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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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: rememberingromans@gmail.com

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: rememberingromans@gmail.com