Maya: hidden exhibition secrets revealed

Posted: November 25, 2011 - 16:06 , by royal

Written by Stephanie Allen, ROM Registrar

There is an incredible amount of work that happens behind-the-scenes in preparing for every exhibition. Some of that work is eventually obvious to the visitors such as the design, mounts, graphics and labels but a lot of the work is largely invisible.

Exterior of the crate

What is hidden within the crate?

For example, the job of the Registrar is not something that is immediately obvious. The Registrar is responsible for ensuring that the museum has the authority to bring the artefacts into the country, the museum and ultimately to the visitor. We are also responsible for insurance of the artefacts, so we have to establish the base-line condition as soon as we open the crates. We establish this base-line with what we call a condition report which is an analysis of the current condition of the objects. Condition reporting is one of the most interesting parts of my job. I get to examine every millimetre of the object and then I have to make a written report (which is less exciting).

Objects lined up awaiting inspection

Small objects awaiting my inspection are lined up on a cart

In examining one of the objects for this exhibition, I discovered what one would expect to find with a 1200 year old piece of archaeological ceramic such as some cracks, chips, lost pigment and repairs… but on one object there was something else: I discovered a fingerprint embedded in the ceramic on the under-side of a vase. That finger print connected me to the maker of this object. It made this artefact more human. This object is highly slipped, finely executed, solid, well balanced. No doubt the maker was pleased with his work, as was the person who inscribed an elaborate series of glyphs. Nobody would ever have cause to closely examine the underside – until now.

The object is examined very carefully

Examining the object up close and personal

At times like this, I am reminded that the definition of “artefact” is an object that is made or modified by humans. The hands that made the pieces on display in this exhibition were made by hands like yours and mine. These makers had a role in society, a trade, a family, they lived and died. They left for us an enduring legacy representative not only of their culture, but of themselves. My “discovery” brings me closer to these objects and these people. Sometimes you can discover something new by looking at things from a different perspective. What will you discover on your visit to Maya: Secrets of Their Ancient World?

Reporting on the condition of the tablet

Now the reporting starts on the condition

Image of a vase from the Gardiner Museum

Cup depicting the birth of supernatural twins. Collection of George R. and Helen Gardiner, Gardiner Museum, G83.1.0137

Finished artefacts waiting in a temporary area

Finished artefacts