Report on the Meeting at Manchester Museum in February 2007

On Saturday 10 February 07, Manchester Museum hosted its initial consultation meeting about Lindow Man. Primarily the meeting was to discuss details about his loan to Manchester Museum from the British Museum (London), which will be from April 08 to March 09; however, the issue of a permanent repatriation to Manchester was also on the cards.

As a key part of this consultation process, HAD had established a working group of local Pagans, from Cheshire, Manchester and Lancashire, with a good representation of traditions (Wiccans, Druids, Heathens, EcoPagans and so on), and a dozen of this group attended this meeting on 10 February. Also at the meeting were representatives from the museum itself, from the British Museum, from Manchester University Archaeology Unit, the local district council, the museum’s Community Advisory Panel, local archaeology groups and other relevant interested parties. Present was also John Prag, now retired, who was responsible for putting on the last two exhibitions of Lindow Man in Manchester (in 1987 and 1991). In total there were around 40 people present.

The HAD group met for a brief but inspired meeting before the main museum day began. Although much groundwork had been done, it was important to be prepared for what has too often been a dismissive attitude from within museums to Pagan sensitivities. A strong and natural cohesion was felt within the group, which was a real delight to witness, and in the event there had been no need for apprehension.

Prof Piotr Bienkowski, deputy director of the museum, gave a short introduction, explaining the parameters of both the day and the consultation process: while all ideas were more than welcomed, it was the museum that had the final decisions. He assured those gathered, nonetheless, that this kind of community consultation was not a ‘box-ticking’ exercise, but a genuine desire to garner ideas and understand attitudes. Bryan Sitch, Head of Humanities at the museum, then spoke of Lindow Man, affectionately known as Pete Marsh by many local people and Pagans, giving an overview of the many stories that surround him.

In the afternoon, we were divided into five discussion groups, and it was this exercise that took up the key element of the day, for each group had two hours to explore and share ideas about how Lindow Man should and could be displayed in the museum, as well as what associated events might accompany his arrival, his stay in Manchester and his departure in March 09. The final part of the day was a presentation by each of the groups, with comprehensive notes being taken by Bryan Sitch, whose job it is now to compile a report that will be sent out to all those involved in the consultation for comment and / or ratification.

The general feeling of the day was that everyone involved was inspired by the event. With Pagans, archaeologists, museum curators and politicians, all discussing an issue that provoked some passionate feelings and touched on basic assumptions (world views), it was wonderful to witness just how much coherence emerged in terms of ideas. All spoke of the need to recreate a secluded area for his remains, a ‘sanctuary’ with low lighting, and optional – so that museum visitors had to make a conscious choice to see him or decide not to. The overriding importance of the environment – of Lindow Moss – was emphasized, together with the acceptance that we know very little about him other than where he was found: all of the many stories constructed upon the clues he brought with him only add to our uncertainty. Those stories are all important, and none must be given any more validity than any other. It was agreed that the display must create ways in which local visitors were able to feel this person as a genuine ancestor (whether of blood and genes, or simply of the landscape), and as such express the genuine undercurrent that repatriation from the British Museum was the only honourable course.

Emma Restall Orr

February 2007