Thursday, 24 May 2012

More amulets on Flickr

Take a look at the new additions to the PRM 'Amulet' set on Flickr. These taster images will form the basis of the Small Blessings online gallery, which will be launched later this year and feature much more in-depth descriptions and research. 


Variolite pebble used as an amulet, France (PRM: 1985.52.705)

Monday, 21 May 2012

Amulet Cake Day

The Pitt Rivers Museum is a great place to work for lots of reasons. But one of them has to be the importance of cake to Museum life. Staff regularly make and bake goodies, or bring back traditional confections from their trips abroad, for us all to enjoy at break times. Every so often we run themed cake day 'contests' and this time around, we decided it would be apt to base it on amulets.

So, those wishing to take part had to make a cake or dessert that was inspired by the Museum's amulet and charm collections. The cakes were then laid out anonymously in the staff tea room, each with a piece of paper beside it. Staff were then asked to sample each cake and vote for their favourite - judged on both looks and taste - by placing a tally on the relevant piece of paper.

Pitt Rivers staff sampling and voting for cake

We had some brilliantly conceived and executed ideas, including a sponge Evil Eye rendered in blueberries, a rich chocolate Yin and Yang, a pink-frosted German lucky pig giant cookie, and a St. George lucky medallion recreated in ginger cake. Here are some of the other entries and the objects which inspired them....

A delicious creation from Alice and Rosanna, inspired by one of the
many reliquaries in the de Mortillet collection (PRM: 1985.52.109)

A citrus and white chocolate sponge (mine) based on an amulet from the Lovett collection
(also acquired from Wellcome): a tiny circle of paper on which is written the Lord's
Prayer (PRM 1985.51.781) [see here for more amulets from the Lovett collection].
Also a lime-flavoured tart from Marina, based on this lucky four leaf clover captured
in a green glass heart from Paris (PRM: 1985.52.1557)

Each cake received votes and it was a close-run thing as each one was yummy. Much to my surprise, my sponge cake - inspired by a piece of paper bearing the Lord's Prayer - won. I'll definitely use that recipe again, but next time I want to decorate it I'll buy a much smaller icing pen - I could only fit the first two lines on! 

Thanks to all the staff who took part - both the cooks and the tasters. I wonder what the next cake day theme will be?


Thursday, 10 May 2012

My lucky cork

Last summer I was given this little object by my PhD supervisor. As he handed it to me he noticed a puzzled expression on my face. The object, a champagne cork and pound coin, was one that I had not encountered before.

In fact, the practice of placing a coin in a champagne cork has a long tradition. Corks that have been popped on special occasions, at weddings, birthday parties, or in this case my PhD viva (the examination of my doctoral thesis), have been made into keepsakes and good luck charms by many people. 

They were also once used by fishermen, who would cut a slit in the cork floats on their nets and insert a coin to pay for their catch. This one now sits on a shelf in my office, where I hope it will work a little lucky magic. 

I hope you will share your own lucky objects with us by entering the Amulets Around The World Today photograph competition, which runs from 10 May to 31 July 2012.


It's a Kind of Magic

This week, a guest blog from Simone Dogherty, an Education Officer at the Museum.

A family enjoying the Make-and-Take activity after exploring the handling objects

On the first Saturday of every month, the Education team delivers free, family-friendly, drop-in activities. This month, we ran one in conjunction with the Small Blessings project, called ‘It’s a Kind of Magic’. We had a range of activities on offer during the afternoon to get families interacting with the charms and amulets on display in the Museum. There was a trail, called ‘Charm Challenge’, which guided families around specific objects in the amulet displays and encouraged children to design their own. There was also a handling table, where families could hold real Museum objects and discuss them with trained volunteers. Finally  the biggest attraction – a ‘Make-and-Take’ activity, where families could decorate a charm bracelet or armband, and hang from it paper charms based on real ones in the collection. 

Making paper charms for armbands to take home

This Make-and-Take was a nicely straightforward activity to create. Charms and amulets naturally lend themselves to being worn, or carried around with you, so making a bracelet or armband seemed an obvious choice. It’s always nice to have a strong connection between the objects and an activity, to ensure that the families also get a valuable educational experience out of it, often without realizing. Also, the most successful Make-and-Takes are always those where the children (and adults!) get to wear what they make.

This boy had designed many of his own charms,
including one to help things grow in his garden

A pretty charm bracelet, each one's magical powers described on the back

There’s always preparation for an event like this. You have to create and present the activity and trail in a way that enables families to learn a lot without much effort, as well as make them fun and enjoyable so they have a positive experience in the Museum. It’s a difficult balance to strike, so a lot of time is devoted to this. Then there’s all the photocopying, laminating, and setting up the activity space. On the day, a huge amount of work is done by a wonderful team of volunteers who assist families, run the handling tables and promote the other activities going on, so I get the opportunity to step back and check that it all runs smoothly!

We had lots of positive feedback and, even better, lots of families were keen to head downstairs to see the amulet displays and learn a bit more about them. More than 100 children participated in the activities, which hopefully reflects the large number of people inspired by the collections, and who discovered new things about charms and amulets from around the world!


Friday, 4 May 2012

Lithic Links

Adrien de Mortillet did not just collect amulets. Our researcher Charlotte has found this interesting blog entry, 'Neolithic sickles from the Mortillet Collection' by Katzman, charting de Mortillet's career and impressive pedigree in prehistory and archaeology (passed down from his famous father).

Image from Aggsbach's Paleolithic Blog