My name is Nikki, and I lead something of a double life – one half Visitor Team Assistant at the Manchester Museum, and one half hairdresser.

When I was invited to contribute a blog for The Manchester Museum Digital Gazette, I decided to investigate some of the ‘hairy’ exhibits at the museum, which led to my uncovering some very interesting  facts. As you can imagine, the museum is a place which offers an almost infinite wealth of inspiration, and many of the exhibits have given me creative ideas for phantasmic, ‘avant-garde’ styles that I would create if only people didn’t just need me to give them a few layers and a fringe.

In researching this piece, I took in the full range of our the galleries, well beyond the more obvious mammal exhibits in our Living Worlds gallery. It is surprising what you can find, if you only look around, oh and if you ask the ‘right’ people! (my thanks to both our curators and helpful Visitor Team colleagues). I even came across a link between a geological phenomenon and hair. Who knew!

In our Living Cultures gallery, the most obviously hairy exhibit is the huge and impressive wooden shield, decorated with tufts of human hair. This is a warrior’s shield from the Kenyan headhunting tribe of Borneo, dating from pre – 1935. The hair could have been taken from the heads of fallen enemies, and the shield itself would have been used as a symbol of martial prowess.

shield

I was lucky enough to be shown some behind the scenes objects in the stores of a similar type – warrior spears from the Indian Naga tribe, also head-hunters, feared right up to the time of WW2. The spears are decorated with human and horse hair, dyed red in places, and this makes them look all the more formidable, as if dipped in the blood of their enemies! The hair may not always have been necessarily taken from decapitated heads, but could have just been donated and cut off in the normal way, although not necessarily with full consent of the owner!

spears

The type of hair that was used on objects such as these, would be dictated by its accessibility. For example, the Naga people lived in the hill country of Northern India, so horses, humans, even possibly tigers would be the types of hair and fur available for their use, however, further up in the mountains of Tibet, local Buddhist peoples would have access to Yak hair, as seen on the Tibetan whisks  which I saw in the curatorial stores. These are my favourite objects, as their purpose is to waft away tiny living creatures, saving them from being trodden under foot, as Buddhists belief prohibits the killing of any living thing, no matter how small, even by accident.

buddist whisk

The Japanese Samurai armour and masks, also seem to have a combination of Yak and horse hair giving them impressive moustaches.These are embellishments to recreate the image of the symbolic animal that the warrior wanted to emulate, and the powers and particular qualities of that warrior animal. It could also simply add impact and drama to an intentionally scary face mask.

mask

I was particlualrly struck by the sheer level of craftsmanship showcased within these objects, all hand crafted within traditional societies, gathered by collectors and preserved by Manchester Museum until the present. Hair does pose certain problems for conservators as it is an organic material, and therefore more likely to be eaten by bugs. Hairy exhibits are kept in highly monitored stores and a multidisciplinary Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach is implemented to protect and prevent damage to hairy and furry exhibits.

Another issue concerns the appropriate ethical, legal and cultural ancestral remains. Some objects that include human hair have been repatriated back to tribes and countries, who believe that if the hair ( or nails ) of a person have been used, they deserve the same ancestral burial rights as the person they were from. So out of respect, some objects have been repatriated, and Manchester Museum is proud to have been involved in the repatriation of acquired objects.

In our Natures Library gallery, there is a display case of volcanic lava and ash. One of the exhibits is a small sample of’ Pele’s Hair’, not the footballer, but Pele the volcano goddess. It looks like the sort of finely spun golden threads that Rapunzel made from her hair in the fairy tale, but it is actually, as the photo states, sprays of basaltic lava fountains that often get blown away from the volcano in strong winds, and cool quickly into thin hair-like strands.peles-hair

Pele’s Hair is also a nickname for the tangled plants that hang from the top of the large case of frogs and cone headed lizards in our vivarium. Perhaps it gained this nickname after it was introduced into Hawaiii in the 19th Century, as Hawaii is a volcanic island. It is also known as Spanish Moss (Tillandsia usneoides) and it is an air-plant or bromeliad type of plant that grows hanging down from tree branches.It has many practical uses – as an insulation, crafting and packing material, but is also said to be used as the stuffing for voodoo dolls in the Southern states of the USA.

spanish moss

In ancient Egypt hair was very important and carried symbolic significance bothin the making of wigs and in the way it was worn. I am very interested in the symbolism attached to facial hair. This can be seen within the ‘Two Brothers’ case on our ‘Ancient Worlds’ gallery – each sibling sports a different shaped beard, one straight and one curled. The curled beard is symbolic of Osiris as a god and the straight beard, of Osiris as a living king. The style of beard attributed to the deceased  persons coffin decoration would indicate their status and level of divinity.

Prior to the third century, beards were seen as being ‘in’ however in subsequent periods natural beards were seen more negatively as being ‘bad’ or ‘polluted’. As a result, full beards can be seen depicted on images of their enemies after this time. Living Egyptian rulers however, continued to wear false beards in the image of a living god, but with shaven faces and heads. On the famous ‘Narmer Palette’, King Narmer is depicted with his powerful god-like false beard, towering over his foreign enemies, who were depicted with full facial hair. Queen Hatshepsut even wore a false beard when she was pharaoh! Go girl!In the ‘Natures Library’ gallery I was spoilt for choice as to whom to include. I decided to only include one bird, as birds have an unfair advantage when it comes to impressive plumage, and feathers are not fur. The golden pheasant is quite a resplendent example, with THE most amazing quiff, and is also the very image of David Bowie, so he had to be involved!

Bowie Pheasant jpg

Separated at birth?

If you have ever had a problem with dandruff or head lice, spare a thought for the lowly sloth. The museum’s 3 toed ‘maned’ sloth is hanging upside down and his fur looks lovely and pristine, but in the wild you might be more likely to see a green sloth, covered in algae. As they move so slowly and hardly at all, their coarse fur gets damp and becomes the perfect breeding ground for the algae to settle. This creates a cosy and nutritious home for moths, cockroaches and other insects , and the algae can be a food supplement for baby sloths clinging to their parents. This sloth-algae situation is called a ‘ symbiotic relationship’..Im not sure humans could ever be symbiotic with nits and dandruff though.

sloth

Another amazing fact about sloth hair, is that it grows backwards. Imagine any other mammal with its fur growing downwards away from the direction of its spine, but if you look at a sloth, its fur grows upwards towards the spine. This is to enable water to drain more easily from it as it spends a lot of time hanging upside down.

Who’s got the best punk hairstyle in the museum? the Crested Porcupine of course! People used to think that the spines were poisonous and that porcupines could ‘fire’ them at attackers. This is not true, but they do detach very easily if the porcupine is attacked, so spines often end up stuck in the mouth or nose of an attacking animal and are hard to remove as they have barbs on the end, so the attacker may end up with an infected spiny wound, and complications from infection I guess could lead to death or illness so maybe thats why people thought they were poisonous.

porcupine

Is there anything under the sea that is hairy? Yes ( well sort of ) ..The giant fan mussel in Natures Library has some hair like fronds called Byssus. This fibrous material is secreted by the mussels (and other bivalve molluscs) and is used as an anchor, attaching the mollusc to hard surfaces. A type of fine and valuable ancient cloth called byssus cloth or ‘sea-silk’ can be woven from byssus, and there is even a mention of it in the Rosetta Stone from Ancient Egypt, mentioning that a priest had been paid in byssus cloth.

Byssus

However, in superstitious tales , sailors sometimes believed that byssus threads were the hair of drowned sailors.

Byssus filaments are not really hair, but are very like hair as they are made up of keratin and certain proteins.

Finally I wanted to include the best hair colour-combo from the museums mammals. I chose the handsome Ruffed Lemur from Madagascar, who looks like he has borrowed a suit from 3 different friends. He has black ( shirt ), ginger ( jacket ), white ( trousers) ,blonde AND brunette fur. Why be one colour when you can be them all?

Lemur

 

Calling all budding writers! Stan needs YOU to find his voice and tell the world his extraordinary story.

Stan the T. Rex has been selected for a new Talking Statues competition, which invites storytellers to submit a short monologue from the perspective of their chosen statue.

The Talking Statues initiative is already up and running in Manchester with statues including Alan Turing and Abraham Lincoln sharing their stories with curious passers-by, thanks to scripts from dramatist Mark Ravenhill and author Gary Younge .

And now it’s the public’s turn to get creative and find a voice for our resident Mancunian theropod.

The winning piece is set to be recorded by a well-known actor and will be delighting visitors to the Fossils Gallery before the end of the year.

But who is Stan? Cretaceous bad boy or dreamy gentle giant? Grumpy old fossil or happy-go-lucky predator?

Here at Manchester Museum we’ve come up with a few ideas that we hope will inspire you to produce your own Stan story.

And if that’s not inspiration enough, you could check out our Stan the T. rex – A Day in the Life video or why not visit us and see him for yourself.

Check out the Talking Statues website for details on how to enter and all terms and conditionsClosing date for entries is 17 October 2014.

Finally, a big thank you to all the staff and volunteers who kindly took part in the video and special mention to Olga Gerke for that fab trio of Stan pictures.

(Warning: this article includes images of human remains)

One of the most popular galleries in any museum is Ancient Egypt, and in that gallery the biggest attraction is often a mummy. Manchester Museum is no exception; it is renowned for its extensive Egyptology collection, and especially its mummies. But where does this fascination come from?

Howard Carter’s famous discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922 made headlines worldwide, inspiring generations of would-be archaeologists, but also popularising Egyptology beyond the academic –ownership of the discipline was no longer exclusive to the university professor. This is something that continues today, the internet is proliferated with theories of curses and conspiracies, to vampires and aliens. However this public interest seems to have been spawned long before Carter   famously saw “wonderful things”. By the mid nineteenth century the animated corpse had already become a unit of gothic fictional currency, a role for which the Egyptian mummy was perfectly suited!

The display of human remains is a regularly debated subject in museum ethics, and whatever policy line an institution takes, it is unlikely to please everyone. The ‘Egyptian Worlds’ gallery at Manchester Museum, installed in 2012 as part of ‘Ancient Worlds’, displays 3 mummies, two Roman Period ‘Portrait Mummies’, who remain wrapped, and Asru, an elite lady from the 25th-26th Dynasty, who was already unwrapped when she came to the Museum in 1825. Asru is one of the focal points of the main gallery. She lies not on a shelf, objectified among pots and amulets, but in a free standing glass case, in her inner coffin, covered from collar bone to ankle in the same manner as the royal mummies at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. She is positioned away from the visitor’s direct eye-line, to allow the choice of whether or not to look.

Asru

Responses to a ‘museum mummy’ typically include curiosity, revulsion, pity, sadness, wonder… But perhaps most often they receive the reaction “Is it real?”

Although sometimes there is a temptation to tell the visitor, “No, that’s just one of the archaeology students on placement…” in a museum where one of the star attractions is a cast of a T-Rex, the mummy’s reality is perhaps a legitimate question. In all seriousness, however, this search for authenticity is at least partly responsible for the way the mummies have become fictionalised and romanticised.

In the 1800s it was typical for mummies to be given ‘mock contexts’, which Dominic Montserrat referred to as ‘biographisation’, filling in the gaps in historical knowledge with fictions and fantasies of their own invention; especially the eroticised and orientalised notion of unwrapping, or ‘undressing’ ancient Egyptian princesses. Asru came to Manchester as a ‘Temple Chantress’, a fictionalisation which lay unquestioned until very recently.

The mummy occupies a space somewhere between a living person and a corpse, and the attributes ascribed to this transitional body reflect the narratives and fantasies of the cultures which display them. As early as the fourth century BC, Greek historian Herodotus, already portrayed the Egyptian mummy as both sexualised and commodified, it was an exotic other that emphasised the cultural division between the Egyptians and the Romans. In England, by early Victorian times, with the gradual process of museumification, the mummy became objectified, though the status—at once human and artefact—remained problematic.

As the nineteenth century advanced, so did the academic interest in Egypt. As hieroglyphs became more readily translatable, mummies became “sociable bodies with recoverable histories” (Montserrat). The discovery of the ‘Faiyum Portrait Mummies’ and their perceived lifelike sensuality stimulated a desire for reconstruction; this also provided the potential for fictionalisation. It has even been alleged that Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ was inspired by the beautiful young men displayed in Petrie’s exhibition of mummy portraits in 1888 in London.

Portrait Mummy

In this way the mummy became at once decontextualized and sexualised. The naked, often fragmented body allowed the objectified mummy to become a museum spectacle, where the viewer might become voyeur. The mummy has been, and continues to be seen as something theatrical, with the unwrapping at the centre of the performance, be that the 19th century ‘unrollings’ or the virtual undressing of the 21st century CT scan.

Today we are in an age and society that is further removed from death than ever before. Death and burial have become institutionalised, and the preserve of professionals rather than families or communities. Consequently a museum’s Egyptian mummy is often the first dead body we see. However, as visitors we bring to this encounter our own mythologies and fictions; whether this is Scooby Doo, Lara Croft or Anne Rice, there is an ‘un-reality’ of their context in popular culture, and the mummy is already transformed within the imagination. Therefore at the point of confrontation, the response is often emotional rather than aesthetic.

Manchester Museum has been at the forefront of scientific research in the field of Egyptology since 1908 when Margaret Murray undertook one of the first interdisciplinary studies, with Khnum-Nakht famously unwrapped in a public lecture theatre, turning the discipline from a curiosity in a gentleman’s parlour into an academic study. The Manchester Mummy Project in 1975 saw Professor Rosalie David OBE make further advances in the field establishing the ‘Manchester Method’, following which the University of Manchester’s KNH Centre for Biomedical Egyptology has now been long established as a leading institution for continuing interdisciplinary research. And the museum’s current curator Ancient Egypt and Sudan, Dr Campbell Price and his team have scanned all of Manchester’s mummies at the Manchester Royal Infirmary, revealing new information and pathologies.

Khnum-Nakht

There seems to be a general consensus that mummies should be treated with respect, but who defines respect? What’s the answer? Should we ‘humanise’ our mummies? Should we reconstruct their faces and explore their lives? Should we look inside and analyse their pathologies? Or is that just creating another fiction? Perhaps there is no longer a line that separates fact from fiction…

Michelle Scott

Follow the Manchester Musem Visitor Team: @VisitMM on Twitter, and VisitMM on Vine

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:

Fertility

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.

Sheaths

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 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.

Bes

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.

Dolls

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.

Image

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.

BLOGPICA

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”.

Image

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

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