5 minutes with David Parkhill, Assistant Collection Manager of Archaeology

What is your favourite object in the collection and why?

One that comes to mind is the core formed Greek alabastron, a small glass vessel, used for holding perfumed oils from the antiquities collection.

I am drawn to this item because of the method of manufacture, and its resultant inherent beauty. Made sometime during the 4th -3rd cent BCE, it was formed by winding or wrapping semi molten glass around a core of clay, or sometimes, animal dung mixed with straw. Threads of different coloured glass were then laid over it. The wave-like patterns are produced by dragging a thin steel rod through the semi molten glass; the final step is for the glass to be smoothed by rolling on a flat stone or a board. I am drawn to this beautiful object because of the stark contrast between its construction method and humble beginnings and the final object of beauty.

Tell us a little bit about working in the archaeology department?

I enjoy being able to assist when Aboriginal people visit and are able to connect with objects from their Community.  The depth of emotions they experience is humbling. 

Another pleasurable aspect of my work is that it feeds my love of history and allows my imagination free rein. When I handle objects from classical history and more recent historical archaeology, many questions come to mind: I wonder how was that 1832 coin was lost? What was cooked in this pot? What did the wine from this Greek krater taste like? The opportunity to assist on archaeological excavations (digs), to research artefacts that have been discovered, is the icing on a many layered cake.

What is your favourite thing about your role at the museum? Why?

In any work day I could be exposed to a wide range of artefacts – from contemporary times to the Palaeolithic. To be able to see and handle these objects is a privilege and, of course, working with a great group of people across the museum, who are more than happy to share their knowledge and expertise is its own reward.

What is one of the most interesting facts you have discovered through working at the museum?

Queensland Museum has in its collection an artesian bore drill which is connected with the first murder trial in Australia where a conviction was reached solely on the forensic evidence submitted. In November 1940 a contractor was putting down a bore on a station west of Cunnamulla. The contractor was in debt and was cheating the station owner by claiming undue payment. To keep this secret and to avoid paying his assistant, the contractor killed his offsider, burnt and crushed his bones and threw them down the bore hole. During police investigations into the disappearance of the assistant, bone fragments and buttons were discovered in the bore. The bone fragments were examined by a Dr Derrick, who was able to reconstruct part of a femur – unquestionably human. On this evidence and without a body, the contractor was found guilty of murder. The human remains, I hasten to add, are not part of the Queensland Museum collection.

What is your favourite exhibition at the museum (current or past) and why?

One of my favourite exhibitions was the Medieval Power exhibition which travelled to Queensland Museum from the British Museum. I have an interest in that era and seeing the many and varied artefacts was a thrill. Being able to handle some of these objects during the installation, in my role as Assistant Collection Manager, was an added bonus.

Another exhibition I was very happy to see was Queensland Museum’s own Antiquities Revealed.  On a purely selfish note, I was pleased to have been involved, along with other museum staff, in the development and installation of this exhibition which showcased parts of the Queensland Museum Antiquities Collection. 

I consider myself very fortunate to be working at Queensland Museum. From when I was a small boy, I have been a fan of museums and thought how good it would be to work in one. Guess what? It is better than good!

Learn more about David Parkhill here.