Objects can be used as evidence. They can reveal exciting and unique information about the world around us and how people lived in the past. Click on the images to explore the different techniques we use to uncover the potential of our varied collections.
Fossil ammonites from Southam
Southam Cement Works quarry, in eastern Warwickshire, was formerly a source of many interesting fossils dating back 200 million years to the Jurassic Period. Amongst these, beautifully preserved ammonite shells were highly prized by local collectors.
These photographs show several views of a pipe-shaped nodule of limestone, collected during the 1990s from the now disused Southam Cement Works quarry. It is studded with beautifully preserved fossil ammonites, up to a few centimetres in diameter, preserved in brown or honey-coloured calcite.
Clay and limestone rock layers, representing 200 million year-old Jurassic seafloor mud, have long been quarried near Southam for the Rugby Cement industry. Fossils discovered in the rock layers are the long-lost inhabitants of the ancient Jurassic sea. Limestone nodules such as the example illustrated here, found in the lowest clay layers at Southam, are exceptionally rich in fossil ammonites.
Once regarded as interesting curiosities, we now know that the nodules are the naturally cemented fills of narrow ‘gutters’, carved into the Jurassic seafloor by submarine currents. Ammonites are the shells of extinct shellfish, quite closely related to modern octopus and squid. The fossil shells within the nodules are beautifully preserved, indicating that once swept into the seafloor gutters, they were quickly buried beneath stagnant mud.
Warwickshire Museum acknowledges matching funding from the PRISM Grant Fund, administered by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, that allowed purchase of the specimen illustrated on this page.
Today, few people collect butterflies. This is because many species have become very scarce, and also because good photos often provide adequate proof that you have seen something unusual. But in the past, butterfly collecting was quite popular and lepidopterists (people who collect butterflies and moths) often built up large collections of specimens in the way stamp collectors still do.
In a few cases this may have threatened a very rare species, though habitat loss and deterioration has been a far more important reason for species decline. But one positive aspect of old collections is that they help us to understand the past distributions of different species and allow us to set modern targets for conserving such species.
This drawer features fritillaries, a group of butterflies that declined very badly when woodland management changed after World War II. Instead of coppicing old broadleaved woodland (a good habitat for fritillaries), people planted up many woods with conifers or simply neglected them so that they lost all their sunny clearings (creating a bad habitat for fritillaries). Our collections help us to study the rate and pattern of fritillary decline as well as many other types of insect such as bumblebees and moths.
This fragment of a silver finger ring does not at first look very impressive. With its round, flat face and simple, shield-shaped stamps it could look quite modern. So, it was quite a surprise to find out from curators at the British Museum that the ring was in fact 10th century AD in date and Viking. The decoration is seen on many examples of silver rings and bracelets in their collections.
Warwickshire was on the edges of the Viking-controlled ‘Danelaw’ – an area to the east of a line stretching from London across the Midlands to Chester. This territory was often fiercely fought over by the Vikings and the Saxon Kings of England in the 10th century.
Very little evidence of a Viking presence in this county exists, so small fragments like this add to our knowledge.
The Viking people came from Denmark, Norway and Sweden. They were also known as the Norse people. They were mostly farmers, but some worked as craftsmen or traders.
These treble recorders were made by a father and son, both called Thomas Stanesby. They lived and worked in London between c.1668 – 1750, and were amongst the finest woodwind instrument makers of their day.
The earlier recorder, by Thomas Stanesby Senior, has a head joint by P. Bressan. Originally from France, he moved to London and worked there until c.1724.
Both recorders are made from box wood and stained dark brown. They are almost in their original condition. They provide valuable evidence about the style and manufacture of early woodwind instruments.
Together with a bass recorder, probably by Thomas Stanesby Senior, they can still be played today.
They no longer sound exactly as they did in the 18th century, but still provide a rare ‘sound link’ back to the Stanesbys, and the people who first heard their instruments nearly 300 years ago. The recorders can only be used with great care, and after a period of preparation.
They were last played by Caroline Jones, in concert with Rosemary Robinson (spinet), in May 2004.
The big bass recorder is made from maple and stained dark brown. The crook, ‘fish-tail’ key and mount are brass. It was probably made by Thomas Stanesby Senior.