Hide and Seek in Japan

As far as we know, the Hide and Seek exhibition at MAA is the first time a museum has had an exhibition dedicated to the archaeology of children. Visitors have been engaging well with the display, as we can tell from the evaluation that we have been doing. There are some fascinating comments in the visitors’ book, our exit interviews are showing us what is inspiring people and tracking is revealing the hot spots in the exhibition.

So it was with some excitement that Dr Jody Joy and I had the opportunity to present on the public reception of Hide and Seek at the 8th World Archaeological Congress (WAC8.org) in Japan in September.

There were two sessions at the conference on children in archaeology, covering a wide range of topics, such as juvenile tool use in wild chimpanzees, childhood identity in Egypt, the weapons found in the graves of Anglo Saxon young people and children’s fingerprints on Bronze Age ceramics. The paper that Jody and I gave on MAA’s exhibition and the evaluation seemed to be well received and it was good to be able to report on evaluation that was happening while the exhibition was still open (rather than as a summary).

Dr Jody Joy giving his section of the paper at 8th World Archaeology Congress

It was incredible to be in Kyoto and attending the conference allowed me the opportunity to explore just a few of the museums and heritage sites of the area as well. A day trip to Hiroshima and the Peace Memorial Museum was unforgettably moving. The UNESCO World Heritage site of Tenryu-ji Temple remains a haven of calm and serenity. Nijo Castle included a museum containing many beautifully painted screens.

It was truly an inspirational trip and I would like to convey my sincere thanks to UCM for providing the funding to allow me to be at the congress.

Sarah-Jane Harknett, Outreach Organiser, MAA

Volunteer Exhibition Explainers

If you recently visited the Hide and Seek: Looking for Children in the Past exhibition, you might have met one of our volunteer Exhibition Explainers. In May this year, we started recruiting and training a new team of volunteers to help us provide a friendly and engaging introduction to this special exhibition. This is a completely new volunteer role at MAA and has already proven to be a great way to enrich visitors experience and increase accessibility.

All visitors are different and engage with the exhibition in varied ways. Our volunteer Explainers are ready to welcome all kinds of visitors and help them make the most out of their visit by bringing objects and their stories to life. Through their interactions with members of the public, our team of volunteer Explainers have also been collecting visitor feedback as well as encouraging visitors to share their own childhood memories. These memories have been collected through photos, audio recordings, writing and drawings and will feature in our online memory board in the Hide and Seek website.

If you are thinking of volunteering this summer and enjoy talking to members of the public, click here to find out how to become an Exhibition Explainer.

Lorena Bushell, Education Assistant, Hide and Seek: Looking for Children in the Past

One of our Explainers holding a 3D printed replica of the Bronze Age child’s bow. The original is displayed in the case next to her.



Making a 3D Model of the Islesham Bow

Hello, I’m Michelle Cameron and I’m a PhD student in the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology. I specialise in creating digital 3D models and replicas of archaeological materials. I worked with the MAA to make a 3D replica of the Isleham Bow, which is one of the artefacts featured in Hide and Seek: Looking for Children in the Past. This project will allow museum visitors to literally get their hands on a replica of this artefact and handle an identical copy of the Isleham Bow.

The Isleham Bow is a Bronze Age artefact that was excavated in from the village of Isleham located northeast of Cambridge. The bow is made of antler, however at just under half a metre long, it is smaller than expected for a hunting tool. The exhibition’s curators have suggested that the bow’s small size might indicate its use as a practice bow for children who lived in Cambridgeshire in the past.

Museums and researchers are often interested in making replicas of artefacts. Replicas allow people to study and examine materials without risking any damage to the original items. Replicas can be made using methods similar to those used by past populations. For example, a researcher could make an original antler bow in the style of the Isleham bow. Replicas may also be made by taking casts or ‘imprints’ of the artefacts. These casts could then be used to create additional similar copies of the item.

In recent years, 21st century technologies now allow archaeologists and museum researchers to create replicas using 3D scanning and printing. 3D laser scanners are portable machines that may be used to replicate the surface of almost any object. 3D printers produce life-sized copies of objects based on digital models created using 3D scanners.

Images of the NextEngine 3D laser surface scanner and turntable used to scan the Isleham bow. Images courtesy of Michael Rivera.

During the scanning process, the scanner emitted a number of low-powered lasers in the direction of the Isleham bow. These lasers picked up information about the surface of the bow including its size, shape, and texture as the lasers reflected off of the bow. The scanner also took pictures to record the bow’s natural antler colour.

As the bow was being scanned, it was placed on a turntable that helped rotate the object to make sure all sides and angles were covered. The bow had to be held still during the scanning process, so it was carefully tied to the scanner turntable with acid-free cotton tape and foam to keep it safe and stable.

Once the scanning process was complete, computer software was used to check that the whole bow had been scanned accurately. During the scanning process, the scanner occasionally included unwanted objects in the background. These unrelated pieces are digitally removed, resulting in a digital model of the bow.

Isleham Bow Photos 1
A partial scan of the Isleham bow, including the turntable used to stabilise the bow.
Isleham Bow Photos 2
An image of the software used to create the 3D model of the bow.
Isleham Bow Photos 3
An image of the final digital model of the bow.

This digital model can then be transformed into a physical object through 3D printing. 3D printers work in the same way as regular printers- they turn digital files into hard copy items. 3D printers place high quality plastics and resins in organised layers, which get built up into a final object. These printers are able to use digital files as a template, and create a replica by layering the resins a little bit at a time until the final product is ready.

The bow is now in the process of being printed and will soon be used by the exhibition’s Education Assistant to help teach museum visitors a bit more about children’s activities in the past!

Call for papers: ‘Comparing Archaeologies of Childhood’ at the World Archaeological Congress

The next World Archaeological Congress will be held this year (28 August to 2 September 2016) in the Japanese heritage city of Kyoto, conference details at http://wac8.org. There will be a session on the archaeology of childhood, which is on the program as T05-B ‘Comparing Archaeologies of Childhood’.

The panel organisers welcome submissions for presentations at this session:

‘In most of the past, children represented almost half of the human population, yet despite periodic symposia and case studies, children are still under-represented in archaeological work. This session will consider interpretations, methodology and theoretical approaches in our current archaeological understanding of children and childhood, and how the social, cultural, economic, medical and biological life of children changed over time. What is common ground, and what differs by time and place, from Australopithecines to recent historical societies? What new questions can be asked of existing data, in both prehistoric and historical societies? How much can we draw on studies and analogies from historic, ethnographic and primate biological studies to help in understanding childhood in an archaeological context? What kinds of material culture inform us of the lives of children, and of mothers with infants? What evidence does archaeology uncover for experimental learning and apprenticeship in skills (stone tools, food provision, advanced crafts)? And what does the presence or absence of child burials (and associated rituals and grave goods) tell us of the roles of children while alive?’

Formal submission should be sent through the World Archaeological Congress website at:  http://wac8.org/call-for-submissions/call-for-papers. The deadline is 30 April 2016.

Micro-Gold Challenge 2016

Hello, I am Lorena, the exhibition’s Education Assistant.  Since Hide and Seek: Looking for Children in the Past opened at the end of January, I have been busy providing taught sessions for primary and secondary schools, adult learners and community groups.  So far 246 students have used the exhibition to learn about Cambridge as a settlement, British Prehistory, Romans and Anglo-Saxons.

We are currently recruiting a team of volunteer explainers to help us provide visitors with a friendly introduction to the exhibition. We hope this service will enrich visitors’ experience and increase accessibility. More information about this new volunteer role is available here: http://www.cam.ac.uk/museums-and-collections/explainer-in-the-hide-and-seek-exhibition-museum-of-archaeology-and-anthropology.

As part of the Cambridge Science Festival this year, we are running a fun hands-on activity called ‘Beat the Bronze Age: The Microgold Challenge’. The activity is based around the tiny pieces of gold displayed in the exhibition.  These gold studs decorated the handle of a Bronze Age dagger found in a burial near Stonehenge.  The studs are so small that archaeologists had to use magnifying glasses to locate them in the soil! In a world without magnifying glasses, archaeologists believe that only children and teenagers would have been able to position the studs on the handle. We are putting this theory to the test with our scaled up versions of the dagger.  Join us on Saturday 12th March (11.00-16.00) to find out who will be the best at fixing the studs, adults or children!

For more information follow this link: http://www.sciencefestival.cam.ac.uk/events/beat-bronze-age-microgold-challenge.

1395close2 Close-up of the tiny gold studs from the Bronze Age dagger discovered near Stonehenge. Image © Wiltshire Museum, Devizes

Conservation of a Child’s Lead Coffin

Hi, I’m Ruth Watson the current Durham University conservation intern working for the MAA as part of my Masters Course. Since starting my internship, a large proportion of my time has been dedicated to working on a lead coffin, featured in Hide and Seek: Looking for Children in the Past.

The almost complete coffin was excavated in 1990 from a Roman site in Arrington, along with a box containing terracotta figures. Shortly after excavation, the grave group was accessioned into MAA’s collection and the coffin underwent conservation to reshape the bent lead sections and saw the coffin mounted onto its current wooden support.

Coffin all round

(Coffin before treatment had been carried out)

Prior to its display in Hide and Seek, the coffin arrived from stores wrapped in old cardboard boxes and on first glance looked more than a little sorry for itself. It had a heavy layer of corrosion on the surface and the panels overlapped where they had shifted during transport. But it was by no means beyond hope.

The surface of the lead was lightly brushed to remove loose dust and excess corrosion which was collected with a museum vacuum. The removal of the corrosion dust revealed the double band and bead design that runs around the top of the coffin lid and around the base much more clearly, as the coffin is otherwise undecorated.

(Detail of the double band and bead design around the top of the coffin lid)

After brush vacuuming, attention was turned to reducing the old fill material on the back of several of the lid panels. In a number of places this was no longer providing support, but was standing very proud of the surface; causing the lead to have to bend and distort in order to fit onto the mount.

(Old fill material before and after treatment, allowing it to now sit much closer to the surface of the mount which will reduce the stress and bending on the lead section)

The remaining wood fragments on the outer surface of the lead sides, from what would have been the wooden outer coffin, were considered particularly vulnerable to damage. Therefore they were consolidated with an adhesive to provide extra support and better adhesion to the lead surface.

After the lead had been treated, attention was turned to the mount. The long-term plan is for the coffin to be remounted onto a steel structure, which will offer better support to the heavy lead. However in the short term the lid and sides of the wooden mount were painted in a layer of acrylic paint, to give the mount a fresher look as it was going on display.


(Coffin mount before painting (left) and after painting and covering with a layer of Melinex (right))

A thin layer of plastic known as Melinex was places over the lid once the paint was dry to act as a buffer between the lead and the newly painted wood. Once the lid sections were replaced, the excess plastic was cut away from in-between the panels so the shiny surface would bot be seen while on display.

Now that the conservation had been carried out, the coffin looks much improved compared to when it first arrived from storage. The excess lead dust is no longer obscuring the detail of the moulding and the new coat of paint to the mount makes it much brighter. The coffin now forms an integral part of the exhibition, with its associated terracotta grave goods displayed alongside.

We hope you come and see it for yourself!

Hide and Seek: Looking for Children in the Past

It has been 11 months of research, consultations, looking at hundreds of artefacts, site visits, editing text, and lots and lots of tea and now the day is almost here. Tomorrow our exhibition, Hide and Seek: Looking for Children in the Past, will open at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology!

As I write we are still working on some final tweaks – mostly a great deal of glass cleaning – in preparation for the opening, and our colleagues at MAA have been dropping in for a sneak peak. Seeing all of the artefacts on display and beautifully lit is a rewarding experience; it reminds me of the thought that went into the selection of each object, the enthusiasm of the lenders, and the hard work of the conservators. Hopefully by following this blog, you’ll be able to see glimpses of that too.

Our work doesn’t end with the opening on Saturday. Hide and Seek will run until 29 January 2017 and there is a great deal planned. Lorena Bushnell, the Outreach Assistant for the exhibition, will be working to deliver the exhibition to many different audiences. There will be activities and talks. And our exhibition website – hideandseekexhibition.org.uk – will provide object images, greater detail and resources.

We do hope you’ll visit the exhibition – and keep following this blog, we’ll keep you up-to-date with any events!

Opening times:
Tuesday to Saturday 10.30am – 4.30pm
Sunday 12pm – 4.30pm
Admission Free




Research in the Cambridgeshire Archives

Hi! I’m Ben, a PhD student and one of the volunteer researchers for the upcoming exhibit on childhood. As part of this research, I examined the Cambridgeshire Archives for evidence of children in any of the documents there, such as work contracts and jail records, to see what stories these might reveal. Unfortunately, whilst there were plentiful examples of children as visible figures in the landscape of historic Cambridgeshire, one of the places where they occurred most frequently was in Coroner’s reports.

Looking through these reports acted as a stark reminder that the childhood of today, in which we think of a time of leisure, play and innocence, is an all-too modern construction. I was taken aback by both the frequency of child deaths—we all know that high infant mortality was a fact of life in the past, but it was sobering to be confronted with it quite so consistently—but also their manner.

Among the causes listed, many were expected, such as consumption or malnourishment, but others were unusual and, occasionally, horrifying. I saw the story of a young boy crushed by a cart while playing in Trumpington street; more than one child was killed through household accidents involving boiling water or fires; but perhaps the saddest were the reports of nameless newborns found drowned or in boxes ‘with head injuries’, abandoned and possibly even killed by parents who could not afford or bear to look after them.

Whilst a very interesting experience, my time researching the county archives could not help but make me realise just how different an experience childhood was not even two centuries ago.

Ben Hinson, PhD Candidate, University of Cambridge

The Benefits of Walking in Each Other’s Shoes: Better Relationships, Better Exhibitions and Better Advocacy

As Chair of the Society for Museum Archaeology[1] I have the great pleasure of getting to know about the work of many organisations up and down the UK and never more so than at our annual conference. This year’s conference theme was “Working Together: a collective responsibility for archaeology” and details of this amazing partnership project in Cambridge were eagerly shared with, and received by, more than 50 attendees.

Whilst the focus of the project is ‘archaeology and children’ what really stands out for me is the collaboration between different types of archaeologists as well as the community. This is definitely an example of a step in the right direction for our profession but also for the many people who will benefit from the results, whether through direct and inclusive participation in its delivery or simply by visiting the exhibition when it opens.

But why is this so important and why more than ever right now?

The simple answer is that as archaeologists we tend to define ourselves by the specific roles we play, in museums, in units, for the local authority or as academics, but what we really should be doing is thinking of ourselves collectively as archaeologists – we are after all concerned with the same subject matter but just come at from different angles! Clearly we also all value the importance of being able to share what we have discovered and why this is important with members of the public and in turn we enable them to act as advocates on our behalf. It can’t have gone un-noticed that many public services will suffer as the result of austerity measures and these include those that cut across all aspects of the archaeological and historic environment. Engaging and successful projects like this one play a vital role in breaking down barriers not just between archaeologists but between individuals and organisations – if we don’t begin to find ways to understand better how each of us works then how can we ever hope to find ways we can work better together? If communities aren’t ever involved in what we do how will projects ever provide personal resonance and therefore be of importance to them?

From what I have read and heard about this particular project, the collaborative process has been extremely beneficial – building something better together for everyone concerning a subject matter that we can all easily relate to, without period, material or collection restraints. I for one can’t wait to see the results!!

Gail Boyle FSA
Chair of SMA & Senior Curator (Archaeology), Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives

[1] The Society for Museum Archaeology (SMA), is recognised by Arts Council England as the Subject Specialist Network for British Archaeology and as such provides a focus for the expertise and collections knowledge of collections managers, keepers and curators throughout the UK. SMA has a number of objectives but significantly it is concerned with the role that museums play as guardians of a vital part of the nation’s heritage and as the appropriate location for the storage and interpretation of all archaeological material. www.socmusarch.org.uk


Getting Close to Opening Night!

It’s all getting exciting now as we enter the final stretch of the exhibition planning. There are people working on conservation, photography, planning, mount making and text writing. The website is being developed, and there’s a real sense of anticipation in the air. We’ve had the usual glitches and hiccups: one of our team here had to disappear to the other end of the country to collect an object; and I’m pretty certain that plans for one of the cases got as far as ‘artefact assemblage plan G’ before we settled on a final option. Anyway, we got there: we have a great range of objects and hopefully a fascinating story to tell.

Last time I wrote on this blog I referred to learning from each other, which after all is one of the things we intended to get out of this. So what have we learned to date? Well, we know that Cambridge Museums appear to have a wide range of beautiful objects, far more so than we ever envisaged. I suppose that’s the benefit of holding a collection that dates back to the mid-19th century. It’s also been quite humbling to see the enthusiasm from other museums for this project: once our objective had been explained it seems to me others were really keen to be involved. Hence we have exhibits covering from the lower Palaeolithic to Victorian, so fairly eclectic. Or so it seems to me: perhaps it’s usual for museums!

I also want to pay tribute to those involved in this project: the curators and team at MAA, the officers here at CambsCC and all those who have been brought in to add their thoughts and ideas to the process. When we open on 30 January you will be seeing the fruits of the wide collaborations that have been behind this project. How do I know we’re onto a good thing? I was at the recent celebration of 25 years of PPG16 and developer funded archaeology (https://historicengland.org.uk/images-books/publications/building-the-future-transforming-our-past/) and a colleague who had heard Imogen speak at the recent SMA conference congratulated me on a joint project between local authority archaeologists and museums. I think she meant congratulations to all of us.

Quinton Carroll, Historic Environment Team Manager