Guest post by Lucy Slater
As a university student with no prior museum knowledge, completing three weeks worth of work experience at North Hertfordshire Museum has been an eye opening and incredibly fun experience. Coming in to the museum for my first day as a complete novice was nerve wracking, but everyone at the museum was helpful, kind and willing to answer my constant stream of questions. My time at the museum has consisted of undertaking a multitude of tasks, such as digitising accession records, cleaning objects of interest (from local swimming trophies to ancient axe heads), and even locating a painting needed by the museum. Each of these tasks brought to light a new aspect of the challenges of museum work and provided me with new knowledge and skills. My goal for this work experience was to learn as much as I could, and the team at the museum made sure I reached that goal.
Local History truly comes to life at the North Herts Museum. My time here gave me a fascinating glance into the world of museum work, but also into the detailed and at times incredibly personal history of the district. From impassioned correspondence between the curator of the former Hitchin football museum and the clubs he requested objects from, to the extensive, colourful, and occasionally abrasive geology collection, North Hertfordshire Museum contains some of the most interesting objects I’ve ever had the opportunity to discover.
If ever you’re in the mood to be immersed in an engaging and dynamic museum experience, or wanting a challenging and fulfilling work experience placement, I cannot recommend North Hertfordshire Museum enough.
Guest Post by Dylan Bailey
For the past two weeks I have been volunteering at North Hertfordshire Museum, helping to find and catalogue various items which lie within the museum stores.
I began by adding to the work of a previous volunteer, who had sketched and made note of several dozen flints and artefacts. Here, I could see history come to life in front of me. From the head of a Roman statue to a Mesopotamian seal, in my own hands I held intimate pieces of the past, impossibly well preserved and unbelievably beautiful. I was instructed to go through the museum accession register, and find any more details that could be added to the notes of my predecessor.
Once I had finished that, I moved onto the flints. Here, I got an insight into the exact mechanicals of how a museum worked, examining the stones and trying to determine their geographical origin.
I was also involved in searching the old Letchworth museum for artefacts, including a World War One medal, as well as cleaning a variety of sculptures found there, and filling out the museum accession record. I was also given a go at posting on the museum’s twitter page!
My time working at North Hertfordshire Museum has been thoroughly enjoyable, I have learnt a considerable number of skills and techniques that I will be able to apply to other jobs in the future.
On Saturday 9 July, the Museum Service hosted a one-day course run by Dr David Klingle on how archaeologists get information from human bones. Eleven participants examined a selection of skeletons mostly from Roman Baldock but also including a sub-Roman skeleton from Hitchin. They included student archaeologists, amateurs and members of the public with a general interest in the past.
The course began with a guide to identifying which part of the body the bones came from. Some are obvious – anyone can recognise a skull and most people will recognise leg and arm bones – but others are much more difficult. David took everyone through the process of recognising individual bones and which sides to the body they belonged to.
What can be learned from the detailed study of human bones? Perhaps more than you might think. Firstly, we can usually work out the age a person was when they died. Although it is not exact, it is mostly possibly to give a range of ages (such as 40s or 60s). Children and younger people are easier to age because we continue to grow and our bones fuse into our 20s, so ageing people under 20 is generally more accurate.
We also try to sex the skeleton. There is no single thing to recognise that can tell us if it was male or female. Instead, we look at a variety of factors, including the shape of the pelvis, the shape of the skull and how robust the bones are. Even so, there is a lot of overlap between male and female skeletal characteristics, so it is sometimes impossible to be sure one way or the other.
The next think to look for is anything unusual in the bones. Are there signs of disease? If so, was the disease still active when the person died or had they recovered from it? Are there signs of disorders during growth and development? Are their signs of broken bones that have now healed? What were their teeth like? The teeth on our Roman skeletons are usually in poor condition, with a thick build-up of calculus, plaque that has mineralised through not being removed. Clearly, people ate a lot of sweet things and did not brush their teeth.
Occasionally, we will find something very unusual. One of the Baldock skeletons has a large bony lump the size of a golf ball on the left side of its lower jaw. The teeth above it are missing and had fallen out some years before the person, probably a man in his 30s, died. At the moment, we are not sure what caused the growth and there are several medical possibilities. We will continue to investigate this, as the condition appears to be very rare.
The course on 9 July was very successful, with satisfied participants. We will be running a weekend course on 22-23 October, in which participants will be able to look into the process of examining skeletons in greater depth than on a one-day course. For further information, email David Klingle who will be running the course.