Our special display on ancient writing systems at the Fitzwilliam Museum finished two weeks ago, and I went along to the museum for the display’s de-installation. It was sad seeing it removed – it feels more like five minutes than five months since it was installed in January. But the de-installation was actually very interesting, and was a great way of rounding off my experience of being involved with a museum display.
The first thing I noticed is that de-installing is very much quicker than installing! We had a few objects on loan from the British Museum, but they were packed away early, before I got there (you can see their crate above). When they were installed, the condition checking process took a long time (read more HERE), but verifying that they were leaving in the same state they arrived in was much more straightforward.
Three of our loans from the British Museum were very small items (a Cretan Hieroglyphic seal, a Cypro-Minoan clay ball and a Phoenician arrowhead), but the fourth, the Idalion bilingual, is a heavy piece of stone that required some careful handling – to the right you can see me and Natalia looking at it when it arrived on installation day. Packing up these items had to take place quite quickly so that they could be secured and transported back to the British Museum the same day.
The objects that were from the Fitzwilliam’s own collection, on the other hand, could be moved at a slower pace because they didn’t have to go very far. Some of these are more delicate than others. It would take a lot of effort to damage something like the tombstone of Parmenon, whereas the coffin fragment with Egyptian hieroglyphs could be damaged much more easily – it even proved necessary to keep the blinds down in the gallery to ensure that the painted hieroglyphic signs did not fade.
One of the proudest moments of the deinstallation was seeing our replica clay tablets (an Ugaritic cuneiform one made by Philip and a Linear A one made by me) come out of the display. Ostensibly this is why I went along on the day, to check our creations out and confirm that they were in the same condition as before they went into the display, which they were. I think the replicas were probably quite sad to be leaving too, after spending all that time in the company of some real ancient writing…
The replicas were the last to leave, and the lovely large red-lined display case in which all the objects (except for one, a little Cypriot statue with a Greek alphabetic inscription that had its own case) was left looking bare.
It might be the end of the road for the display but I can honestly say that we have all had a wonderful time taking part. I had no idea how much work goes into selecting the objects, timetabling the exhibition, securing the loans, arranging the display, checking the objects’ condition, securing them in place, managing the atmospheric conditions… We are extremely grateful to everyone at the Fitzwilliam (Anastasia Christophilopoulou was the mastermind behind it, and there was a wonderful team of people involved at all stages), as well as to those at the British Museum (especially Thomas Kiely) who arranged the loans.
It is also very nice to say that the display has left us with a very pleasing legacy in more ways than one – in the experiences of taking part, the opportunities to engage with the public, and show why we are so excited about our research, and above all in the investigations into each of the fascinating objects. I hope that our series of blog posts on each object has been interesting, and it is nice to be able to say that the display lives on online.
If you are curious to know more about any of the objects, here is a handy list of our blog posts, in no particular order. In fact, it doesn’t really matter what order you read them in because, as you will see, the history of writing is not a straight line from one point to another, it is a multi-faceted tale of interconnections and communications and relationships between the people of the ancient world.
- The Idalion Bilingual
- Aphrodite’s cup sherd
- A Babylonian Tablet
- The Pistachio Potsherd
- A Cypro-Minoan Clay Ball
- Par(a)menon’s Tombstone
- Replica Ugaritic Tablet
- A Bilingual Mummy Label
- A Tiny Cretan Hieroglyphic Seal Stone
- A Cypriot Figurine with a Greek Alphabetic Inscription
- A Phoenician Arrowhead
- Replica Linear A Tablet
- Coffin Fragment with Egyptian Hieroglyphs
- A Cypriot Seal with a Fish-man
So farewell CREWS display, we had a wonderful time!
~ Pippa Steele (Principal Investigator of the CREWS project