New Memories made at the Great North Museum

We held our last two workshops at the Great North Museum in Newcastle on 9 and 10 May.  Our deepest thanks go to Alex Boyd for making us feel so welcome, and especially to Andrew Parkin for all his help.

Andrew showed us around the Museum’s extensive collection of Roman objects with a Middle Eastern or North African connection.


Andrew also made available a range of different Roman objects that we could use in the workshops.


We were allowed to handle these for closer inspection – provided we were careful!


As at our workshops in the Petrie Museum in London, participants had the chance to explore how best to light and photograph these objects, under the guidance of Rory Carnegie, our professional photographer.



People also enjoyed drawing these objects, and others in the Museum’s collections, helped by our artist, Miranda Creswell.  Many used silver leaf to enhance their pictures.


Participants were also inspired to write about objects, with the assistance of Sarah Ekdawi. Sometimes they described memories evoked by the objects, or they imagined how the objects themselves might feel about taking part in the workshops. We also experimented with the use of thin metal foil that could be embossed with images and words  – with or without the help of a mirror!


All the participants could take home with them the drawings, photographs, writings, and memories that they created.  With their permission, we have posted copies of their creations on our Gallery page.

We are very grateful to the Great North Museum, and the Petrie Museum, for being such welcoming and generous hosts. We are particularly grateful to everyone who came along and participated in our workshops. They all said how much they enjoyed themselves, and we have certainly been impressed by the quality and range of works that they were inspired to create. We are thinking about how we can preserve all these creations more permanently and accessibly – please watch this space!


Personal memories of our workshops

Christel and Carl took part in our first workshop at the Petrie Museum in London on 18 April.  They have kindly agreed to let us post their diary entries, so that you can share in the memories they created on the day:

Christel diary

Carl diary

To see the photographs and drawings that Christel and Carl talk about in their diaries, take a look through our gallery.

There’s still an opportunity to join one of our workshops at the Great North Museum in Newcastle on 9 or 10 May. Come and meet ancient Roman objects with a Middle Eastern connection, and create your own new memories by drawing, writing and photographing, guided by our experts. The workshops are free, and we will provide all the materials, lunch and refreshments. Let us know which date suits you best at:

P1050214 copy
Participants at the first workshop having fun decorating their drawings with silver leaf.

More new memories at the Petrie Museum

Our heartfelt thanks once again to Alice Stevenson and the staff at the Petrie Museum in London for all their help with the second of our workshops on 25 April. Once again we had the museum to ourselves, and were treated to special access to several items not usually on public display. Here we are being shown examples from the museum’s large collection of ancient Egyptian papyri, including an exquisite copy of the Book of the Dead.


Participants again had the chance to handle Roman objects from Egypt, and to consider how best to photograph them, with the help of Rory Carnegie, our professional photographer.

2  3

Everyone found it inspiring to explore the huge and varied collection at the Petrie Museum, and to have the time to examine thoroughly those objects that caught their imagination. Often, with the assistance of Sarah Ekdawi, they wrote about memories that the objects had evoked in them, or they created new stories about an object’s history, or they imagined how the objects themselves might feel about being in a museum.


Above all, people enjoyed drawing the objects they had selected and, guided by our artist, Miranda Creswell, applied silver leaf to enhance their creations.


As always, the participants could take home with them the drawings, photographs, writings, and memories that they had created. They also gave permission for us to post their creations on our Gallery page.

It’s quite sad to leave the Petrie Museum after meeting so many interesting new people at the workshops, and creating such wonderful new memories about the Romans in ancient Egypt, but the project now moves to the North. We are holding two new workshops in the Great North Museum in Newcastle on the 9th and 10th of May. The format will be the same, with writing, drawing and photography, assisted by our experts. Once again there will be Roman objects to handle and examine up close, but also some wonderful galleries of objects from Hadrian’s Wall and elsewhere with connections to the ancient Middle East.

The workshops are free, and we supply all the materials, lunch and refreshments. What new memories will you create? Let us know which workshop you would like to attend at:

The earliest Zodiac in Britain

This sculpture from the Mithraeum at Housesteads on Hadrian’s Wall shows the god Mithras being born from an egg. His body rises from the lower part of the shell, and the upper part is still on his head.

gnm mithras (366x500)

Mithras is usually shown being born from a rock, but the most exciting thing about this third-century sculpture is that the god is surrounded by an egg-shaped frame with the signs of the Zodiac on it. This is the earliest surviving depiction in Britain of the twelve signs of the Zodiac as we know them today.

The egg was a symbol of eternity, and the Zodiac was normally associated with Aion, the god of endless time. These cosmic symbols show that, on this section of Hadrian’s Wall, Mithras was worshipped as the eternal ‘Lord of Ages’, the perpetual creator of all things.

Come and see this sculpture at our free workshops in the Great North Museum in Newcastle on 9 or 10 May, and create new timeless memories by drawing, photographing and writing about ancient objects and what they mean to you. For more info or to let us know which date you would like to come:

An Eastern Sun-god on Hadrian’s Wall

The ancient god Mithras was popular with Roman soldiers and minor officials. His cult probably developed from Zoroastrianism, in the area that is now Iran. There is a lot of evidence for his worship along the western Roman frontier, from Hadrian’s Wall to the Danube. Worshippers had to be initiated into (exclusively male) groups, who met in a distinctive type of building called a ‘cave’, which we now describe as a ‘Mithraeum’.

Mithras was often identified as ‘the invincible sun-god’. The altar on the left of the picture is from a Mithraeum (a temple to Mithras) on Hadrian’s Wall and shows him in this guise. The altar has a niche cut into its back, so that the light from a lamp could have shone through the openings cut around the god’s head, giving the impression of the sun’s rays in the gloom of the Mithraeum.

gnm mithras altars

If you come to our free workshops at the Great North Museum on 9 or 10 May, you can see this altar and handle the examples on the right of the picture. One is a small altar to Mithras from a Roman fort by Dere Street, and the other is a fragment of a relief from Vindolanda showing the sun-god’s face and the rays around his head. Why might people have worshipped the sun in ancient Northumberland? Come and be inspired by these objects to draw, photograph, or write down your thoughts, helped by our experts. Just let us know which date suits you best:

An Eastern Empress remembered in the North

Making pots in the form of a moulded human head was a unique Romano-British fashion in the 3rd century. This example in the Great North Museum seems to have the face of the Roman empress Julia Domna, one of the most powerful women in the ancient world.

Julia Domna pot - Copy (364x500)

Julia Domna came from a prominent Syrian family and married the future emperor Septimius Severus, who was born in what is now Libya. She was a patron of writers and philosophers at Rome, and travelled to Britain with the imperial family in AD 208.  She probably lived in York while the army campaigned north of Hadrian’s Wall. They left Britain after Septimius Severus died in York in AD 211. Her sons Caracalla and Geta became co-emperors, but Caracalla soon murdered his brother and ruled alone. Julia Domna remained at the centre of power, managing all imperial correspondence until Caracalla was killed by a bodyguard in AD 217.

Was this pot a souvenir made to commemorate Julia Domna’s time in Britain? What memories would people have had of this remarkable empress when they saw it? What memories does it still hold? We will explore these ideas in free workshops at the Great North Museum in Newcastle on 9 and 10 May. Come along on one of the days or email us in advance to book a place:

Objects for the Newcastle workshops

These Roman pots from North Africa are just some of the objects that participants will be able to examine and even handle at our workshops on 9 and 10 May at the Great North Museum. There will also be lamps, a glass vessel, pieces of sculpture, and coins of Roman emperors who came from North Africa or the Middle East, such as Septimius Severus, Caracalla, and Philip the Arab.

What memories might these objects have evoked in the people that saw and used them in the past? What memories do they evoke for us today? Come and join us to explore these ideas – just let us know which workshop suits you best.

See our Workshops page for more details.

Syrian Archers on Hadrian’s Wall

The Roman army recruited Syrians because of their specialist archery skills. One such unit was based on Hadrian’s Wall not long after it was built. They continued to worship Syrian goddesses while they were in Britain. It looks like the unit was still here 300 years later, when Roman rule ended. This relief, which is in the Great North Museum, shows a Hamian archer holding his bow in his left hand.


For a memorable encounter with this little known example of shared history, come to one of our free relaxed workshops on 9 or 10 May at the Great North Museum in Newcastle. Come along on the day or book your place in advance by emailing us at:

Read more about Syrian archers in Britain on these websites: