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Courting controversy - the Lindow Man exhibition at the Manchester Museum

Author(s): Bryan Sitch

Journal: University Museums and Collections Journal
ISSN 2071-7229

Volume: 2;
Start page: 51;
Date: 2009;
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Keywords: archaeology | museology | exhibitions

The discovery of the well-preserved body of a 2,000 year old man at Lindow Moss near Wilmslow, Manchester, UK, in 1984 provided archaeologists and forensic scientists with a veritable time capsule of evidence concerning life during the late Iron Age and early Roman period. Not only was the body of considerable antiquity, but the forensic examination established that the man had suffered a violent death. He had been hit on the head, apparently garrotted and had his throat cut (the so-called ‘Triple Death’) in what appears to have been a ritual sacrifice to the gods. Exhibitions about Lindow Man, as the body came to be known, were held at the Manchester Museum in 1987 and 1991 to widespread acclaim. This article discusses the approach taken by the museum in its most recent exhibition about Lindow Man (April 2008-April 2009) which proved to be unexpectedly controversial. Acknowledging alternative interpretations of Lindow Man’s death, and changing attitudes towards human remains in society, the Museum adopted a polyvocal approach to the exhibition. Eight specially-selected contributors shared their personal thoughts and theories about the dead man. These included a forensic scientist, peat diggers involved in the discovery, a landscape archaeologist, a member of the local community, a Pagan and museum curators from both the British Museum and the Manchester Museum. Personal items belonging to each of the contributors appeared alongside more conventional museum exhibits in order to explore the different meanings that Lindow Man has for different people. The design of the exhibition was also challenging and made innovative use of MDF. Public response to the exhibition was mixed, though still broadly favorable. Thousand of visitors’ comments cards collected during the course of the exhibition provide a rich resource for future study of the public response to the debate about human remains in museums.
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