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Mysteries Of The Bog People

The day after our megalithic marathon, the four of us (Jane, Moth, the arresting Kate and myself), all set off for Manchester's Museum of Science & Industry to take a squint at 'The Mysterious Bog People' exhibition. Although the title is rather lame, and slightly twee, looking beyond it in the flyer I had picked up from a swanky Cheshire garden centre, I could see that there was potentially a great deal in this unique show that could be of interest.

Happily, I was proved right. Leaving the inevitable Mancunian drizzle outside, we entered the fabulously restored and modernised buildings of the museum, which are a conversion of the world's oldest passenger railway station. A few minutes later, we stepped back in time many thousands of years, when railways were as probable as interstellar commuting is for us at present. ("The 18.07 Virgin InterPlanetery has been delayed by 13 light years due to the wrong kind of comet trails in its orbit . . . .")

Following large bilingual displays into an increasingly dark room, we were greeted by a very clever presentation of Yde Girl, which I enjoyed for itself as much as the rest of the show. Museums in Canada, Germany and the Netherlands had combined to mount this globe-trotting exhibition, and it certainly showed in the wealth of artefacts on display. I don't want to enter into too much detail, for fear of spoiling it for you when you visit, as visit you must; but I should like to encourage you with a short list of my favourite and most memorable exhibits.

The show begins in the Neolithic, and there are some stunning polished flint axes on display, along with the most exquisite flint knives. The craftsmanship is just superb, as are the blocks of stone chosen for this purpose. The artistry of creating such things has been lost in the last four thousand years – progress?

Also impressive were the large chunks of amber linked to form necklaces; I wondered if they were ever worn - probably ceremonially judging by their size – or consigned to the murky depths of a peat bog as soon as they were completed.

Two of the most elegant items on show are the sinuous and curvaceous lurs, Bronze Age horns; simple in their design, I found them fascinating. To add emotion and atmosphere to the show, the sound of a note being mournfully blown on one of these ancient musical instruments echoed through the exhibition hall at regular intervals. It was then that Kate really brought the whole lot alive for me, when she said "I used to blow the Viking horn just like that; the sound and note are identical." Kate used to be a very active Viking re-enactor, and knows a great deal about their crafts, materials, customs, methods, and lifestyles. What is amazing is that although her era is the 10th century, it appears very little had changed from two thousand years or more before when it came to manufacturing tools, clothes and weapons.

At a display of Bronze Age axes, a short film, un-narrated, showed Bronze Age re-enactors making axes attached to shafts. "That's how we did it!", exclaimed Kate, before explaining in detail what was happening, and how the materials were used to create very effective axes. She also inspected the woollens on display in the Iron Age section, explained tablet weaving to me, and passed comment that the cloaks on display (modern ones made from information garnered from the originals), didn't cut the mustard as they had been machine-made, not hand-made, and were therefore not authentic. And I thought I was a perfectionist . . . but she's right. The plaids on display were lovely, and I could imagine my mother cutting a dash in one of the blue and green cloaks, especially because she is a dressmaking and handicrafts devotee. There is a timelessness about these items . . . once again, our ancestors are closer to us than we think. Do be sure to check out the genuine cloak on display; originally wrapped round two male bodies, its workmanship is breathtaking. Although the colour has been stained away by the peat, the weaving and manufacture are a delight to behold.

And of course, there are the bodies. The oldest one in the exhibition was something like 3,800yrs old. Unbelievable. Shrivelled, tanned, wizened, these remains command reverence – we are looking at humans beyond death, beyond what or where ever they expected to end up; yet at the same time looking back at a snapshot of their world, and trying to comprehend their lives and culture.

Like Jane, I couldn't help but wonder what went through their minds as they were sacrificed/murdered and cast into the bog. Was it all abject terror, or did they meet their end in the same elevated state that enables a Budddist monk to immolate himself whilst sitting serenely in the lotus position? How many of these ceremonies (if indeed, there were ceremonies), were used to get rid of undesirables – or were these people specially raised or regarded as special, to be the ultimate offerings for the gods?

Of course, we will never know – but we are privileged to witness to some degree their lives and times, in a hereafter they would never have expected to participate in.

This is a fascinating show – do try and see it before it ends on 8th May 2005, as it is the only showing in the country. You will be intrigued, and moved.

treaclechops Posted by treaclechops
12th April 2005ce
Edited 13th April 2005ce

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