Friday, February 22, 2008

Go Ahead and Touch the Artifacts

I saw a documentary on TVO a few weeks ago about exhibits put on by the British Museum. The documentary was a couple years old, but one of the exhibits in particular was rather intriguing to me. It was a traveling show of stone tools that was at the time set up in Norwich Castle. The oldest of these tools was 1.8 million years old.

So far, all pretty standard.

What was different, however, was that Jill Cook, the woman in charge of the exhibit, had decided to allow visitors to handle some of the artifacts. Even young children were encouraged to pick up the million year old objects.

Granted - stones are a bit more resilient than old documents or tapestries, but the idea is the same. Cook thought that the minor damage caused by oils in the skin from a few weeks of being handled was worth it for the engagement that such an exhibit provided viewers.

It was amazing to see the uncertain looks on people's faces as they picked up the tools. Many of them looked as if they felt they were doing something wrong and treated the objects with the utmost care. As far as I know, none of them were dropped or damaged.

So go ahead. Touch the artifacts. Connect with them.


Helen Button said...

At the beginning of the year I would have completely disagreed with you, but I think I'm slowly coming around. I'm still cautious, though. Would you feel the same if those were the only remaining examples of those tools?

I'd also be a lot less willing to let people touch things like paper or fabric, but maybe this is where reproductions can come in (at least in terms of fabric artefacts).

Andrea Melvin said...

I agree with the both of you and I find this issue absolutely fascinating!

In one of my recent posts I talked about this a bit but I am all for allowing people to interact with objects the way they were originally intended.

If something were the only remaining example as Helen has been wondering, I would say special considerations would have to be made. Possibly not allowing this object to be used or at least any activity involving it kept to a minimum.

Andrea Melvin said...

Mainly just having flexibility within the collections policy - the option to be able to make decisions like this...

Adam Crymble said...

I like your inclusion, "in the way they were originally intended." I'd be mad if you used my frying pan as a hammer, and I guess the same makes sense for artifacts as well.

Andrea Melvin said...

I guess one of the big questions that could come of that though would be possibly disagreeing on how an object was originally used....It's possible that sometimes, when you are living in an apartment like mine for instance and don't have any tools, you get crafty and sometimes a frying pan turns into a hammer or just tonight for instance, the blender turned into a potato masher.