National Museum Cardiff lines up major Treasures and Adventures in Archaeology exhibition

By Culture24 Reporter | 03 December 2015

National Museum Cardiff lines up major 2016 exhibition exploring the wonder of archaeological discovery

a  photograph of a human skull carved out of quartz
The Crystal Skull of the Musée du quai Branly, Paris© Musée du quai Branly
Films such as Indiana Jones and The Mummy may have sexed up archaeology in recent years but as a new National Museum Wales exhibition is about to reveal, the discovery of archaeological treasures has always made for a good story.

Opening in Cardiff in January 2016, Treasures: Adventures in Archaeology features some of the great archaeological discoveries from the ancient civilizations of Egypt, Greece, Rome, Pre-Columbian America and Rapa Nui (Easter Island) and looks at some of the characters and stories behind them.

Even before Howard Carter entered the burial chamber of Tutankhamen, novelists including Rider Haggard and Conan Doyle were evoking the wonders and mysteries of the tombs and temples of ancient civilisations. They also had some great characters to draw inspiration from. 

a photo of a full face helmet with damage to one side
A large bronze Corinthian helmet © National Museum Wales
One such person was the Italian explorer, adventurer and pioneer of Egyptian archaeology and antiquities, Giovanni Belzoni (1778 –1823).

Belzoni’s ‘achievements’ included the removal of the seven-ton bust of Ramesses II to England and discovery of the tomb of Ramasses' father Seti I. He was also the first European adventurer to find a way into the second pyramid of Giza.

A kind of Victorian Orientalist with a splash of Indiana Jones, Belzoni skirted the boundaries of propriety in his search for treasures. Even his death – from dysentery in Kingdom of Benin – is shrouded in mystery. 

In Britain Flinders Petrie (1853 – 1942), who gave his name and his collection to the respected Egyptology holding at University College in London, blazed a less spectacular but no less important trail for archaeology by pioneering methodologies and preservation techniques, while Adela Breton (1849 – 1923) shifted the attention to the Mayan ruins of Mexico and left an important collection of paintings of temple paintings.

a bronzed animal statue in the shape of a stag
Thirteenth Century Aquamanile in the form of a stag© Amgeueddfa Cymru - National Museum of Wales
But as well as exploring the characters, Adventures in Archaeology will also show some stunning objects - many of which have never been seen in Wales before.

Among the star objects are the skulls from Viking-age burials at Llanbedrgoch, Anglesey, which suggested the presence of a "warrior elite” during a period of rivalry and campaigning between kingdoms Northumbria and Mercia.

From the Musée du Quai Branly, Paris comes a crystal skull - a bit like the one that appeared in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but which, rather than dating to the times of the Aztecs or an alien race of superbeings, proved to be a 19th century fake and a product of the archaeological fervour of the Victorians.

Less spurious objects include an Egyptian mummy, Inca gold and, as if to confirm the gold-plated story potential of archaeology, the hat, whip and jacket of a certain Indiana Jones.

a photo of a brown leather jacket on a small mannequin next to a hat and whip
Indiana Jones jacket, whip and hat from the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art© TM 2015 and Lucasfilm Ltd

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