Ever wondered what it is like to be a Heritage Consultant?
Venturer Peter gives us the low down on the varied work of a Heritage Consultant and the dilemmas caused by museum storage…
One of the attractions of heritage work is that every day brings something new. As a freelance consultant, the day could be spent cataloguing a collection, photographing artefacts, running an education day or, if I’m very lucky, actually getting my hands dirty on a dig!
At the moment I’m working on the collections of Llandudno Museum. The collections include a large amount of material from the Roman fort of Kanovium, at Caerhun in the Conwy Valley. The artefacts include glass and ceramic beads, parts of a gaming board, a collection of clay sling bullets, and of course, lots of pottery.
The excavations at Kanovium were made in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The date of the excavations is easy to pinpoint as some of the pottery is wrapped up in newspapers, bound with string (although most of the finds are now in proper archive bags)! As the most local museum to the site, the artefacts are stored and displayed at Llandudno.
There are around 25 boxes of pottery from the site, which sounds great – until you realise that it’s all mixed up. The pottery is a mix of greyware, samian, amphorae and mortaria, mostly in pieces of 3 to 5 centimetres diameter and hasn’t been sorted through or individually recorded for years. So what to do? The dig was 80 years ago, and without the proper site records of finds and context, it looks like a thankless task! In a museum context, the first question is: are the artefacts of display quality – do they tell a story that the pieces already on show don’t, and will they interest the average visitor? The second question is: are they particularly rare or aesthetically important? If the answer to both these questions is “no”, then they probably won’t go on display. But do we keep them in store indefinitely?
In the last year I’ve been helping with the Significance Process and Template document about to be published by CyMAL (Museums Archives and Libraries Wales, a part of the Welsh Government). This requires me testing and reporting on the drafts and seeing how it would work in practice. The document has been very helpful in working with the collections because it makes you think about collections and displays as well as accessions and disposals. The boxes of pottery are a good case to test this Significance Template. So I am finalising the report on the museum’s collections, and have an idea of what should happen – but what do others think?
Peter is a freelance Heritage consultant based in Wales.
Personal blog: http://www.peteralexheritage.co.uk/
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