Archive for April 2018

A visit to Dorchester: a museum and an important ceremony – 5th April 2018   4 comments

This post covers our brief visit to Dorchester for an important ceremony. Whilst there we took the opportunity to visit Dorset County Museum.


There can be no more spectacular foyer of any building in the world than that of the Natural History Museum in Kensington, London. Apart from the architecture, this enormous space is filled with a cast of a Diplodocus skeleton – or at least it was! The powers that be have decided that after being on show for 102 years this magnificent exhibit has had its day and now it must go. But before it vanishes into packing boxes in the museum’s vaults it’s going on tour and the first destination is ….


…. Dorset County Museum in Dorchester! Of course the dimensions of Dorset County Museum are considerably less than the museum in Kensington and it only just fits.


Indeed the relatively tiny skull could only be incorporated by removing part of the balcony and enclosing it in glass (hence the reflections) and the incredibly long tail had to be bent double.


And these same reflections prevent you getting a photo of the whole animal, as there is no viewpoint from which you can get a clear shot. This may sound like the rantings of an old bloke but I’m getting increasingly annoyed by the cult of the ‘selfie’. I see nothing wrong with taking a photo of your family and friends or of yourself  (best done against a neutral background) and of course if you go to see an exhibit or a lovely view you want to photograph it but why must you have yourself in every picture. Apart from anything else it stops the rest of us from getting a good view.


But what of the dinosaur itself. Of course it’s not the original fossil, that would be far too heavy to be held up by such flimsy support. Diplodocus was first described as a new species of sauropod dinosaur in 1878 by Professor Othniel C Marsh at Yale University. The species lived sometime between 156 and 145 million years ago and belongs to a group called sauropods, meaning ‘lizard feet’. The cast is of a fossilised skeleton found in Wyoming USA in 1898 and exhibited in Scottish-born millionaire businessman Andrew Carnegie heard of the discovery and set out to acquire the bones as a centrepiece for his new museum in Pittsburgh. King Edward VII saw a sketch of the Diplodocus while visiting Carnegie at his Scottish castle and remarked how much he’d like a similar specimen for the animal galleries of the Natural History Museum. Carnegie obliged by commissioning a replica cast of his dinosaur which was exhibited in the museum in 1905. (information taken from the Natural History Museum website)


There was a lot more to Dorset County Museum than ‘Dippy’. Dippy was a Jurassic dinosaur from the period (200-145 million years ago) and of course Dorset is the location the famous Jurassic coast. Many other fossils from that period are represented, these dinosaur footprints were unearthed near Swanage.


The jaws of a Pliosaur.


and a small Ichthyosaur.


There were plenty of human artifacts as well. These crude stone tools date from about the Paleolithic period 450,000 years ago, the time our Neanderthal cousins roamed the country.


By the time of the Mesolithic period (12,000 to 7,000 years ago in NW Europe but earlier in the Middle East) many fine stone tools were in use, flaked off the flint cores seen on the left. The remains of a mesolithic settlement has been excavated in recent years on Portland.


By the Neolithic period Britons were farming, however some hunting must have still occurred as evidenced by this deer antler pick and the skull of an auroch, the enormous wild ancestor of domestic cattle which survived in the wild in Europe until just 400 years ago. although were extinct in Britain by the Bronze Age.


Moving onto the Bronze Age, 4500 to 2800 years ago. Dorset had a thriving Bronze Age culture as seen by the many bronze swords and implements found.


By the late Bronze Age beautiful gold necklaces or torcs were being worn by the nobility.


The Iron Age (2800 years ago until Roman invasion in 43 AD) saw the emergence of tribal groups such as the Durotriges who lived in Dorset and surrounding areas. They were responsible for the many hill forts such as Maiden Castle that dot the landscape even today. These two skeletons were discovered at Maiden Castle …


There is no doubt about the cause of death of one of them, a Roman ballista bolt though the spine.


Maiden Castle near Dorchester was the largest Iron Age hill fort in Britain and was occupied by the Durotriges up until the Roman invasion. We visited the site with our granddaughter Amber a few years ago.


Of course he Romans left plenty of archaeological evidence behind in Dorset such as this mosaic.


The County Museum also features a section on famous Dorset writers and poets ….


… including this reconstruction of Thomas Hardy’s study.


Enjoyable as it was our visit to the museum was just filling in time on the way to the main event of the day. Margaret had an important appointment at Dorset County Council’s chamber ….


…. joining ten other applicants for the ceremony that would award her British citizenship.


After swearing an oath and singing ‘God Save the Queen’ she was presented with her citizenship certificate by a local dignitary.


It has taken quite a while (the main delay was getting the necessary documentation from South Africa) but after nine years of marriage I’m no longer married to a foreigner!