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7th March 2023

A night at Manchester Museum: Breathing new life into ancient history

From dinosaurs to vivariums, and ancient Egypt, this is your comprehensive guide to Manchester’s newly re-opened Museum!
A night at Manchester Museum: Breathing new life into ancient history
Photo: Andy Hay @ Flickr

Manchester Museum is finally open again! Anyone who has been past the building recently must have noticed the queue stretching down Oxford Road, with it being the school half-term holidays, it seems like every family in a 50-mile radius had the same idea for a day out.

After getting through the queue, and the child-induced chaos – one little girl was even playing a game of tag around the display cases of Egyptian mummies – the museum was well worth a visit. With 4.5 million different objects currently held by the museum, there is definitely something there to interest anyone!

The museum first closed to undergo its hello future transformation in August of 2021. Two and a half years and £15 million later, it opened its doors again. So what can you expect?

The refurbishment of the museum was designed to change the focus of the museum to build understanding and empathy between cultures, across generations and time. The exhibitions on South Asia and China discuss colonial encounters and exploitation, climate change, migration, culture, and identity through personal testimonies, objects, and history.  

The museum has one of the largest Egyptian and Sudanese collections in the country, but those aren’t the only cultures represented. Artefacts from throughout history and across the world fill room after room and are often accompanied by information about their discovery. My favourite was a remnant of a clay tile from the Roman period, discovered in Manchester, with a paw print from a pet dog still visible on the surface.   

And if you think all these inanimate objects sound a bit boring, then just wait. My next stop was the Vivarium, which is home to many different species of reptiles and amphibians.

The museum is involved in research and conservation, and recently partnered with The University of Manchester, and Panama Wildlife Conservation charity to successfully breed a variable harlequin toad – a very rare, endangered and tiny species of toad. This is the first time the toad has been successfully bred in captivity outside of Panama; we are seeing conservation in action! 

Just past the vivarium is the Living Worlds exhibition. The hall is huge – designed specifically to be big enough to fit a blue whale, and high enough for a giraffe. Fossils, skeletons, diagrams and models line the walls here, telling you everything you could possibly want to know about the living organisms of the planet.  

If you go through this gallery, you can make your way up to the very top of the building, which has seminar rooms and displays from artists, and a fantastic view over Oxford Road.  

I can’t not mention everyone’s favourite part of any museum – the dinosaurs. In the middle of the dinosaur room, watching over everything is a huge Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton, called Stan, who is 66 million years old. The artefacts take you through the earth’s history, outlining evolution step by step.  

The current temporary exhibition in the museum is called Golden Mummies of Egypt and does, essentially, exactly what it says on the tin. Gilded mummies in display cases give the dimly lit space a slightly eerie feel, but despite that anyone can see that the masks and paintings on them are beautiful, even hundreds of years after their creation.   

To make it all even better, the whole museum is free! There’s even a picnic room with microwaves if you want to take a packed lunch. It’s run as a charity, and any donations are welcome to keep it affordable for everyone. It’s the perfect day out for those on a budget. If you are looking to spend a little money, though, the gift shop has everything from recipe books to decorations and postcards.

As well as the day-to-day exhibits of the museum, it also plays host to a variety of events – which are, again, usually free! Some coming up are:

  • The Dab Hands night – an evening session with artist Lucy Borough.
  • An event for British science week with researchers, live experiments, and information about careers in science.
  • Rhythm Xchange, which will premiere music collaborations from artists J.A.V.A and Jay’s Jam with Johnny Jay and guitar legend Aziz Ibrahim, as well as Gracie T and Chande 

For any student in Manchester, this is all right on your doorstep. It’s the perfect day out for anyone interested in zoology, conservation, history, biology; you name it, they’ve got it. So why not take a break from work and have a look around?  

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