Easter Island or Rapa Nui, as the islanders call it, is an island in the South Pacific. It is 3700km off the coast of the South American continent and is one of the most geographically isolated, inhabited places on earth. The island was formed 3 million years ago when a huge volcanic cone began to rise up from beneath the sea. Numerous eruptions created the island as we know it today, the last ones being 300,000 years ago. Rapa Nui is on a tectonic plate, but without it there wouldn’t be an island. The Rapanui are believed to have settled there between 300 and 1200 CE and they were of Polynesian origin. The Rapanui speak Spanish but originally they spoke the old form of Rapanui, which is an eastern Polynesian language.

Rapa 1The Rapanui erected stone statues or moai in various places around the island, most facing inland. The statues were erected on stone ceremonial platforms called ahu around the coastline. The moai face inland towards the villages as if watching over the people. Over 800 statues were made on the island. Many of them being carved out of a type of rock called volcanic tuff, and they tend to have large heads and elongated features. The eyes were only put in for ceremonies, when the statues were ‘activated’.

Rapa 2

The Rapanui performed rituals from the moment of birth including when the umbilical cord was cut, the first haircut, first tattoo and coming of age. The most important rituals were associated with death. By invoking the help of the ancestors through the statues the Rapanui believed that their forefather’s spirits would come to their aid when needed.

Rapa Nui’s population may have grown to around 15,000 before the Europeans discovered the island in the 1700’s. During the early 19th century Easter Island became a stopping-off point for whaling ships and other vessels. The Rapanui had little resistance to the diseases that the ships’ crews brought with them. Rats were also introduced by Polynesians, however, there was no known disease associated with them in particular.  In 1862 Peruvian ships involved in what were known as ‘blackbirding’ raids, forced captured islanders to work in South America. The few Rapanui who returned brought with them infectious diseases, which killed a large number of the people that stayed on the island. About a thousand islanders had been taken away for slavery, and the remaining population was devastated by smallpox, which all contributed to the decline of the Rapanui. By the 1870s there were only 111 Rapanui still remaining on the island. The island became part of Chile in 1888 and in 2002 it was reported that the population was around 3,304 inhabitants, almost all living in the village of Hanga Roa on the western coast.

Rapa 5

Post by Shaun Bennett

One of the attractions of museums is they preserve and display things from mysterious parts of the planet that are rarely visited. In this series of blogs, I am hoping to delve deeper into some of the mystery and excitement, the stories behind some pretty innocuous looking objects that might otherwise be overlooked. Rocks for example, may appear boring with crystals only slightly better for getting people to stop and look due to their beautiful colours, shapes and sparkle. The frozen aesthetic of crystals, and the apparent blandness of rocks, belies that they are a product of powerful and violent processes deep within the Earth’s crust. This is a constant reminder that what we eat, sleep, go to work on, play on, get bored, destroy, dream and build on is, and always has been, in constant flux.


When the universe began 4.5-4.6 billion years ago, Earth remained a super-hot mass of magma from the initial super-nova, the Big Bang. Oxygen didn’t exist, in fact it was only 500 million years ago that the atmosphere became breathable. Prior to this, the Earth was essentially an inhospitable furnace blasted by a continuous onslaught of meteors. There are no meteors or rocks whatsoever from this time in Earth’s history because they would have been vaporised in the swirling Hadean mass. Meteors were exploded out from the same Big Bang that formed the Earth, and so the ones that have been found since the surface cooled tell us Earth’s age. We will come onto meteors in a subsequent blog. However, I do want to take us to a mighty celestial body in what is a relatively new lunar year. Thea, is the size of Mars and it brushed by us shortly (in planetary terms) after the Earth formed. The energy produced from this glancing blow was enough to dislodge a mass of boiling rock large enough to eventually settle into the Earth’s gravitational field and form our Moon.

Post by Jennie Trueman

MocheThe Moche civilization flourished from about 1 to 700 CE, on the North Peruvian region between the Andes and the Pacific. They farmed beans, cotton, squash, chillies and peanuts. They also reared duck and llamas, which they then used the wool of for clothing.  The Moche people were experts in the extraction of gold, silver and other metals from the environment. The Moche also made some beautiful jewellery using gold and silver; with inlays of turquoise and other semi-precious stones. Another craft that the Moche people were famous for is the pottery.

Moche 2The Moche were skilled ceramists, of which some were very sexually explicit. The ceramic artwork had a variety of subjects, complex scenes from animals, plants and Gods to human figures. Some of the pots were used as water vessels, for ceremonial purposes, maybe to teach about procreation or to be used for burial purposes. The pots in my opinion are quirky, funny, cute and simply beautiful.

The most common sexual position depicted in Moche pottery was anal, both heterosexual and homosexual. This was probably a form of contraception, or when all other positions were forbidden during the agricultural festivals. I find the comical faces portrayed to be humorous; but then again, I can’t imagine why they would have a straight face.

All the pots were functional, with hollow chambers for holding liquid. Museums and private collectors from all over the world have collected these pots, as they are many in numbers.

Nobody really knows the reasons for the end of the Moche. Their civilisation may have perished because of earthquakes, prolonged drought or even flooding. The Moche culture was followed by the Wari people, who lived and ruled for over 500 years. A widely travelled culture, they built vast road networks and strong stone buildings.

Post by Shaun Bennett

Manchester Museum received a VIP guest recently in the shape of Stan’s long-lost American cousin.

No, not our visiting Gorgosaurus but Seattle-based schoolteacher Doug Sacrison, who boasts an interesting connection to Manchester Museum’s resident Tyrannosaurus rex.

Doug is the cousin of Stan Sacrison, the intrepid fossil hunter who first found Stan’s original bones in South Dakota, and also the man who gave Stan his name.

So, it was more or less a family obligation for Doug to call in and say hello to Stan and grab this great photo with him for the Sacrison family album, whilst visiting Manchester on a trip around Europe.


Doug Sacrison

And this isn’t the first time Doug has come face-to-face with the T. Rex – he’s also clocked up two visits to see the cast of Stan in the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science, Albuquerque.

So if you’re feeling inspired to take up the Stan Spotting challenge and take a ‘selfie’ with all his complete skeletons, here are just some of the places you’ll need to visit: Black Hills Institute, South Dakota, USA (home of the original Stan); Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Centre, Colorado, USA; Oxford University Museum of Natural History; and, of course, Manchester Museum.

Good luck and happy dino hunting!

And many thanks to Doug, both for paying us a visit as well as sharing this remarkable ‘snap’ from the Sacrison family album.

Haunting images of Manchester Museum’s animal collections took centre stage at a recent art show.

In her display entitled Stereoscopic Adventures, artist Jenna Rouse unveiled a dramatic hanging canvas featuring prints of skeletons from the Bodies cabinet on the Living Worlds gallery.

Final Pieces 1

Jenna Rouse

Also included in Jenna’s selection of final pieces for the group exhibition, called Eks’Vee, was a wraparound print showing monochrome images from the Variety of Life case.


Jenna Rouse

Writing about the project, Jenna notes: “A Stereoscopic Adventure depicts spaces of spectacle and wonder inhabiting the plane beyond between the living and the dead, from which uncanny apparitions appear and take hold.”

Final Pieces 3

Jenna Rouse

She adds: “Using silk and canvas to reconstruct the world acts as a reflection upon the reproducibility of the temporal spaces as fabrications of mechanical reproductions.”

Jenna took the original photographs in the museum back in spring using a 3D camera (See Living Worlds in 3D) and has since transformed them into these impressive artworks inspired by the natural world.

The pieces formed part of a postgraduate degree show by Nottingham Trent University students at the Surface Gallery and Jenna sent some shots of the setting up process so we also get a peek behind the scenes of an exhibition.

Congratulations to Jenna for her great work and thanks very much again for sharing her images.

Set-Up Shot

Jenna Rouse

Sparta’s views on sexuality were mature, they weren’t prudish and they found it liberating. Relationships between Spartan men were closer to what we might consider gay sex. I don’t think it’s fair to say that the Spartans were homosexual, because that classification simply did not exist for them. Did ancient Greeks, and perhaps the Spartans, engage in sex with men? The answer ranges from yes to probably, they did not think simply in terms of straight, bi or gay.

VI think it is anachronistic, to apply the term homosexual to them. As a warlike culture, the Spartans accepted male pairing and segregated the men in to military barracks from quite an early age for long periods of time. It was believed that they would fight stronger and harder for their male connections in that way and would defend each other. However, itg was fully expected that they would be married to women and father children in the future. In Athens, the older man would take a younger male under his wing. In Athenian and Spartan culture it was socially acceptable for older men and young men to be engaged in erotic relationships. This wasn’t in the way we understand homosexuality today though, for example anal sex was purely a heterosexual practice. Men and boys would procreate in different ways. Once the boy reached adulthood, it was fully expected he would leave the older man and get married. If he was wealthy enough, he too would have boys to teach and mentor, which again included sexually.

jThe Spartan girls were  removed at the age of 7, where they were sent to school. They learnt wrestling, gymnastics, how to fight and other demanding training. Spartans believed that strong women produced stronger children. Young women competed at athletic events and may have competed in the nude, as the men did; but other Greeks this to be scandalous behaviour! Once the girls have completed their schooling they would then from the age of 18-gh20 be assigned a husband. The Spartan women got married later than other Greek women, but they produced stronger children, if not as many. On their wedding night the Spartan women would cut their hair short and they were dressed in male clothing. The couple would then secretly return to the husbands all-male camp after curfew. The husbands were only a minor part of Spartan women’s lives, although they both had very close ties with their children.

Shaun Bennett

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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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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?




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