Behind the Scenes at the Corbridge Museum

After learning about the archaeological history of Corbridge today, our group was lucky enough to have Graeme Stobbs, the Assistant Curator at Corbridge, give us an inside look at the artifacts in the basement of the museum.  Here many of us got our first opportunity ever to hold ancient artifacts in our hands (with gloves on, of course).

A view of the table containing artefacts, with storage in the background. 

Upon entering the basement, we were brought to two tables that had various artefacts laid out around them. After a brief introduction to the space and information on how to safely handle artefacts, a box of gloves was passed around and we all prepared to take a closer look.

Learning more about the intricate details of one of the artefacts from David, who also works at the Corbridge Museum). This piece is a carved leg that includes the toes and sandals, that would have required great care to carve. 

We split into two groups with one heading back into the storage to learn more about how it works, while the rest of us marvelled at the artefacts in front of us. The objects on the table for us to inspect included pieces of face-shaped pots, pins, intaglio, iron chains, and a number of pins. One of the most interesting things of all was a dodecahedron for which scholars have yet to figure out the exact purpose.

The dodecahedron, in my hand to give an idea of scale (although I do have relatively small hands). 

Standing in front of a series of carved pins, I delicately picked up a bag and brought the hairpin closer so that I could inspect the intricately carved details of what I think looks a bit like a pine cone at the end of it. While gazing at this ancient artefact I couldn’t help but wonder about how careful it’s creator must have been to produce such an outcome.

A detail of one of the pins in the collection. 

As I moved around the table I was battling between wanting to spend as much time as possible with each object, but also wanting to see each of the objects that were set around the table. Parting from the assortment of pins, I moved onto the pottery. An especially amazing detail that I noticed on the interior of one of the pieces of pottery was that you could still see the fingerprints of the person who had made it. Seeing this aspect in the details of the pottery sherd made me feel like I could make a more personal connection to the pot’s creator. The inside of a pottery sherd. Two finger prints have been circled, with an arrow pointing to one of the easiest areas to see the detail of the creator’s fingerprint. 

One of the more fragile but still very cool items that was on the table was a set of shackles with some chain links that were found in the river near Corbridge. These were set out for us to view, but were too fragile to allow us to handle them. The naming of these shackles was controversial because some called them “slave’s shackles.” This naming is no longer favoured because not all slaves were shackled.

The shackles carefully stored inside their container. The silica gel packets absorb excess moisture to ensure that the artefacts are stored at appropriate humidity levels for optimal preservation.

After a while the two groups switched areas and I got to see the organization of the storage and some more artefacts stored on shelves. Graeme was kind enough to explain to us some of the challenges that have presented themselves over time to the Corbridge Museum, and how they have overcome them.

Graeme showing us a detail of one of the storage boxes on a shelf in the museum’s storage. 

A detail of some of the storage boxes with the humidity indicators displayed within the front of the box for easy monitoring. 

Because we got so much information about the site itself and the collection of the museum that includes artefacts from various sites, getting to also see the storage, learn about some off-display artefacts, and handle some really cool things was an especially amazing experience. From a Museum Studies perspective, I enjoyed seeing the storage methods and being able to spot many similarities between the storage and organization system at Corbridge and the handful that I have seen in North America.

Although our time behind the scenes of the Corbridge Museum was relatively short, it was interesting and engaging, and helped give us a better idea of how museums work beyond the glass cabinets and gift shops.

Bye for now,


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