Beakers and Bodies


Image from the University of Aberdeen Musuems’ Collections: a stone cist excavated in 1923 which holds the remains of a man and a beaker

The latest issue of British Archaeology features and image from the University of Aberdeen Museums collections; a stone cist excavated in 1923 at Upper Mains of Catterline, Aberdeenshire (former Kincardineshire) which holds the remains of a man and a beaker.

An article in this issue of British Archaeology discusses the results of the ‘Beaker People Project’, in which the University Museums was a partner. Using the latest scientific techniques for radiocarbon dating and stable isotopes, the article discusses the movement of people living over 4000 years ago in Western Europe.

A future edition of the magazine will feature related work, the ‘Beakers and Bodies Project’ funded by the Leverhulme Trust, which focused specifically on Beakers in North-East Scotland, of which the University has an impressive collection.

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Student Object Highlight – WWI Medals

Student curator of our current exhibition ‘The Land Endures: Bringing Sunset Song to Life’, Sebastien tells us about his favourite objects in the exhibition and why he finds them so fascinating:

ABDUA 10327 - Medals.jpg‘These four objects are part of a collection of First World War medals awarded to Charles Luther Gordon, a 2185 Private Gordon highlander soldier. Private Gordon served in 1st Battalion of the Gordon Highlanders and later joined the regiment in Accrington, Lancashire. These medals include the 1914-15 Star, a British War Medal 1914-20, a Victory Medal 1914-18, and a ‘Dead man’s penny’ for a soldier killed in action on 2nd March 1916.

ABDUA 10327 - Dead Man's Penny.jpgI chose these objects as I wanted to research something a little different from the objects that highlight home-life in North East Scotland which make up a large amount of the exhibition. While these objects represent an integral part of the history of North East Scotland, I feel the medals are equally as important. The Gordon Highlanders were an integral part of the British Army since the Napoleonic Wars in 1794, under Duke Gordon’s tutelage. In my opinion, these medals are a very important to exploring north East Scotland’s importance as a region in a wider context.

I found the link of these medals to the novel Sunset Song particularly interesting as well. For example the 1914-15 Star is used to represent Chae Strachan and his excitement when the war began, resulting in his early departure to the Western front. This early period also represent’s Chae’s brief exposure to the traumatic experiences of war and how this completely changed his personality, frequently questioning the Kinraddie community’s behaviour and wrongdoing. Moreover ,the British War Medal and Victory Medal could both represent Long Rob and Chae for participating in the First World War itself. Finally, the Dead Man’s Penny represents Long Rob and Chae’s commemoration of their brave deaths.

Thanks you for reading and stay tuned for more discoveries at the exhibition, hope to see you there!’

Written by Sebastien Raybaud, Student Curator



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‘The Land Endures’ Review

With the opening of our latest student exhibition ‘The Land Endures: Bringing sunset Song to Life’, Andy Hall, a director of the Grassic Gibbon Centre tells us what he thought of the student’s efforts.

ggb 8As a director of the Grassic Gibbon Centre in Arbuthnott, I was delighted to attend the opening of the exhibition “The Land Endures: Bringing Sunset Song to Life” at King’s Museum, Old Aberdeen Town House. I was particularly impressed by the imitativeness of the presentation of the exhibits, the meticulousness of the display and the rigour of the research behind the project. 

Most, if not all, of the students hadn’t read Sunset Song before this project but had become very knowledgeable and had a clear understanding of the essential relationships between the characters, their community and the landscape of the Mearns. The work of these young people from all over the world has made a valuable contribution to the appreciation of Sunset Song and to perpetuating the memory of James Leslie Mitchell. 

Sunset Song for webThe exhibition remains open until the 30th of November 2016. For those people with an interest in Scottish literature or in the social history of Scotland, an hour would be very well spent appreciating the efforts of these talented young people in the appropriately historic and characterful surroundings of Old Aberdeen.”

Come along to see the exhibition for yourself in King’s Museum, The Old Townhouse, Aberdeen.

Opening hours Tuesday-Saturday 11.30am – 4.30pm

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Museum Students Visit to the Grassic Gibbon Centre

With the opening of their new exhibition today, one of our Museum Studies students tells us about the class trip to the Grassic Gibbon Centre in order to find out more about the theme of their exhibition, Sunset Song:

‘In preparation for the new student curated exhibition The Land Endures: Bringing Sunset Song to Life the team took a daytrip to Arbuthnott to visit the Grassic Gibbon Centre in order to gain a deeper understanding of Lewis Grassic Gibbon as a person and what inspired him to write his iconic Sunset Song.

ggb 4The exhibition space of the centre tells the life of the author, describing the most important events of his life through the use of original objects and items from the period. Among the many facts that we discovered on our trip what we found particularly interesting was that although Lewis Grassic Gibbon was his pen name, his real name was Jamie Leslie Mitchell and published 18 novels and short stories, an impressive feat for a man of only 34!

ggb 6After visiting the centre, we visited a rural church nearby in which a grave is set in the memory of Lewis Grassic Gibbon. This gave us the chance to explore one of the local settings used in the film adaptation of Sunset Song (2015) by Terence Davies, which was partly shot in Aberdeenshire.

Thanks to the sunny weather the countryside of the North East appeared hard and astonishing at the same time, with a breathless combination of warm and cold tones. Seeing this amazing countryside was a great opportunity for an adventure for the team and has inspired us even more in our mission to bring Sunset Song to life.

The team strongly recommend a visit to the Grassic Gibbon Centre for the accuracy of the exhibition space and the friendly staff!’

ggb 8

The Land Endures: Bringing Sunset Song to Life will be open in King’s Museum from 7 June – 30 November 2016. Opening Times Tuesday – Saturday 11.30am – 4.30pm.

Written by Museum Studies Student, Marianna D’Onofrio



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World’s first whole body MRI scanner now on display in Univeristy of Aberdeen

The world’s first whole-body MRI scanner – the Mark 1 – has just been put on display in the Suttie Arts Space in Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.

MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) was developed in the late 1970s by a University of Aberdeen team. The revolutionary technology allowed the team to analyse an entire body – inside and out – in what was a medical first. MRI is considered to be a safer diagnostic tool than X-rays and is more suitable for soft tissue, building up a picture of the human body by using high frequency radio signals.


Mark 1 with Professor Jim Hutchison and Dr Meg Hutchison. Meg is now and Honorary Curatorial Assistant with the University Museums carrying out research and documentation of Scottish prehistoric human skeletal material.

On its first use in 1980, this machine obtained the first clinically useful MRI image of a patient’s internal tissues. Although initially an experimental machine, it was then also used by Aberdeen Royal infirmary, scanning more than 1000 patients as well as being used for further research. The technology is now in use throughout the world as a staple of medical diagnosis and study.


Mark 1 has now been acquired by University Museums, and is on display in the Suttie Arts Space thanks to the Grampian Hospitals Art Trust, who have also commissioned filmmaker Rob Page to create a documentary film of the people involved in the making of the Mark 1 and also those who now work in the modern day service of MRI imaging.


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A Student’s Night at the Museum

Museum Studies student, Jen tells us about her role in our recent Night at the Museum event:

IMG_1577.JPG‘The University of Aberdeen Museums latest event, Night at the Museum – Animal Armoury was a very fun-filled night. As a Museum Studies student it was part of my studies to develop some crafts and activities for the night. With the idea of camouflage in mind we developed a Jungle in 90 High Street event space to set the scene for object handling and many more fun activities we had planned!

jen blog 2Many of us spent a lot of time over the past few weeks preparing the jungle so we were so happy that the night was a success and so many visitors came to the jungle to get involved. They had a great time trying to spot the camouflaged animals in our interactive game on display and match the weapons with the animals that inspired their creation.

The opportunity to hold ancient weapons (and some ancient animals) from the Museum’s collections was very popular; visitors had the chance to handle and model a 19th century shield from Burma, a sawfish rostrum and an antelope’s skull so that they could learn more about weaponry and how animals have inspired them.

jen blog 1This large family even was very popular and enjoyable for all ages, getting the opportunity to see the museums at night and get involved in the activities on offer was great fun even as a volunteer, I will definitely be coming to the next one!’

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East European Performance Art in Scotland: the Legacy of Richard Demarco

Branko 1The exhibition currently on view in the MacRobert building at the University of Aberdeen, “East European Performance Art in Scotland: the Legacy of Richard Demarco” attempts to display the impossible: it attempts to display the relationships among colleagues and artists across Scotland, the UK and Europe over the past several decades.

The exhibition came about as an effort to explore the phenomenon of documenting performance art, to create a red thread through events related to performance art that took place in Aberdeen throughout the academic year 2015-2016. In October 2015, two performances occurred at the University of Aberdeen in the context of the conference “Performance Art East, Northeast, West.” Those performances were documented by local photographer Blazej Marczak, with the am of exhibiting them later in the year.

IMG_4308I see many parallels between my curatorial practice and that of Richard Demarco, a Scot of Italian origin (based in Edinburgh) who was the first to invite pioneering artists from Europe to Scotland and the UK. Long before I arrived in the UK (I am originally from the US), Demarco invited many of the artists that I currently research, in my work on performance art, to perform and exhibit in the UK. In addition to conducting research and organizing performances and exhibition, I am also attempting to build and foster relationships between artists and arts practitioners in Europe with the hopes of bringing them to, or showcasing their work in, the UK. While Edinburgh and Glasgow are the usual destinations for artists, I think it is important to recognize that art is something that is happening and can happen in many places – including Aberdeen. Demarco felt similarly, and invited artists to perform not only in Edinburgh, but in Aberdeen and across Scotland, even in the Highlands.

The exhibition is a collaboration between numerous individuals— between myself and Demarco, as it includes photographs from his archive—which he considers a gesamtkunstwerk, or total work of art—that document the relationships that he fomented. It is also a collaboration with my three PhD students, Mariya Lanko, who helped curate the exhibition, and Jasmina Zaloznik and Denisa Tomkova, who assisted with the installation as well as providing creative insight and ideas. It is a collaboration with two artists from Eastern Europe, Bozidar Jurjevic, from Croatia, and Branko Miliskovic, from Serbia, who performed in Aberdeen in October 2015. It is also a collaboration between those two artists and the works of art in the University Collections, as their performances either interacted with or took place in the context of works from the collections, for example, Evolutionary Loop 517 and H.A. Crawford’s Let the Dialogue Continue. It is a collaboration between those artists, myself, and a local photographer, Blazej Marczak, who not only photographed the performances, but came up with the idea for the display of the canvas in the exhibition, and the passport photograph. Finally, it is a collaboration with faculty and staff across the University of Aberdeen, from Estates and Museums to Human Resources and Finance, to facilitate all of the travel and events—and this invisible labour should not be overlooked.

Anyone who has met Demarco knows that he, too, constantly endeavours to capture the fleeting traces of meetings, relationships and connections in photographs and text. Long before the camera phone or the selfie, Demarco was snapping photos of everyone he met, and of those he introduced. To this day, he wears a camera around his neck, ready to capture any moment. He also carries his trusty blue notebook, in which he will ask you to leave your name, contact details and comments – it is an important record of conversations and interactions that have taken place throughout the years, all in the circle of Richard Demarco.

The photographs and displays in “Eastern European Performance Art in Scotland: the Legacy of Richard Demarco” are a vain attempt to capture that which cannot be captured – precisely those relationships and connections that make art possible. These relationships involve much that is invisible: trust, good will, love, kindness, joy, interest, desire, and more. If even some small portion of the positive energy and love that has been exchanged over the last several months, let alone years, has been conveyed through this exhibition, then I will consider it to have been successful.

Tweet about your experience with the exhibition at #DemarcoEast

East European Performance Art in Scotland: The Legacy of Richard Demarco
Gallery Opening Hours: 
27th April – 27th September 2016, 9.00am – 5.00pm Monday to Friday

Special event: A Conversation with Richard Demarco, followed by a drinks reception and official opening of the exhibition in the MacRobert gallery at 7:30pm

Wednesday, 25 May 6:00pm, King’s College Conference Centre

The event on 25 May is free, but booking is required:

Written by  Dr. Amy Bryzgel, University of Aberdeen

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