The Director’s Pick

The Director started his tour of the Wessex Gallery with some interesting points about the layout. Why had he insisted on a Gallery presenting the finds ‘in reverse’, chronologically? Why does the visitor start with Medieval Old Sarum and then go backwards in time into pre-history? The idea was that we walk from the Medieval building, the Kings House, into the history of the earlier Medieval city (Old Sarum)  and so on, through the Gallery, into the past. If we walk the other way through the museum we find the history of the later Medieval Salisbury (the Salisbury Gallery) and, ultimately, walk out of the door into the modern city. Neat! If funding allows, it will all become more coherent.

The start of our tour…..the model of Old Sarum
Crouching lions on a gable end from the old cathedral

Adrian’s plan to restrict the tour to his favourites was a reminder that it is usually a good idea to have a focus when in a museum, otherwise it is like ruining a delicious meal by eating too much and leaving the table groaning.

So it was we went from the characterful carved stonework of the old Cathedral to the Saxon burial of the Swallowcliffe Princess. She was buried with what she needed for the after-life, including a glass bowl which had survived nearly one and a half millennia in the ground. Her satchel decoration is the icon used by the museum today. And amongst the Saxon grave goods were some native British pieces….

The lady’s glass bowls, where they lay, alongside her arm. The RH one is undamaged.
Satchel decoration and other items

The continued references to design decisions were fascinating. Amongst them was the decision to lay the Downton mosaic on the floor  as it would have been intended, rather than hanging it, which is more usual in museums.

We spent time looking at Roman New Forest Ware and considering possible purposes of the pieces that were clearly miniatures. Display pieces? Made to be used as grave goods? Look for the marks around the base, Adrian told us. The wares were dipped in a thin slip before going to the kiln. The un-slipped marks left by the potter’s fingers are often still there.

Adrian talked about two hoards, one Roman (the wine strainers and pots) and two Bronze Age (including the Wardour hoard). The mysteries around hoards continue…

The museum’s Stonehenge collections are from 20th c excavations. Earlier finds are elsewhere. In the centre of the main Stonehenge display cabinet is what Adrian described as the most important find – unique so far, but much of Stonehenge remains un-excavated – a polished gneiss mace head. It came from the Isle of Lewis, Scotland. Scotland, where all the pigs came from for the feasting at Durrington Walls.

Gneiss mace head. Adrian is concerned that the cabinet does not do the mace head justice….

We were asked what we thought might be the reason for the decision to polish axe heads – it didn’t make them better at chopping down trees! They have always been considered ceremonial. Adrian agreed and proposed the theory that, being contemporary with the coming of farming, they represented the agent of change, of people taking control of nature, clearing land for fields.

Perhaps the most exquisite item…

The Warminster Jewel (which now has its pointer attached).

We finished where it all began, in the far corner of the Gallery where the most primitive hand axes are displayed, including one which is know to have been a Neanderthal type.

There is always more to see……. Wonderful stuff. Thank you Adrian.