Grace Williams visits the newly redeveloped Ancient Worlds galleries at the Manchester Museum
To mark 100 years since the opening of the first Egypt gallery in Manchester Museum, the Ancient Worlds exhibition has been redeveloped and three new galleries created. As part of the Museum Meets initiative – the museum’s adult programme – I attended an After Hours event which promised to showcase the new galleries at night and offer some related amusements.
After being greeted with wine and live Greek bouzouki music, I entered the first of the new galleries which explores Manchester’s contribution to archaeology. As well as displaying locally found artefacts, the individuals involved in the discovery, analysis and preservation of objects are brought to attention through photographs and media displays. Contributors to Manchester’s archaeological legacy, past and present, are acknowledged and celebrated. The opportunity to meet with the man behind the displays and Curator of Archaeology Bryan Sitch felt like something of an honour, and his passion for the artefacts and their unique stories was infectious. Serving as a prelude to the Egypt collection, the displays go some way in explaining the processes involved in archaeology today.
Egyptian Worlds, the second gallery, transports us right back to Ancient Egypt. The awesome impact of brightly decorated coffins and the delicate beauty of tomb jewellery powerfully convey the remarkable achievements of civilisation all those thousands of years ago. Just as Egyptian life and culture revolved around preparation for death, there is greater emphasis on ceremonial objects required for transition into the afterlife, and of course the coffins and mummies themselves take centre stage.
Finally, the third space, Exploring Objects, offers visually stunning mass collections of everyday objects such as jewellery and stone vessels from the ancient civilisations of Greece, Rome and Egypt. The Ancient Worlds galleries now have more objects on display than ever before. Selected artefacts are free to be handled and new smart phone interactivity will allow greater accessibility to objects.
Aside from the exciting new galleries, the opportunity to attempt mummification (with an orange!) and watch a pharoah perform tricks was much enjoyed. Overall the once cramped galleries of the Ancient Worlds exhibition are now light and well arranged, and there is a continuity in the material presented that leaves you with a deeper understanding, not only of ancient life, but of the discipline of archaeology as well. The sheer number and diversity of objects on display, combined with the implementation of the newest technologies and approaches in museology, yields an impressive exhibition experience.