Old potatoes, scary statues and a rude jug: anthropological museum returns with a vengeance

ISN’T a museum just a dusty building about the ancient past?

This is a question the Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology seeks to answer in advertising its first exhibition since a radical, �1.9 million refurbishment.

But it need not bother as it opens its doors to an incredibly-varied, impressive array of old, new, small, tall, sharp, hairy and rude artefacts.

In a vast exploration of life, death and sex through the age of man, the museum’s line-up includes a 14-metre high totem pole from British Columbia (its tallest item), the rodent-nibbled ankle bones of a Roman skeleton (its only item which inspired a Sylvia Plath poem) and, perhaps most importantly, a jug covered in ornate penises - some of them with chicken feet pulling naked women around on chariots (its rudest thing).

All in all, it is a veritable smorgasbord of anthropological insight, each item more interesting than the last.

From around the world and spanning two million years of history, the museum boasts around 1 million objects - only 1 per cent of which can be on display at any one time - but you can rest assured this exhibition will include a Viking ironing board, a rare Snakes and Ladders board and some freeze-dried potatoes from Ancient Peru.

“This refurbishment is about more than reopening the galleries. It represents our desire to be open in other ways,” said director Nicholas Thomas.

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“To be open about what we don’t know about some of our objects (are some fakes?); to invite the public in from the street via our new entrance, and to be open about the way in which many of our objects arrived here, which was a lot more ethical than many assume.”

The museum was founded in 1884 as a collaboration between town and gown in Cambridge.

The exhibition opens at the museum in Downing Street, Cambridge, on May 25.

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