Cultural heritage is the legacy of significant historic artefacts from past generations being maintained for the viewing of future generations. The driving force behind all definitions of cultural heritage is ‘it is a human creation intended to inform’ (John Feather, 2006). This includes tangible culture such as buildings, monuments and works of art; intangible culture such as folklore, traditions and language; and natural heritage meaning cultural landscapes and biodiversity. Based on the institution that the artefact is inherited by, it’s past can be presented to the public in varying ways and for various purposes. For instance, the public presentation of history at Stonehenge may differ to the way London’s Natural History Museum presents artefacts to the public due to a number of variables.
Firstly, the location of these two heritage institutions factors into the way in which they portray their past to the public. Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument that stands in the heart of the Wiltshire countryside. When the site was originally established during 3,000BC, the landscape would have undoubtedly been completely natural and the stones would have been enveloped by an unadulterated backdrop of chalk downland. As a result of this, it has become essential to the authentic presentation of Stonehenge’s past that the landscape surrounding the monument remains the same today. Since the 1920’s the National Trust has begun preserving the land close to the monument and reinstating it to grassland. Moreover, as part of an ongoing £27 million rehabilitation of the terrain encompassing Stonehenge, the old visitor facilities are to be moved further away from the site so as to not blight the scenery, the portion of the A344 that runs across a substantial part of important earthen banks is to be closed and grassed over, and a tunnel is planned to be built underground to remove the congested A303 from view. All these efforts will be undertaken in order to reconnect Stonehenge to as much of its prehistoric landscape as possible. Hence, this heritage institution strives to present its past to the public as authentically and naturally as possible by undertaking conservation not only on the site but on its surrounding sites also. In turn, this focus on the significance of the natural geography of Stonehenge helps to present an extremely genuine, wide scope of the site’s past to the public.
On the contrary, London’s Natural History Museum was specifically built in 1873 in order to house various collections of natural history from all over the world and spanning billions of years together under one roof. Unlike Stonehenge, the artefacts belonging to the museum have all been extracted from their original historical sites in order to make up the exhibitions at the centrally located base in London. For example, the museum currently displays the Nakhla Meteorite which was sourced from Egypt, and the Broken Hill Skull that was originally discovered in Zambia. Therefore, a contrast is clear in the way that Stonehenge commits to presenting the history of one specific geographical location in depth, whereas the natural history museum portrays the past in a much broader scope to the public. It could be argued that this renders the museums exhibits as a lot less thorough than the exhibition at Stonehenge as spacing dictates that only a select few artefacts chosen from the extensive archives can be put on display. However, the exhibitions are ever changing and growing, and the museum is not confined to presenting the past of only one location or timescale of history, meaning its presentation of the past to the public can much more impartial and globally evidenced.
These two heritage institutions specialise in differing fields of research, and thus this can be an additional factor as to how they present the past to the public so differently. The Natural History Museum is a scientific institution that obviously promotes the carrying out of scientific studies in to the history of natural organisms, including animals, plants, fungi, ecosystems, geology, palaeontology, climatology, and more. The primary role of a natural history museum is to provide the scientific community with current and historical specimens for their research, which is to lead to the improvement in our understanding of the natural world. Thus, it can be deduced that London’s Natural History Museum presents the past to the public in a very scientifically influenced format. London’s Natural History Museum is in fact an acclaimed scientific research institution that employs over three hundred scientists to work in their core research labs and archives, resulting in the entirety of their work being presented to the public and emphasised as scientifically significant. Stonehenge, on the other hand, is a heritage institution that focuses on deciphering it’s social and historical significance. Being such a unique source of prehistory that stands in the centre of such an abundant archeological landscape, Stonehenge raises questions about the lifestyles, beliefs and customs of the people who built it and nurtured it throughout the centuries. A copious amount of theories have been strategised aiming to uncover who resurrected Stonehenge, specifically when it was resurrected, and for what purposes. Archeological study has proved pivotal in researching these questions using the information gathered from artefacts excavated from the site. For instance, the archeological discovery of clusters of more than three hundred Bronze Age barrows within a two mile radius of the monument have led historians to the strong belief that Stonehenge once held massive religious significance. To conclude, although the artefacts belonging to the Natural History Museum and Stonehenge are preserved in order to broaden our knowledge of the past, the methodology that they specialise in extracting this information differs and thus influences their presentation of the past.
The conservation organisations to which Stonehenge and the natural history museum belong to may contribute to the way in which they present the past to the public. Stonehenge is protected by English Heritage, a registered charity that is devoted to the preservation of over four hundred of England’s historic sites, architectural builds and monuments. On their website, English Heritage emphasise that Stonehenge is considered the most famous prehistoric monument in Europe. Advertising such as this may be crucial as English Heritage is a self financing charity, and therefore rely financially on donations and admission fee charges procured from tourism to their sites to continue their conservative efforts. This most likely effects the way in which English Heritage presents the history of Stonehenge to the public as increased visitation to the site means an increase in funding. To ensure this, the site has been made more interactive over the years in order to encourage more tourism. Neolithic inspired houses were erected near the visitor centre in order to give visitors the full experience of how people lived on the site fifty centuries ago. Volunteers are on site to give demonstrations on how people of the Bronze Age would have made rope, weapons and food. Visitors are able to try food inspired by the diet and lifestyle of the peoples who built Stonehenge. Clearly, the past is offered by English Heritage in an increasingly hands on and physically interactive way partly due to the fact that it is imperative that tourism rates need to be kept high. Dissimilarly, the natural history museum is publicly funded and so does not charge an admission fee. Instead, the institution is sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and possesses the patronage of the Duchess of Cambridge. Although the museum does receive some funding from charity and fundraising, the majority of their revenue is achieved by their trading operations and scientific research support. It can therefore be inferred that, unlike the presentation of the past at Stonehenge, the natural history museum’s motivations in presenting the past to the public is to inspire a love and education for the natural world in the wider community.
The presentation of the past may be subject to the amount of historiographical resources an institution has to offer the public. The natural history museum boasts a collection of more than seventy million botanical specimens, fifty five million animal exhibits, nine million archeological artefacts, and five hundred thousand rocks and minerals on display in their care that span billions of years. Maintaining such an extensive array of artefacts has meant that the museum has had to departmentalise it’s collections and categorise parts of the building into coloured zones so that it’s easier for the public to navigate the exhibits. Indisputably, this would present the past to the public as an overwhelming, comprehensive and rapidly evolving subject – the museum covers natural history as far back as exhibiting 3,500 million year old microfossils that represent the earliest life on Earth. Contrarily, the permanent exhibition at Stonehenge contains three hundred prehistoric relics that were all excavated from the site or surrounding grassland areas. Where as the natural history museum can discover, purchase or trade for new historical artefacts and have a global range from which to search for sources, Stonehenge is of course restricted to only being able to present to the public what they have found from the site and nearby land. Thus, the presentation of the past to the public in this institution is somewhat restricted. But with the three hundred relics that the exhibit does possess, it is able to offer the same view of history as a rapidly evolving subject like the natural history museums artefacts did, but just concerning a much smaller microcosm of history.
Stonehenge and London’s Natural History Museum wield a substantial amount of historical importance on both local and national scales. Stonehenge has become symbolic of the West Country’s rich history. Set against the backdrop of a quintessentially English countryside and dating back to the very foundations of English culture, the site has become synonymous with local pride and identity. As a result, when the portakabins at Stonehenge became old and fell into disrepair, the head of English Heritage Simon Thurley was quoted describing it as “a national humiliation”. Additionally, the expensive government funded renovation of Stonehenge’s surroundings was funded in part by philanthropic donations as well as a £10 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. It can be seen from the massive financial and conservative contributions from the nation towards the heritage site that it is the centre of great pride and importance to the nation and local communities. Presentation of the past to the local and national viewing public must therefore, to some extent, inspire ideas of English heritage, identity and pride. The natural history museum in London, too, incites similar feelings of civic and national prowess. Seemingly, the museum stands as a splendid testament of the nations contribution of scientific research and knowledge surrounding natural history to the world. The very fact that the museum is almost fully funded by the government shows that, as a nation, we are readily investing in the institutions further research and findings.
Additionally, Stonehenge and London’s Natural History Museum are also revealed to be significant on an international calibre. The institution boasts a worldly collection of more than eighty million specimens, and welcomed over four million people from across the globe through it’s doors last year alone. Not only is the natural history museum in London noted as a world-class visitor attraction, but it is also celebrated as one of the world’s leading science research centres. Likewise, archeological excavations have also uncovered Stonehenge’s participation in international prehistoric trade networks, tourism and exchange of rituals. For example, a piece of Niedermendig lava that was found under one of Stonehenge’s 5,000 year old burial mounds was discovered to have come all the way from north Germany. Considering how time consuming, strenuous and dangerous a 400 mile journey from modern day northern Germany to Wiltshire would have been for a Neolithic traveller, this offers an extraordinary insight into international prehistoric travel and Stonehenge’s European connections from this time. Additionally, the remains of a man (the ‘Amesbury Archer’) found buried on the site dating back to the Bronze Age, and from testing we now know he originated from Switzerland. Artefacts retrieved from burial mounds also reflect a wide range of prehistoric tourism at Stonehenge – daggers from France, pots from Europe, and a bronze object that draws parallels with artefacts as far away as Turkey. It’s clear that people were unquestionably drawn to it from far away even back then. It seems as though Stonehenge had as impressive international visitors thousands of years ago as it does currently today. Stonehenge and London’s natural history museum mutually present their histories and findings as significant not only on a local or national scale of significance, but also an an international scale of significance as museum researchers use their scientific expertise to conquer the biggest questions that todays scientific community faces, just as archeologists and historians excavating Stonehenge have found evidence to support the idea that Stonehenge has been inspiring international tourism for millennia.