Last Tuesday in Aberdeen
we met Neil Curtis,
34 years old, Assistant Curator at the Marischal
Museum and we had the lucky opportunity to have a chat with
him on archaeo subjects.
First of all we asked him which were his recommended megalithic
monuments of Aberdeenshire, in order not to overlook some important
local sites. He was extremely helpful and gave us some invaluable
information and some practical advice regarding farmers and landowners.
Among his favourite Grampian sites there are Cothiemuir,
Greater and Castle Fraser. He
also gave us a leaflet about the Friends of Grampian Stones (FOGS
- 2 Ark Dale, Peterhead Aberdeenshire AB42 1RF Scotland), a charitable
society which since 1989 encourage the interest in and careful custodianship
of stone circles, cupmarked stones and pictish carved stones of
Neil also told us that his wife Elizabeth is making a study on visitors
of prehistoric sites and her results will be published soon. Then
the conversation shifted to dowsing: he told us that in Britain
even some professional archaeologists are accepting it and are taking
magnetometers inside some stone circle to make measurements (Diego
is still very skeptical about it).
As we were in a museum, we talked about education. In our opinion,
Neil and colleagues did and are doing a great job at Marischal Museum,
especially in the 'Encyclopaedia of North-East Scotland', the local
history section (there is also 'Collecting the World' a beautiful
anthropological section there). At the beginning the 'Encyclopaedia'
puzzles the visitor a little, because the objects are displayed
in an alphabetical instead of a chronological order. But step by
step, from Axe to Wash-house, the visitor will enjoy the findings
a lot more than looking at them in separate sections. We got into
the museum for a quick glimpse at ancient objects and we got out
after having admired not only 12 splendid prehistoric carved stone
balls and six almost intact beakers, but also more recent whaling
harpoons, old lamps and irons, etc. that in another museum we wouldn't
have noticed either.
But Neil is working on an even more interesting activity in the
museum. He is particularly concerned with children's learning with
archaeological objects, so he provides a wide range of workshops
in which children are able to handle and discuss some of the objects
from the reserve collections. The topics range from 'Scottish Prehistory'
and 'Ancient Egyptians' to 'Victorians and Georgians' and 'Aboriginal
Australians'. Neil showed us the boxes with the objects for the
Scottish Prehistory workshop. And even if we are not young pupils
anymore, it was heart-breaking to touch flints, arrowheads and stone
axes and to 'play' with a carved stone ball. Neil and Elizabeth
Curtis also edited a book on this interesting archaeological approach,
'Touching the past' (Scottish Children's Press, Edinburgh, 1996).
Gosh, we would readily
take all the Italian museum curators to have a look at the Marischal
and learn from Neil how to transform a 'boring' collection of ancient
or old objects into an amazing exhibition. We've been very happy
to meet such a nice and skilful person during our Ancient Scotland