Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Enquiring Feet

It is good to have an enquiring mind,or so I have been told, but it's far, far better to have enquiring feet. I have been blessed and cursed with a set of the most enquiring feet for most of my life. And that's how it was that today, when my mind was made up to do my grocery shopping in double quick time, that my feet took me on an excursion to the dawn of history and to the remotest parts of the globe. Instead of the soulless aisles of Sainsbury's supermarket I found myself in the Cambridge University Museum Of Archaeology And Anthropology.

My mind, along with the minds of most of the population of Cambridge and many of its visitors, has known for many years that no one goes in there. There's a sign outside that says "Open to the public. Free Admission" but we all suspect it's a trick and know that it's really out of bounds for normal people.

But my feet are blissfully ignorant of all such preconceptions and prejudice and blundered in regardless, only to be met by......

.....an 'orrible visage staring out through the plate-glass of its display case. A sign informed me that it was a dance mask from the Torres Strait and was collected in the 1880s. But the collection started much nearer to home with the finds of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society who went out digging and delving in the local area.

Now some of you may remember this post called "Local Landmark" which revealed a Bronze Age burial mound not too far from my back door. In a follow-up post I wrote about the excavation of such mounds - well, this is where the finds ended up. Above are some grave-goods (items which were buried along with the dead) and below is a cremation urn.

But some of the earliest finds on display were these flint tools...

....all of which were found within a few miles of Cambridge. During the nineteenth century though historians turned their attention to societies further afield and encouraged collecting of artefacts from distant lands or, to look at it another way, stealing stuff from unwary societies. This kind of attitude has landed the University in hot water on many occasions but...

....these casts made of Mayan carvings are studied more than the originals which have been allowed to deteriorate terribly. And there is also a huge totem pole from Canada....

.....seen from below. And from gallery level where its immense size can really be appreciated....

And from the gallery you can see down into the main exhibition area...

....since it is the school summer holidays there were a few children present....

But perhaps my favourite exhibit was this lovely Buddha from Burma...

....or maybe this Indian snakes-and-ladders board...

Now, did you know that this child's game has existed for at least 800 years in India?

Despite the vast age-range of the exhibits and their origins in different parts of the world it is striking that we can still enjoy their beauty and craftsmanship, a point that was made equally forcefully by the contemporary art exhibition which the Museum houses at present.

These paintings were made by Rachel Gadsden and the Bambanani artist-activist Group in South Africa.

So if you've got enquiring feet let them take you to the building above, you'll be transported!

Take care.


  1. You were right. There's hardly anyone there. That's my kind of place!

  2. Outstanding, John. I suspect that you are a genuinely interested kind of person who would have wandered in here even if you did not need fodder for your photography blog. But, I find that having a blog forces me to go out and look at things that I would have otherwise been too lazy to see. Good for you!

  3. I have mixed emotions about all of these exotic artifacts ending up in Cambridge in the 19th century. Yes, it would be better if they were kept at home, but the sad fact is that many of them would never have ended up in collections where scholars could study them if they hadn't been taken there. Respect for the past has developed slowly in many spots around the world. I also was impressed by the flint tools, which appeared to include arrow and spear points. They could just as easily have come from North America. Finally, an enquiring mind attached to enquiring feet has to be the best combination ever. I think I "suffer" from the same malady.

  4. Thanks for the virtual visit to the museum - and I spotted some folk inside too ... perhaps they have feet like yours. I've had enquiring feet all my life and they have taken me far and wide but now that I'm past my prime they have decided enough is enough and show their objection by swelling up and paining me something terrible - now referred to as my tortuous feet - so your virtual tour helps fill the gap. My all-time favourite museum, Edinburgh's, has just had a massive and expensive re-vamp but still has the mammoth on display that drew me in every Saturday as a child. I wonder if it is still free to enter too.

  5. lucky you to have a free museum to explore-

  6. lucky you to have a free museum to explore-

  7. You are lucky to have such enquiring feet, John,- and we are grateful you have a generous heart that cause you to share all these wonderful places your enquiring feet lead you to.

  8. That 'orrible visage reminds me of somebody but I can't think who it is!
    But with enquiring feet like yours - how do you eat - there won't be much in the way of food in that Museum, any more than there are antiquities in the aisle of Sainsburys.

  9. Looking down onto the main floor from above in that photo makes me rather giddy--a reminder of standing too close to the choir rail in church as a girl and imagining the floor coming up to meet me. Interesting place, and I'm glad your feet took your camera with them!


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