestock such as cattle, by removing the dung which if left, could provide habitat for pests such as flies.

Sadly, like many animals these days, dung beetles are in decline; more than half of the different species are threatened or near endangered. Reasons include a lack of diversity in both dung and pastures – which nowadays contains more chemicals, such as anti-parasite drugs given to farm animals. In recent years however, pastures have become more hospitable, with more producers using different wormers or timing treatments so they are less damaging to the beetles.

It may seem like an unlikely environmental hero, but the dung beetle, with its sordid habit of laying eggs and eating cow poo, might just be a weapon in the battle against global warming.

Post by Shaun Bennett

Part of being a Visitor Services Assistant at Manchester Museum means devising and taking part in personal projects; this might be learning a new language, developing tours or assisting curators behind the scenes. In October 2012 I was asked to think of a project I could make my own; I have always liked the idea of getting involved with education – especially 5-11-year-olds – so I put this forward, expecting to help out with school visits or maybe the Baby Explorers programme, which involves sensory play. I was instead, very surprised when I was asked to get involved with a new venture for the Museum – birthday parties for 6-11-year-olds.

I thought this might entail assisting with craft activities, but the next surprise was being asked to deliver thirty minute tours of the Museum for up to 15 children – the tour aspect, I thought ‘Okay’, but 15 children, ‘Oh my goodness!’ Once I had calmed down and considered the prospect, I thought ‘Why not? I’m a big kid, so it will be fun!’ So, the next step was coming up with a tour that lasted half-an-hour, covering the following themes – dinosaurs, natural history, the Vivarium (live animals) and Egyptology.


I decided the first area of the Museum would be The Manchester Gallery, where I could tell the story of Maharajah the Asian elephant and how he came to be at Belle Vue Zoo. The next stop was then Egyptology to see a special (mummified) lady called Asru. Following the story of this ancient performer’s life, the next port of call was the Vivarium to provide facts about poisonous dart frogs, and strawberry dart frogs carrying tadpoles on their backs before depositing each one into a separate bromeliad plant for safety. I decided the penultimate gallery was going to be Living Worlds, where imaginations can run wild; from a Bengal tiger to a green turtle, and even an albatross with the largest wingspan of any bird in the world.

Seeing such fascinating animals is a great climax to the final stop, Fossils Gallery – the home of Manchester Museum’s magnificent dinosaurs. This is where I am usually put to shame by the children, as their knowledge is far better than mine! It also gives them an opportunity to let their hair down, have a good stomp around Stan the T-Rex – and of course, roar like a dinosaur! To finish off, there is a mini quiz and a photo-shoot under the formidable Stan.

I would have to say that initially, the prospect of delivering birthday parties was very overwhelming, but now it is so enjoyable and fun I would miss doing them if they came to an end; especially when I hear such wonderful words of wisdom from the children I work with:

Q: How did Maharajah travel to Manchester?

  • He was carried by another elephant!
  • He flew in a helicoptor!
  • He got a taxi and a bus!

One child told me over and over again that he had definitely seen live dinosaurs walking down his street! Who am I to argue!

Post by Peter Williams

In December’s first ‘Dementia and Museums’ blog post I detailed the Visitor Services Team’s recent Alzheimer’s Australia training session; cutting-edge research by this charity has provided evidence that the undertaking of Montessouri-style activities (a learning method that focuses on ‘doing’ and being ‘engaged’), can improve brain activity and wellness in people living with dementia.

The expertise that was shared with us through this training now inspires and shapes our thinking and approach to the design of activities and resources for our ‘Museum Comes to You’ sessions aimed at older people, and in particular those with early-onset dementia. As time inches closer to next month’s Dementia Awareness Week (18-24 May 2014), it seemed apt to post an update regarding a new and innovative resource, developed after further consideration of how the Museum’s collections can help people to live well with dementia.

‘Treasure Box’ is a brand new activity-based set of resources which secured funding from the Arts Fund’s Treasure Plus scheme for initial development and piloting. Work began with Keith Sugden, Head of Numismatics at Manchester Museum back in September 2013; this was to source a range of coins that showcase the Museum’s renowned collection, whilst having the potential to inspire reflection, discussion, learning and reminiscence as part of a series of identification and matching activities.

Match to map ‘Treasure Box’ activity

Coins from around the world form part of a match-to-map or flag activity. Pre-decimal British coins are to be identified and matched to cards showing their value or key symbols. We are also fortunate enough to have access to a collection of Roman coins taken from the Alderley Edge Hoard; a reading activity puts the coins into local and historical context, explaining that the collection of 564 early 4th century Roman coins – found by pot-holers – constitute the first hard evidence of Roman mining at Alderley Edge. At the end of the reading activity there is an opportunity to see and hold some of these unique and locally-significant coins, which were previously held in the Museum’s stores after being on loan to Grosvenor Museum in Chester.

Coin from the Alderley Edge Hoard, 4th Century (Image: Alan Seabright)

Through initial piloting with care groups in different areas of Manchester and Salford, the resources scored very highly in evaluation discussions with those who undertook the activities with their carers in terms of enjoyment and engagement. Discussion questions, which feature throughout the activities along with the coins proved to be successful in creating points of reflection and reminiscence.

Over the coming months ‘Treasure Box’ will continue to be trialled, and ways are already being considered for extensions to the activities, such as sister resources or how elements of the activities can be “left behind” for groups to repeat after an initial visit. Everyone we visit via ‘Museum Comes to You’ is also given a warm invitation to visit  Manchester Museum, and to take part in further activities in order to experience the Museum’s exhibitions and collections on site.

To learn more about dementia and see how you can get involved with Dementia Awareness Week, visit the Alzheimer’s Society website:

Venture Arts is an organisation renowned for providing high quality art workshops for adults and young people who have learning difficulties.

My name is Paul and I work for Venture Arts as a Support Assistant. Our volunteer experience came about from a phone call to Visitor Services supervisor Karen Brackenridge at Manchester Museum; we enquired as to whether it would be possible to undertake work experience so that we could learn what it would be like to work in a museum environment. Karen just so happened to be looking for volunteers to take part in an Enrichment Programme that she had created, so my phone call was exactly what she had been waiting for.

The programme allowed us to undertake a scheme of work which included an interview and induction day, how to prepare a gallery, helping others, learning about the Museum, Healthy and Safety, customer care/service, my favourite things, talking about my experience to friends and finally, social time.

                  Venture 1
Venture 2

Volunteer Comments

“I really enjoyed the work experience, as I had a genuine interest in Manchester Museum. I spent time researching coins, which was my favourite gallery. I got to know the staff and enjoyed the interaction. I was willing and very dedicated to taking on the role, as it made me feel good; I really liked seeing how busy museums are.”

“I found the work experience positive; I became involved with all tasks at hand, cleaning display cabinets, stocking up maps, and conducting health and safety checks; I loved helping out with the visitors.”

Venture 3

“Today I was able to see behind the scenes at Manchester Museum; I saw the crocodile mummy which looked quite ancient, and there was also a bison with its brown fluffy fur.  The Egyptian mummy was quite interesting to look at with its dazzling gold colours and its other colours like green and brown. There was the large stuffed alligator which was painted green.”

“Today I visited the conservation room and met the senior conservator; she told us all about the work that they do.”

We are working hard to establish and benchmark this scheme of work, which can be adapted and developed to meet the abilities of others with learning and physical disabilities; most importantly we aim to enhance a sense of personal achievement.


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