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Marischal Museum - A chat with Neil Curtis

Neil Curtis Last Tuesday in Aberdeen we met Neil Curtis, 34 years old, Assistant Curator at the Marischal Museum and we had the lucky opportunity to have a chat with him on archaeo subjects.

First of all we asked him which were his recommended megalithic monuments of Aberdeenshire, in order not to overlook some important local sites. He was extremely helpful and gave us some invaluable information and some practical advice regarding farmers and landowners. Among his favourite Grampian sites there are Cothiemuir, Sunhoney, Eslie Greater and Castle Fraser. He also gave us a leaflet about the Friends of Grampian Stones (FOGS - 2 Ark Dale, Peterhead Aberdeenshire AB42 1RF Scotland), a charitable society which since 1989 encourage the interest in and careful custodianship of stone circles, cupmarked stones and pictish carved stones of Northeast Scotland.

Neil also told us that his wife Elizabeth is making a study on visitors of prehistoric sites and her results will be published soon. Then the conversation shifted to dowsing: he told us that in Britain even some professional archaeologists are accepting it and are taking magnetometers inside some stone circle to make measurements (Diego is still very skeptical about it).

As we were in a museum, we talked about education. In our opinion, Neil and colleagues did and are doing a great job at Marischal Museum, especially in the 'Encyclopaedia of North-East Scotland', the local history section (there is also 'Collecting the World' a beautiful anthropological section there). At the beginning the 'Encyclopaedia' puzzles the visitor a little, because the objects are displayed in an alphabetical instead of a chronological order. But step by step, from Axe to Wash-house, the visitor will enjoy the findings a lot more than looking at them in separate sections. We got into the museum for a quick glimpse at ancient objects and we got out after having admired not only 12 splendid prehistoric carved stone balls and six almost intact beakers, but also more recent whaling harpoons, old lamps and irons, etc. that in another museum we wouldn't have noticed either.

But Neil is working on an even more interesting activity in the museum. He is particularly concerned with children's learning with archaeological objects, so he provides a wide range of workshops in which children are able to handle and discuss some of the objects from the reserve collections. The topics range from 'Scottish Prehistory' and 'Ancient Egyptians' to 'Victorians and Georgians' and 'Aboriginal Australians'. Neil showed us the boxes with the objects for the Scottish Prehistory workshop. And even if we are not young pupils anymore, it was heart-breaking to touch flints, arrowheads and stone axes and to 'play' with a carved stone ball. Neil and Elizabeth Curtis also edited a book on this interesting archaeological approach, 'Touching the past' (Scottish Children's Press, Edinburgh, 1996).

Gosh, we would readily take all the Italian museum curators to have a look at the Marischal and learn from Neil how to transform a 'boring' collection of ancient or old objects into an amazing exhibition. We've been very happy to meet such a nice and skilful person during our Ancient Scotland Tour.


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