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New Great North Museum exhibition looks at links between human and animal defences

Students worked with museum staff to put together a new exhibition at Great North Museum: Hancock

Newcastle University post graduate students installing the Shells to Shields exhibition at the Great North Museum
Newcastle University post graduate students installing the Shells to Shields exhibition at the Great North Museum

There has been a lot of talk about defence in the run-up to the general election and it is the subject of a new exhibition at Great North Museum: Hancock.

But rather than focus on Trident, it takes visitors back to basics – long before nuclear missile systems – to consider how we have learned from our fellow creatures.

The exhibition is called From Shells to Shields: The natural world and its influence on human defence.

Students from Newcastle University’s school of arts and cultures worked with museum staff to create the exhibition which is notably child-friendly but likely to appeal to everyone.

It offers an insight into the relationship between the defence systems of the natural world and the way we humans, lacking horns, spines or scaly armour, have traditionally defended ourselves.

Project manager Chris Capobianco explained: “We were really inspired by the intriguing relationships between the natural world and humans and we have selected objects that highlight this relationship.

“Although our exhibition focuses on armour and protection, we hope our display encourages visitors to think ‘outside the box’ and reflect on other ways humans have used, copied and been inspired by the natural world in their day-to-day lives.”

Newcastle University post graduate students installing the Shells to Shields exhibition at the Great North Museum
Newcastle University post graduate students installing the Shells to Shields exhibition at the Great North Museum

The students were given access to the huge collections at Great North Museum: Hancock with the objects they chose used to complement existing displays and portray how animals have inspired the development of human methods of protection.

Exhibited alongside man-made objects including swords, shields and protective garments will be some of the wonders of the natural world – a pair of springbok horns, for instance, and the tough scales of the pangolin.

A puffer fish demonstrates a form of defence perhaps under-exploited in the human world. The only human (ish) character I can think of who can mimic the intimidating transformation of the puffer fish is the Incredible Hulk and he doesn’t exist outside the world of films and comics.

The students hope the exhibition will encourage visitors to marvel at the wonders of nature and also take a keener interest in animal conservation.

From Shells to Shields is one of a series of collaborative projects developed by the museum studies students from the International Centre for Cultural and Heritage Studies.

Research leader Sarah Seeley said: “Being able to work with staff at Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums and have their support allows all of us to develop and improve our skills and prepare for work in the sector.”

Newcastle University post graduate students installing the Shells to Shields exhibition at the Great North Museum
Newcastle University post graduate students installing the Shells to Shields exhibition at the Great North Museum

The exhibition can be seen in the Living Planet Gallery until June 30 and people on Twitter can follow @shellstoshields

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