Search

Thematic Collecting

@ Manchester Museum

Collecting Life: a Refugee’s Life Jacket from Lesvos – I

Lesvos beach

A beach on the south east coast of Lesvos looking towards Mytilene

The prospect of visiting a Greek island is always an enticing one but arguably less so during the winter, and certainly not flying in low over the raging Aegean in a twin propellor aircraft, pitching and rolling and buffeted by strong winds, surrounded by fellow passengers crossing themselves. I was landing on the island of Lesvos.   My wife Christine and I had been on holiday to the island five years earlier, but that was before the refugee crisis in 2015 when literally hundreds of thousands of people fleeing the wars in Syria and Iraq crossed the short stretch of water that separates Lesvos from Turkey.

My visit to Lesvos in December 2016 was part of Manchester Museum’s thematic collecting or collecting for life project.  Earlier in the autumn the Collections Team curators met the director, Nick Merriman, and reframed the project so that it focused more on migration that results in long-term and permanent settlement of a country or land by people, plants or animals. Lesvos attracted our interest because of the very large numbers of refugees who were going there en route to mainland Europe. This was precisely the topical issue that we wanted to cover as part of the thematic collecting or collecting for life project. The aim of the project is to reinvigorate collecting in museums by collecting thematically, particularly objects that have current significance, that will engage the public.

The crisis on Lesvos had made a personal impact on me when I saw coverage on the 6 o’clock news of a British ex pat couple, the Kempsons, helping refugees come ashore on the north coast of the island. My wife Christine and I had met Eric and Philippa Kempson six months previously  when we holidayed on the island and they invited us in for coffee. My job in December 2016 was to collect one of the life jackets or ‘sosivia’ from the Town Hall in Mytilene and to take it back to Manchester to put on display.

Interview with Dr Evi Sampanikou at the University of the Aegean
Interview with Dr Evi Sampanikou at the University of the Aegean

Prior to the visit and with the help and advice of a number of people at the University of Manchester and the University of Strathclyde I’d made contact with the University of the Aegean on Lesvos and arranged to meet Associate Professor Evi Sampanikou  and other academics to talk to them about the refugee crisis. I interviewed Prof Sampanikou standing on a large chessboard made of recycled life jackets. It is the life jacket more than any other object that symbolises the refugee crisis. I learnt that the illicit trafficking of people across the straits even has its own subtle material culture and certain nationalities favour certain colours of life jacket. Blue I discovered was popular in the initial wave of  immigration with Afghan refugees.

Later in the morning  I met the Mayor’s Senior Advisor, Mr Andriotis and interviewed him on film about the refugee crisis. He asked me to return the next day to collect a life jacket and a permit to visit the refugee camp at Kara Tepe to the north of Mytilene.

Hand over of the life jacket in the Town Hall in Mytilene by Mr Marios Andriotis, Senior Advisor to he Mayor.
Hand over of the life jacket in the Town Hall in Mytilene by Mr Marios Andriotis, Senior Advisor to he Mayor.

The following day I was on tenter hooks sitting in one of the offices in the Town Hall waiting for the life jacket to be delivered and was very  relieved when it came. We signed a form to transfer ownership to Manchester Museum and I began to think that I’d achieved what I’d set out to do…

The next instalment of this blog about my visit to the island of Lesvos to collect a refugee’s life jacket will be released shortly.

Restoring the Geology gallery, Biddulph Grange

We recently visited the amazing Geology gallery at Biddulph Grange to chat to Daniel Atherton about its restoration and development.

Flooding and Conservation on the Somerset Levels

We recently interviewed Matthew Marshall of Somerset Wildlife Trust about their conservation work on the Somerset Levels and the vital role of water in the landscape.

National Lobster Hatchery

Rachel Webster and I recently visited the National lobster Hatchery to meet Ben Marshall and find out about their work to conserve the UK’s lobster population.

Migration & Manchester Museum

Migration: Bee Eaters on the Island of Cephalonia

 

European Bee Eater in Cephalonia
European Bee Eater in Cephalonia

Migratory birds often symbolise the passing of time and the changing of the seasons. On the island of Cephalonia off the North West coast of Greece the distinctive bubbly, piping, throaty call of the European Bee Eater announces the coming of spring.

European Bee Eater in an olive grove in Cephalonia
European Bee Eater in an olive grove in Cephalonia

This small migratory bird (it measures a little less than a foot long or less than 30cm) breeds mainly in southern Europe and in parts of northern African and western Asia. It is one of the most colourful bird species in Europe with brown and yellow upper parts, a light blue breast mostly green wings, a black stripe across the eyes and a dark long bill. Sexes are fairly alike.

 

European Bee Eater
European Bee Eater

European Bee Eaters are a really vocal species, often calling when foraging or migrating. They are often first heard during migration and then spotted in the air.

These Bee-eaters are colonial breeders and excavate their nest mainly in sandy banks, preferably near river shores. The species is also able to make its next in pastures, cultivated areas where there are trees, meadows and plains, and hillsides as long as sandy sections are available.

As expected by its scientific name, Merops apiaster, which in Greek and Latin means bee eater, the species feeds mainly on bees, wasps, and hornets. They catch their prey in flight, taking off from nearby perches . To avoid the painful sting of its prey, Bee Eaters repeatedly hit the insect on a hard surface before consuming it.

Studies have shown that the impact on bee populations at the breeding sites is small, but this can cause conflicts with bee keepers especially during migration when large congregations of bee eaters can occur in relatively small areas.

European Bee Eaters winter in Sub-Saharan Africa. That means that every year the species needs to cross the desert and in most cases the Mediterranean Sea twice a year.

Seeing the European Bee Eaters really enhanced my annual holiday in Cephalonia in May 2016.

I am most grateful to Christos Barboutis of the Greek Ornithological Society for contributing to this blog post.

 

Spaniards and Hungarians at Ribchester

Excavation inside the Roman fort at Ribchester
Excavation inside the Roman fort at Ribchester

A few days ago I had the great pleasure of visiting Ribchester Roman fort to film a thematic collecting interview about migration with Dr Duncan Sayer who is Reader in Archaeology in the Department of Forensic and Applied Science at the University of Central Lancashire. There is quite a long history of archaeological interest in Ribchester, not least because of wonderful discoveries such as the Roman cavalry helmet now in the British Museum and the tombstone of a Roman cavalryman.

Tombstone of an Asturian cavalryman
Tombstone of an Asturian cavalryman

The current excavations inside the fort made an interesting backdrop to the interview. Duncan told me about the different regiments that had been garrisoned at Ribchester during the Roman period. Soldiers from the 20th Legion  built the fort during the 70s AD to control the strategic river crossing nearby. Auxiliary cavalryman from northern Spain – the Asturians – and later Sarmatians from what is now Hungary in eastern Europe held the fort in the  2nd and 3rd centuries.

Drawing of a Sarmatian cavalryman with dragon standard from Ribchester Museum with
Drawing of a Sarmatian cavalryman with dragon standard from Ribchester Museum

When we talk about “the Roman Army” you might expect that most of the soldiers if not from Rome itself were at least Italians but this is not the case. Many auxiliary soldiers were recruited from the provinces and allied peoples who provided specialised skills, such as horse riding or archery, which the Romans valued. The auxiliaries served in the army for 25 years in return for Roman citizenship, which indicates how highly citizen rights were valued. In Manchester Museum’s archaeology collection we have an auxiliary diploma or citizenship award that was presented to a man who originally came from Syria. It was found at Ravenglass in Cumbria.

Auxiliary diploma awarded to a Syrian soldier in the Roman army
Auxiliary diploma awarded to a Syrian soldier in the Roman army

In the interview Duncan spoke about the relationships between soldiers and the local people. Although the soldiers could not be legally married they formed long-term relationships with local women and had children. When they completed their service these relationships were  formalised. Any sons wanting to follow in their fathers’ footsteps would join the legions as citizens. The Spanish and later the Hungarians may have received fresh recruits from home but over time the pattern shifted and local men joined the regiments.

Excavation at Ribchester
Excavation at Ribchester

Inscriptions provide evidence for Spaniards, Syrians, Hungarians and many other peoples in Roman Britain. Earlier thematic collecting interviews have featured Swiss and Noricans, again from eastern Europe.  This provides an interesting counterpoint to the recent referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union in which immigration was a significant issue for some voters. Archaeologically and historically Ribchester and many other Roman sites in Britain provide clear evidence of the movement of people from all over Europe and beyond almost 2,000 years ago. This mixing of different peoples and cultures throughout history has made us who we are today. The discoveries at Ribchester provide a little perspective in the debate about immigration in the immediate aftermath of the referendum vote.

 

Walk of Life Game at Manchester Museum

Tagra (right) showing VSAs how to play the Walk of LIfe
Tagra (right) showing VSAs at Manchester Museum how to play the Walk of Life

Last week I filmed a thematic collecting interview with Sumir Tagra and Jiten Thukral  at Manchester Museum about a game that they have created called Walk of Life. Tagra and Thukral are artists based in New Delhi in India and they came to Manchester Museum to train Visitor Assistants and volunteers how to play the game so that they can lead sessions with members of the public over the summer.The idea of the Walk of Life  is to make people more aware of water conservation issues.

karma cards in the Walk of lIfe
karma cards in the Walk of lIfe

Walk of life is a board game in which up to six players play a number of rounds, moving a boat shaped vessel containing the players’ markers. Each player is given a cup containing a set amount of water. In each round they select ‘Karma’ cards from a pack and act on what the cards say: if the player has done something good for the environment such as planting trees, they receive water credits; if they have used water in an unsustainable way they have to drink a certain quantity of the water in their cup; or the effect may be neutral. Players may draw a card which tells them to spin the roulette wheel which can have negative consequences for that player and the players sitting either side if the wheel indicates there has been a disaster which affects the community’s water supply.

Spinning the wheel
Spinning the wheel

As the game progresses some players may experience a water deficit and if they have credits they can take some water from the communal reservoir held in a decanter on the table. This reservoir is finite and very quickly a point is reached where the supply in the reservoir is no longer sufficient to meet the player’s requirements. In this situation, unless helped by another player, the player ‘in deficit’ has to drop out of the game.

The last two players at the end of the game
The last two players at the end of the game

The nice thing about this game is that players can play competitively or collaboratively, in which case there is a greater chance of more players reaching the end of the Walk of Life. The fact that the pieces representing the players are in a boat makes the point that so far as water is concerned we really are all in this together.

Playing the Walk of Life game.
Playing the Walk of Life game.

In the game I played last Thursday players were trying to support one another and even so only two players made it to the end of the game. This makes you think about our shared dependence on water supplies and our communal interest in ensuring that water supplies are used sustainably. When I interviewed them for Manchester Museum’s thematic collecting project Tagra and Thukral told me they were very encouraged to see that players were implementing some of the actions that resulted in water credits in the game at home: for instance not running the tap when brushing their teeth.

I thought this was a really good way to encourage people to think about the issue of water sustainability in a non-preaching way that is actually a lot of fun. The only thing I would say is that this is the first board game I’ve played where at the end of the game I’ve had to dash off immediately to the loos to spend a penny!

 

 

 

 

Eastern Mediterranean pottery: migration of techniques

Dr Nicky Nielsen, a ceramicist at the University of Liverpool and Teaching Assistant on the University of Manchester’s Egyptology Online courses, discusses the movement of styles and techniques in pottery production around the eastern Mediterranean region about 1400-1200 BC.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑