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Chilled to the Bone

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How many ice ages have there been in Earth’s past? Would you expect Britain to be hot or cold during an ice age? And just how big is a mammoth or a cave bear? With our latest exhibition – Chilled to the Bone – at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery we answer these questions and more.

The exhibition came about through a desire to show more of our archaeological collections as well as presenting some of our natural history collections held at the Booth to a wider audience in the centre of town. A new gallery called the Spotlight Gallery has been built on the upper floor of the Brighton Museum in the area previously occupied by the Body Gallery. This space has been designed to be a flexible space with large scale display cabinets suitable for a wide variety of collections, and used to showcase objects from the Brighton Museum collections.

An initial plan for a Piltdown Man exhibition to tie in with the 100th anniversary of the hoax was discounted due to a lack of material and a clash with a similar exhibition at the Natural History Museum, London. The idea was expanded to include an exhibition on ice ages throughout Earth’s history and on the archaeological discoveries resulting from a Victorian desire to learn more about these stages in our planet’s past, and how humans evolved. This Victorian ‘Bone Rush’ would also include the Piltdown fraud as one of the major events of Sussex archaeology. The exhibition also focuses particularly on the environment of Sussex during the most recent ice age, as well as Sussex archaeology and the search for human origins.

The design and construction of the exhibition was carried out by a small team working with a very limited budget. An additional challenge was that for much of the design stage of the exhibition, the cases were yet to be built. So mock ups were laid out in order to get a general idea of the look of each case and how well things fitted into the space.

The layout of the gallery is such that it was required to be as non-linear as possible as visitors can enter from three different directions, negating a start and end point. As such the intro panel is repeated at both ends of the gallery and each cabinet is built around a theme which should not require the visitor to have read text in a different cabinet before hand.

A welcome addition was an interactive program developed as part of a separate digital project. ‘Chilled to the Bone’ worked as a suitable test bed for the quiz program and allowed us to have a large scale projection and digital interactive that was otherwise out of our budget. The AV section sits alongside an activity wall and handling object to provide an uncluttered and entertaining ‘hands on’ area.

Huge thanks to everyone who worked on the design and installation of the gallery.

Lee Ismail, Curator of Natural Sciences